7 min read

What I'm reading

What I'm reading
Photo by Matias North / Unsplash

1. Sam Walton by Sam Walton and John Huey. A mentor recently recommended this to me. I posed this question, "Do you really think being good to employees — treating them really well, making sure they are growing, all the stuff they write about in leadership books, etc. – actually leads to success?" I write about our conversation below. But this conversation is what led him to recommend Sam Walton to me.

Below are eight ideas I found interesting from the book.

a. He is not organized at all. He often lets today’s hot idea take precedence over previously-scheduled thing.

Except for reading my numbers on Saturday morning and going to our regular meetings, I don’t have much of a routine for anything else.
If he gets something in his mind that needs to be done—regardless of what else might have been planned—the new idea takes priority, and it has to be done now. Everybody has their day scheduled, and then bang! He just calls a meeting on something.
I’ve had people fly in here from Dallas all set to see him. I’d come in at 8 A.M. to meet them and find out he had flown out of town at 5 A.M. without telling anybody where he was going.
I would just have to look at this man from Dallas and say, ‘He’s gone.’ So after a few times like that, I finally said, ‘I’m not going to make appointments for you anymore.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s probably best.’ Then he would make his own appointments and forget about them, and I was still the one who had to give them the bad news. I couldn’t organize him in a quarter of a century, and I don’t think anyone else is ever going to.”

b. He believes competition is both good and important.

He was always looking for ideas, especially from the competition who were doing better than them (at the time).

Our competitors have honed and sharpened us to an edge we wouldn’t have without them. We wouldn’t be nearly as good as we are today without Kmart, and I think they would admit we’ve made them a better retailer.
In fact, if our story doesn’t prove anything else about the free market system, it erases any doubt that spirited competition is good for business—not just customers, but the companies which have to compete with one another too.

Not only in business, but in personal life.

If I’ve given the impression so far that Wal-Mart has occupied most of my competitive energy over the years, that’s not completely accurate. I’ve pursued my other passions all along, too, mostly quail hunting and tennis—and I pursued them both very competitively.

c. Walmart - as big as it is now - became that way, by doing a lot of trial and error.

d. They had clear long-term strategies.

Now that we were out of debt, we could really do something with our key strategy, which was simply to put good-sized discount stores into little one-horse towns which everybody else was ignoring.
That method was to saturate a market area by spreading out, then filling in.
And Sam had an equation for the trips: our expenses should never exceed 1 percent of our purchases, so we would all crowd in these little hotel rooms somewhere down around Madison Square Garden.

e. He planned for the long-term, but also recognized the need for short-term planning.

When you’re opening 150 stores a year the way we do these days, a lot of your planning is necessarily short term. But to sustain that kind of growth, you constantly have to consider what you’re going to be doing five years out.

f. The benefits of transparency far outweigh the costs.

But I just believe the value of sharing it (the numbers) with our associates is much greater than any downside there may be to sharing it with folks on the outside. It doesn’t seem to have hurt us much so far.
And, in fact, I’ve been reading lately that what we’ve been doing all along is part of one of the latest big trends in business these days: sharing, rather than hoarding, information.

g. The idea that Wal-Mart is the enemy of small-town America is preposterous.

Of all the notions I’ve heard about Wal-Mart, none has ever baffled me more than this idea that we are somehow the enemy of small-town America.
Nothing could be further from the truth: Wal-Mart has actually kept quite a number of small towns from becoming practically extinct by offering low prices and saving literally billions of dollars for the people who live there, as well as by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in our stores.
a group of people believing for some reason that they’re just entitled to take a piece of the action, no matter how little they contribute to the transaction or what it means to the customer.
If American business is going to prevail, and be competitive, we’re going to have to get accustomed to the idea that business conditions change, and that survivors have to adapt to those changing conditions.
Business is a competitive endeavor, and job security lasts only as long as the customer is satisfied. Nobody owes anybody else a living.

h. And of course, as someone who's obsessed with note-taking, I loved reading about his note-taking habits.

I always carry my little tape recorder on trips, to record ideas that come up in my conversations with the associates. I usually have my yellow legal pad with me, with a list of ten or fifteen things we need to be working on as a company. My list drives the executives around here crazy, but it’s probably one of my more important contributions.

2. Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. The book that inspired the recent daily posts. I first read this book a long time ago and in fact wrote this Goodreads review (reproduced below) in 2016. Somehow it really clicked this week. Writing and posting this way really satisfies my compulsion to write, without it feeling like an obligation.

Revisited this book because of Derek Sivers's directives on how to be useful to others. The first one is to "get famous." He links to Show Your Work!, saying, 'Instead of wasting your time “networking”, take advantage of the network.' I think that's very good advice, and serves everyone - you and your network, both. This book shows you the how. Very inspiring, too.
Yesterday, while searching for ‘online coworking’ services, I discovered Caveday. Caveday facilitates daily group focus sessions on Zoom. To my delight and surprise, I was able to sign up for a session less than an hour after I discovered it. It was magic. After procrastinating for weeks, I finally …
Planning the intro video for Gen Propel’s Skillshare course
Today, I wrote the key concepts and talking points for the (1) Intro and the (2) Class Project of our Skillshare course. Here’s a screenshot for the Intro: One reason we decided to create on Skillshare is so we can use their resources to create a focused, digestible, and
Currently Writing: “Are you good enough to find work abroad? It’s likely you are. You just don’t know it, yet.”
While working on outlining Gen Propel’s Skillshare course, an idea for an article arose. The working title is, “Are you good enough to find work abroad? It’s likely you are. You just don’t know it, yet.” I’m still organizing my thoughts. But here are three of the points
Milestone: Short back and forth in German with a barista in Berlin
Yesterday marks a milestone in my “learning German” journey. I met a UPAA Germany (UP Alumni Association) alumna in Oslo Kaffebar, a coffee shop here in Berlin. The barista didn’t switch to English the moment he heard me speak. Not only did I order in German, we also had

3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Googling for 'unputdownable books' made me pay attention to the "psychological thriller" genre. I've been on a kick, starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. All highly recommended.

You will find, M. le docteur, if you have much to do with cases of this kind, that they all resemble each other in one thing.”
“What is that?” I asked curiously.
“Everyone concerned in them has something to hide.”
The first thing is to get a clear history of what happened that evening, always bearing in mind that the person who speaks may be lying.”

Do you really think being good to employees — treating them really well, making sure they are growing, etc. — all the stuff they write about in leadership books — actually leads to success?

In my experience personally working for almost 10 companies, the bosses with asshole- and jerk-like behavior, who were exceptional individuals but treated people almost like dirt did far, far better than the ones who were nice and treated their people really well.


  • First, business is really hard. There are about eight important things. None of them can be bad.
  • Second, you can do a lot of things right and still fail. If you wanna be really big, you not only need to execute really well, but trends should be really good. Ex — Four Square. Udemy. They did alright. But people were thinking they were going to be huge, like Netflix or Youtube, but the whole space didn’t go.
  • Finally, if you want to be really like family, it should be fucking difficult to join. Like, top 1% elite. You can be pro-social and development-oriented, but only if you’re really results-oriented and really elite. This makes it harder to become a success, but easier to become the very best.