December Reading

Earlier this month we went on holiday to Canon’s Ashby House, a wonderful historic property managed by the Landmark Trust.


It was blissfully quiet, so I made a start on my holiday reading list. These are the books I read during December, and what I thought of them.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished reading it. Its core thesis – misdirected effort is waste – resonates strongly with me. I found several ideas especially exciting.

  • Minimum Viable Product: Understanding what customers want is crucial. A Minimum Viable Product is a prototype or rough version, which allows the team to “collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
  • Validated Learning: Test your assumptions by finding evidence. Validated learning is the process of discovering “valuable truths about about… present and future business prospects” by collecting data from real customers.
  • Actionable vs Vanity Metrics: Measure the right thing. Some data offers insights into how to improve profitability: actionable metrics. Other data is just fluff: vanity metrics. Thousands of registered users means little if none are paying for the product.
  • Pivot or Persevere: A pivot is a new hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth that requires a new minimum viable product to test it. More than just a change, in that it is based on validated learning garnered from actionable metrics. It is based on evidence of a deeper understanding of what customers
  • The Five Whys: What is the cause of the problem? What is the cause of that cause? What is the cause of the cause of the cause? Preventing a problem demands an interrogations of the preconditions for its cause.

Understand what customers want. Test your assumptions with evidence. Measure the right thing. Pivot, supported by evidence. Find the underlying cause of problems. Good advice.

ReWork by 37Signals

Challenge your assumptions about work, and what it means: this is the central thesis of ReWork. Its advice is presented as short aphorisms with precise and clear explanations, such as:

  • Planning is guessing
  • You need less than you think
  • Throw less at the problem
  • Long lists don’t get done
  • Underdo your competition

There’s something very Zen about its minimalist thought for the day approach. I expect to read and re-read this often.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

My training in market research methodology coincided with an increased popular interest in behavioural economics. News stories about nudge theory and choice architecture were everywhere, but very few demonstrated a deeper understanding of the finer points research design, statistical significance, sampling theory and inferring the meaning of a study’s findings. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian filled that gap. Goldacre debunks misinformation posing as scientific fact, both in his column and in this book. There’s a parallel between Eric Ries’s notion of vanity metrics and Ben Goldacre’s point about media misrepresentations of research findings: not all ‘facts’ mean what you think. It is a sensible reminder to be cautious about hype in general.

What did I learn?

The Lean Startup introduced me to some invigorating ideas, especially about Validated Learning. I found ReWork insightful, like a Business Thought For The Day. Bad Science reminded me to be cautious about the so-called findings of so-called research.

  • Beware assumptions.
  • Seek evidence.
  • Validate learning.

Leave a Reply