Growing a Business by Paul Hawken

To see the reward of commerce as money and the risk of commerce as failure is to see nothing at all – Paul Hawken.

Be the customer. Go outside and look back through the window of your small business. Be a child trying to figure out how the world works. Go to a crowded park on a sunny day. Don’t go into the back room to read another book about business (even this one).

If you persist in seeing a situation in the terms of risk, look again. If you still see risk instead of opportunity, walk away, because you just might be right.

There are any number of business books that talk about the nuts and bolts of business. They tell you how to run a business, how to manage employees, how to raise capital, set business goals and have a business plan. What these books don’t talk about is the “why” of business – why have the business in the first place.

Paul Hawken is a visionary business writer who devotes an entire book into discussing the “why” of business. If you are not sure, as an entrepreneur, about why you have your business in the first place, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to make much of it.

Hawken’s unrelenting focus is on what brings you, as an entrepreneur, satisfaction. What sustains you and keeps you going. What helps you become a better businessman and a better person. As Hawken explains, “I want to demystify, not with a set of dictums and executive summaries, but with a book that illustrates how the successful business is an extension of a person.”

Hawken is a co-founder of a small business and a huge votary of small business entrepreneurship. As he explains, the way business is done today has changed. There is no longer a hegemony of large corporations such as IBM or GE. Today, we have millions of small businesses and startups competing with much larger companies.

Some important takeaways from this book is the concept of “tradeskill” – essentially this means knowing what people want, how much they are willing to pay for it and how they decide what they want to buy. Businesses that master the art of tradeskill will always do well, but this requires an unrelenting focus on the customer and as Hawken explains, “on four specific attributes: persistence, the ability to face facts, the ability to minimize risk, and the ability to be a hands-on learner.” 

Another important takeaway from Hawken’s book, and which is relevant for those of you who are thinking of starting a business of your own – finance a business with your own money. Not with borrowed money, and definitely do not borrow from relatives. When you use your own money about your business, you are naturally going to be more circumspect about how you spend it.

Finally, this book was written in 1987, so it’s unlikely that Hawken would have known about how the internet would revolutionize business and create multitudes of small business opportunities. He wouldn’t know about how Google would make marketing as affordable for the “little guy” as it is for the Big Boys. And yet, he has foreseen so many things about the current state of business in this book that makes you double check if it was really written in the 1980’s.