I don’t read a lot of business books, but I’ve been patiently waiting for the release of Bo Peabody’s “Lucky or Smart”. My interests in the book are personal: Bo founded Tripod, my first real employer, the place where I cut my teeth as a CTO, and still the most fun place I’ve ever worked. (And that includes the companies I’ve founded as well.) Not only did Bo launch my career, he was one of the major donors behind the late, great Geekcorps, and continues to be a close friend. I can’t pretend to be objective about his work, so I won’t even try. But I think Bo’s written a clever, funny and extremely useful book and I have high hopes that it will be widely read, not just by entrepreneurs (his intended audience) but by anyone who tries to accomplish something great with a team of people.
Bo’s had a hand in the creation of dozens of companies and six – ones in which he was one of the founders – have gone on to substantial success in their various fields. He doesn’t bat 1.000, but he’s orders of magnitude more succesful than most CEOs, and, as a result, had read lots of press declaring him a business genius. This book serves as his response to this praise: “Actually, I’m just smart enough to know how lucky I’ve been – the smart people are the folks I’ve managed to surround myself with”.
While this sounds like false modesty, it amounts to very smart business strategy. The business press works very hard to create the myth of the genius CEO – it’s lots easier to feature one photogenic figure on the cover of Fortune than profile the whole team that makes a venture succeed. But any great project is a team effort – the founder or CEO can bring a team together and start articulating a vision, but she or he can’t accomplish the task alone. (Just ask Linus Torvalds – he’ll tell you that this is as true of Linux as it was of Tripod.)
Somewhere in the last decade, Bo learned to stop believing his own hype and realize that his genius consisted of launching businesses that were sufficiently compelling to attract smart people to them and then keep those smart people from killing each other. (While I’m proud to be one of Bo’s smart people, I’m not especially proud of the fact that I’m also one he had to prevent from killing a fellow team member. And I’m not entirely sure of what to make of the fact that the chapter that features me is titled: “Startups Attract Sociopaths”.)
One of the major selling points of Bo’s book, IMHO, is the fact that you can read it in about an hour. Most business books are eight pages of ideas surrounded by sufficient fluff (usually 200 pages) to create a weighty, saleable tome. (Indeed, there are several companies that summarize business books into 8-12 page digests, allowing you to read more of the 3,000 business books published annually.) Bo’s book is 64 small, dense, funny pages. If it fails to light the business world on fire, it will be because his advice – while dead-on correct – is pretty subtle and complex, perhaps too subtle for anyone who got a lot out of “Who Moved My Cheese?”
So yes, this is a shameless plug, but a heartfelt one. This is a cool little book and you should read it, if only to see why Bo termed me “a veritable God of Odd”.