A Year of Business: TV, Podcasts, & MOOCs
It’s time for the end of the year, where we take a look at what we learned and figure out what to take with us to the next year. For me, that means taking a look at what I’ve learned about business in 2014 and what media has contributed to that. Here are some of the high-lights from the television, radio, and computer.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but represents some of my favorite resources for learning more about the art and science of creating and operating businesses. Each of the following pieces of media was extremely informally rated based on 1) my actually having read or watched it 2) me finding it useful for people who might want to learn more about business in general, and particularly actually creating a business 3) it’s entertainment value—could you get addicted to it and actually enjoy going back to it again and again? Because, like me, you’re probably not going to actually just read this stuff all day long, but do it in your free time instead.
Along with the usual sports and news programs, I have found a new spot in my television rotation: The Profit. Airing weekly (and many other times you turn on CNBC), the Profit follows Martin Lemonis as he goes to family businesses and encourages them to focus on People, Process, and Product. These businesses are often struggling to turn their revenues into profit, creating the opportunity for a turn-around. Distinguishing itself from some business-reality shows, Lemonis invests his own money in the businesses he’s coaching and spends as much time dealing with the people issues as he does the process and product (which often leads to gratuitous shots of crying). The show is also a constant lesson in negotiation, as Lemonis maneuvers to remove people he doesn’t trust, eliminate product lines that don’t sell, and alter owner/employee compensation. Bonus points for the nifty visuals on the financial nuts and bolts of the businesses . The show may soon suffer from overexposure, but it is an excellent look at how real businesses can shake things up to improve their bottom line.
Magazine / Website
To find out what technological and business advances I don’t know about but probably should, I love looking to the MIT Technology Review. The magazine, also available online, provides excellent deep dives into some of the most interesting and important topics in new and burgeoning fields. You want to know more about artificial intelligence? Biotech? Self-driving cars? MIT Technology Review brings authoritative, informative reporting to these complicated and fascinating subjects.
The MOOCs!: This year I participated in at least part of four different open online course offerings, not including regular meanderings through Youtube (Google for Entrepreneurs) and Slideshare (Sizing your Market).
For jumping into entrepreneurial thinking and process, this year I loved both Bill Aulet’s “Who is Your Customer?”(offered through edX) and Steve Blank’s “How to Build a Startup”(Udacity), based on the Business Model Canvas. The difference in styles is mainly the thing here, as the courses get at much of the same content: use direct person –to-person research to create an in-depth understanding of your market. Aulet uses conversations and short lectures featuring him and student-entrepreneurs to deliver content and provide examples. Blanks uses the hand-drawn technique similar to the Kauffman Foundation’s Kauffman Sketchbook series.
In both cases, the Mooc is not an expert level course for experienced entrepreneurs, but rather useful for those looking to start their first business. Each is an excellent dive into some of the most important concepts in entrepreneurship.
I regularly listen to a range of finance/ economics podcasts, and I routinely get a ton out of both Planet Money and Marketplace. Excellent production, interesting topics, and snappiness of their presentation (20 minutes!). What could be a negative is that I have a hard time differentiating between them in my head—are these programs actually supposed to accomplish different things? Anyhow, these public radio mainstays are excellent casual listening. I always learn about industries and topics, from the Icelandic economic transition from fish to banking to aluminum, to the aftermarket for high-demand Nike shoes. For a first-person narrative of the process of launching a venture-funded startup, try Startup. I also regularly listen to Freakonomics, but the topics there often veer from business-related content, and, like the book, the show-runners sometimes seem to fall in love with their own thinking to the detriment of their final conclusions.