Why it’s important to focus on developing the best product

Have you ever wondered about the relationship between product development and marketing? In this book, Purple Cow, Seth Godin discusses how important it is to develop an amazing product or service (a purple cow) as the foundation to a successful business. Once you have a strong product/service, the rest can easily fall into place.

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Main impacts

Here are the key points that really stood out to me:

  1. Focus on making something amazing
  2. Market to the sneezers
  3. Don’t compromise

Keep reading for more details on each point.

Focus on making something amazing

The basic foundation of most successful businesses is to create something amazing. Once you have something amazing, it’s relatively easy to market it and find people interested. Marketing is an important step, but it’s made so much easier when you have an outstanding product or service. It’s no longer easy to build a business from products that are something similar but just cheaper.

The key message of this book is really to focus on making the best product or service possible. Once you have something incredible, marketing and other things can easily fall into place, and people will be interested in what you’re selling.

The emphasis should really be on developing what you want to sell first. Marketing is important, but that should all come after product development. You don’t want to spend all your money on marketing if you don’t have a strong product or service to sell. A quality product/service is the most important part.

Even for companies that have been around for a while, Seth discusses how part of your budget should be on improving your product. The better your product, the easier it will be to sell it.

When you develop a purple cow, aka an amazing product or service, then it makes everyone’s job easier when selling it. All supporting services (such as marketing, sales, etc.) will benefit from having an incredible product/service.

Market to the sneezers

Once you’ve got an amazing product/service, the first people you want to market it to are the “sneezers.” These are the people who want to try new things and share what they’ve tried with others.

I’m sure you’ve often heard that word of mouth is the best form of marketing, and that’s the goal with these sneezers.

Sneezers are unique because they are actively looking for new things to try. Whereas most people are comfortable with what they already know and are hesitant to try something they may not like.

Another key part of sneezers is that they like to share their discoveries with others. Having customer recommendations and testimonials is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, simply because they’re coming from an objective third party. They can say all the same things that your own marketing might say, but because they aren’t the one trying to sell it and don’t get any benefit from others buying it, it is so much more powerful coming from them.

However, it is vital that you have a good product or service so that the sneezers can help grow your company. If your product isn’t that great, then they won’t want to share it with others, or may even tell others not to buy it. That’s why the first step is to develop an amazing product or service, something so good that the sneezers want to share it.

Then once you target the sneezers as your initial audience, then your audience will grow naturally.

Don’t compromise

This point is closely linked to the first one (focus on making something amazing), while including the idea that you don’t need to compromise. There’s no benefit to compromising on your vision, especially not to make some people happy or to appease complainers.

By not compromising, you ensure that you will stand out.

This can open you up to criticism and parody, but it also tends to attract more attention and boost sales. It’s okay if not everyone likes you. You don’t need everyone to be successful, you just need a group of people that really want your product. Generally, you don’t need a huge market or audience to make a living. Rather you need a small group of people who really like your products or services, and want to keep supporting you.

Don’t try to please everyone. When you end up compromising, you often make the product/service more bland to accommodate everyone’s tastes. But then you may lose those that are truly excited about your vision. Compromising can also dilute your product/service, making it less amazing (aka less of a purple cow) and thus harder to market and sell.

Ideally, you want to make a strong impression, stay true to your vision, and be comfortable focusing on those that like what you do. The stronger your vision, the more you’ll stand out, which will likely result in more enthusiastic customers.

Final thoughts

This book was a good reminder to focus on your product or service, and that developing quality products/services should be your main focus. The rest will fall in place.

It also was a good reminder that marketing is easier when you have something amazing to sell.

The ideas in the book didn’t seem revolutionary, in the end it seems fairly intuitive and makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely a change from the business model of just outcompete your competitor by cutting costs, which is so unsustainable in this global economy. The focus on quality seems much more effective and sustainable over the long term.

I also know that it can be so easy to get caught up in all the ways you can grow your business (social media, marketing, email campaigns, advertisements, etc.) without first focusing on what you’re selling. This book felt like it was really taking you back to the basics. Reminding you to get back to what’s important (what you’re selling), and then you can deal with the rest.


How marketing can help you build meaningful customer relationships

Are you wondering how to market your business and connect with your customers? As I was reading This is Marketing by Seth Godin, he discusses how marketing is just another way to connect with people and solve their problems. This book is filled with useful information and is an accessible way to learn more about marketing. It seems like a book that you would be able to re-read and each time have different key takeaways or find new interesting information. Continue reading to find out what points of the book stood out to me.

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Main Impacts

These are the three points that stood out the most to me:

  1. Find your niche
  2. Get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”
  3. Connect your product to a desire

Find your niche

I know this is a common phrase, but this was hugely emphasized in the book, you need to find your niche.

Interestingly, your niche should be as small as possible. Don’t be afraid to exclude people, or to only appeal to a select group of people. You want to find “people like us”, the individuals who are actually interested in what you’re doing.

You want to make your niche as small as possible, while still profitable.

Most importantly, it doesn’t take that many people to have a profitable business, especially if you have followers that actually want to interact with your content. I’ve heard people mention that you only really need around 1,000 dedicated followers to make a reasonable living. The key aspect is that you’re providing value for those interested in your work, so that they want to buy what you’re producing.

In this way, quality over quantity of followers is vital. Having 1,000 people who actually want to buy your products is far more valuable than having 10,000 people who barely notice your content. Those that actively engage with your content and look forward to what you produce will want to support your work, and it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.

You want to find people who resonate with you and your work. Focus on a niche, find your people, and build a community.

Get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”

You want to target the right people for your business, it won’t be everybody, and that’s okay. When you get comfortable saying “this isn’t for you”, it will help you focus on building meaningful relationships with the right people.

This goes hand-in-hand with the point above of finding your niche. It’s just as important to understand who your content is NOT for. It’s okay to say “this isn’t for you”, people appreciate that you’re not lying to them or trying to sell them something they don’t need. Being honest about who your work will benefit and what they will get from it, builds trust with anyone who interacts with you.

As mentioned above, you do want to cultivate a dedicated following, which is not everybody. If you stop catering to people outside your niche, you’re able to focus on the ones that really want to be there, which is better for everyone.

I found this really powerful, because part of us feels like we want to just have everyone following and supporting our work. We hear so much about finding your niche, but the idea of getting comfortable turning people away is very different than targeting certain individuals. It reframes the concept from a passive lack of focus on other people, to an active rejection of those that won’t benefit or find value in your work.

I think it’s a powerful way to understand your audience and be content with a smaller but more dedicated following.

Connect your product to a desire

We often hear how it’s best to ensure your product or service is solving someone’s problem, and that makes sense. If you are able to solve someone’s problem (ensuing they acknowledge it is a problem) then it’s easier to sell it to them, as you’re showing the value and purpose of what you’re selling.

But I found this took it a step further, it’s not just about solving a problem, but connecting that problem to an innate desire. If you can show how your product or service not only solves a surface level problem, but also connects to an internal personal desire, then the product or service becomes even more appealing.

Internal personal desires can be things like social status, personal improvement, or something moral/ethical, like helping to save the earth by being environmentally friendly. By connecting your product to both the surface level problem (such as dirty dishes) and a moral desire to save the world from chemicals (environmentally friendly), you make a deeper connection with the customer. It may make your ideal customer more specific (narrower focus), but as mentioned above, that’s usually a good thing.

Generally, the more emotional you can make it, the easier it is to sell. The emotional appeal builds a strong connection and makes your product or service stand out. They look to solve their physical problems, but buy products or services based off of their emotions or personal philosophy.

Final thoughts

I found this book surprisingly hopeful and inspiring. Marketing doesn’t need to be complicated and you don’t want to please everyone. In a way, parts of this book felt counter-intuitive, such actively cultivating a very small audience and being willing to turn people away. You think you need to appeal to as many people as possible, but that’s not how you’ll be successful. When you try to please everyone, you tend to dilute what you create to make it more palatable for everyone, rather than tailoring it to those who would truly appreciate it.

I found this a useful reframe of what it really means to build a successful business. A successful business is targeted at a specific audience to suit their needs. It does not appeal to everybody and that’s okay.

Have you read this book? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!


How to market your business

Have you ever wondered how to market a business? As I was reading, Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller, he outlines exactly how to market your business effectively. He covers all the basic aspects of marketing, from designing your website to email campaigns.

This book links closely to Donald Miller’s other book, Building a Story Brand, which focuses on clarifying your business’s message through a story (you can read my post about it here). Using the story branding that you developed, this book guides you through the marketing basics to move your business forward.

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Main impacts

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Focus on your customer
  3. Ask for what you want

Keep it simple

One of common threads throughout this book is to keep your marketing simple. Simple meaning direct and to the point, without any added frills. You want to keep all your communication clear and concise, so that you don’t confuse your customer. A confused customer is a disinterested one.

Part of why you want to keep it simple, is because you need to ensure repeated interactions with the customer. You need to be constantly interacting with your customer and having them be exposed to your company. Often times people need to see or interact with you 10 times or more before they buy anything. You need to build trust and a relationship with the customer and the best way to do that is through repeated actions.

In line with keeping it simple, you need to always be thinking of the value you provide to your customers. Every interaction you have with them should provide them with value, that’s how you make it worth their time. If you’re consistently providing value, either through useful information or sample products, then they will want to keep coming back for more. Samples are a great way to show what you have to offer and why they should want more. Samples basically give them a taste before they buy a full product or service from you. There’s a reason why so many companies give free samples, think of the food samples at grocery stores.

Finally, remember to focus on the people who are actually interested in your product. You don’t need to appeal to everyone, and it’s usually better if you don’t. The best way to keep it simple is to focus your efforts on those who want to hear from you, as they will be the most likely to buy one of your products/services. They’re also the ones who already enjoy the value you’re sharing in your free content. It’s a win-win relationship, they like what you’re offering and you want to offer them more.

Focus on your customer

Marketing is really just a way of communicating with your customer and getting your story brand across to them. Everything you do for marketing should focus on the customer.

Using the story brand concept, the customer is the “hero” of the story and you are the “guide.” As a “hero” they have a problem and as their “guide” you can show them how to fix their problem and improve their life. You can read about the story brand concept in my post here.

All your messaging should be focused on the customer. They don’t want to hear about you or how you built your business. They only want to know how you can help them. You need to make your story clear, showing the role they play and how your product or service can make their life better. Most critically, they need to understand why this is important to them and why they should pay attention to you.

While crafting your marketing content, make sure to frame the story around the customer. Ask questions like:

  • What problem do they have?
  • How can you help them?
  • What will their life look like if they do or do not engage with you?
  • How is life better with your product or worse without?

The more you focus on answering questions that they want to know, the more effective your marketing will be.

Ask for what you want

In line with keeping it simple, make sure you ask for what you want from your customer. You need to make your call to action clear and obvious. If you want them to sign up for a newsletter, ask them. If you want them to buy a product, ask them. If you want them to interact with your post by liking, sharing, or commenting, ask them.

Customers want to know what to do next, or how to get more information if they’re interested. If they like the content you’re producing, they’ll also want to know how to support you, so give them options. Not everyone will be able to buy your products/services, but there’s usually ways people can support your business without contributing financially (like sharing and liking your content).

Those that like your content and have some money to spend on your content, will also want to know how to do business with you. For those that are interested, make it obvious how to buy your products or services, just don’t be annoying. You don’t want them searching for how to buy your products/services or where to get more info. The more difficult it is to buy something, the less likely they will end up buying it. So if they’re interested, make it easy for them.

There’s a huge difference between having a clear “Buy now” button (easy to buy) versus endless pop-ups and pestering emails (annoying). The best way to think of your marketing approach is to consider, how would it make you feel? Do you like when companies do this, that or the other thing? If you wouldn’t like it, don’t do it.

Final thoughts

I thought this book tied in nicely with his other book, Building a Story Brand (see my post on it here). This book really built on the concept of the story brand by providing clear actions on how to use the branding through implementing basic marketing concepts.

There are lots of hands-on activities discussed throughout the book, from building your website, setting up a marketing campaign, and creating lead generators. All the activities had concrete advice on why these activities are essential and how to actually implement the strategies within the book. There are also clear steps on how to do each activity and what will make it effective and successful.

If you’re looking for a clear, simple approach to marketing, either because you’re new to marketing or looking to refresh your approach, I found this book quite useful and easily to understand.

I would start with his other book, Building a Story Brand, to focus on crafting your business’s story, which can be the foundation for your marketing efforts. Then using your newly crafted story, you can then develop your marketing approach with this book.


How to use stories to brand a business

Have you ever wondered about the best way to market your business? As I was reading Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, he explains that branding your business as a story helps to clarify your message and make it much more effective. The book has lots of useful, concrete activities if you’re working on branding (or re-branding) your company, and keep reading this post for some overarching, key points from the book.

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Main impacts

  1. Stories are how we make sense of the world
  2. Stick to the structure
  3. Your customer is the hero

Stories are how we make sense of the world

We use stories to make sense of what’s happening around us. It’s a way of making music out of all the noise around us, and provides clarity.

Stories are an easy way for us to make sense of what we see and hear. We naturally put stories together even based on small details that we see – thinking naturally in terms of cause and effect.

Stories are also very easy for us to understand. We easily apply stories to ourselves and see ourselves within them. We tend to understand information better when it’s told as a story. Think of times when you learned about history as a story with clear cause and effect versus as a series of dates and names of people/places. It’s much easier to remember and understand the story version.

Since stories can powerfully and easily communicate information, they can also be used to improve marketing. If you can use stories to describe what you do and what you’re selling, you’re likely to be much more effective when marketing your business. The goal is to connect with a customer easily and clearly, and there’s no better way than through a story that centers them.

Stick to the structure

Stories can be applied to anything. They can convey any kind of information, it’s simply a matter of framing it in a way that follows a basic structure. Pretty much all stories follow a very similar structure, seen in the image below.

Basic story structure (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

Generally, a character or hero has a problem and meets a guide, who gives them a plan and calls them to action. Then the stories either ends in their success or helping them avoid failure.

Once you understand the structure, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. You’ll see the structure in all the movies and even in advertising. Take a moment to think through some of your favourite movies, can you apply the structure to them?

Here’s an example from The Hunger Games. Katniss is the main character or hero, and has a problem. In the image it shows the various types of problems she’s facing (external, internal and philosophical), but they all stem from the external problem of having to survive the hunger games. Then she meets Haymitch, who is her guide, and has a plan to get her more sponsors by having people support her. She gets called to action by actually competing and doing her best in the game. Katniss avoids failure (dying in the games) and ends the movie by successfully winning the game. See the diagram below for a visualization matching the story structure.

Story structure shown through The Hunger Games (Credit: Donald Miller @ Storybrand)

This basic structure applies to all things story related. All you need to do is stick to the basic structure and your story will make sense. The more you see it in the content around you, the more possibilities you’ll see to tailor stories within the structure.

This story structure can also help you tell your company’s information. If you frame it as a story, it’s incredibly easy to remember and understand for both your employees and customers. A story can also be very effective and persuasive, especially if you are able to frame your product or service as the plan to overcome your customer’s problem.

Your customer is the hero

As outlined above, your story needs a main character or a hero. When branding your business as a story, the customer is the hero and you’re the guide.

Generally, the hero/main character has lots of good qualities, but doesn’t usually understand how to overcome their problem, which is why they need a guide. The guide is both how they learn to overcome the problem and are called to action (meaning they actually do something to overcome the problem).

The key to a successful business story is that you frame the customer as the hero, and most importantly, you show how you can fix their problem. Remember they are the hero with a problem and you are the guide who has a plan to help them.

Part of framing yourself as the guide, is proving that you have the authority and expertise to help solve the problem. You need to show that you understand the problem and can actually help them. You also need to show them a plan, outlining how to solve the problem. People are more likely to engage with you if they understand what’s going to happen next.

Just remember, your customer is the one with the problem, and your business is what’s going to help them fix it. Make sure your story (and all your content) is focused on them – not you. They don’t need your life story, they just need to know how you can help them.

Final thoughts

A fascinating way to think about branding your business. Framing everything as a story is such a good way to position the things you’re doing. It’s easier for people to understand and for both customers and employees to easily remember your business and describe it to others.

I personally haven’t studied that much about marketing, so I’m not sure if this is a common way to discuss marketing, but I found it very useful.

There’s also so many activities and concrete actions that you can use to apply these concepts directly to your business. If you found this at all interesting, it might be worthwhile to try out some of the activities for your own business.

I was also able to borrow this from my library on Libby (a mobile app), which can be a great way to get a taste of the book before buying it.


How to eliminate competition for your business

Have you ever wondered about the best way to strategically position your business? While I was reading Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborone, they talked about how to completely eliminate competition by creating your own market (a blue ocean). They talk about how successful it can be (with lots of examples), how to find a blue ocean, and the best way to position your business.

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Main impacts

  1. Create a new opening
  2. Don’t focus on benchmarking
  3. Price it based on potential customers

Create a new opening

The main focus of this book is discussing the concept of a blue ocean, which is contrasted by typical businesses in a “red ocean” that has a lot of competition. A blue ocean is a place without competition because it’s a totally new concept, as it’s empty of other businesses. You’re not trying to fit in where there are already so many others doing the same thing.

One of the examples frequently discussed throughout the book is Cirque du Soleil. They created something totally new, it wasn’t a circus, a play, or any other live entertainment that was currently available. It is typically seen as a spin off of the circus, but they were able to reduce the overhead costs by removing the animals (which also reduced concerns about animal rights) and make it more expensive by comparing it to a play or high-end live entertainment. They were able to create something totally new, which allowed them to be so successful and well-known.

To find a blue ocean, look for what people need, but address it differently than currently being done. For example, when Ford developed the Model T, he wasn’t looking at the current automobiles of the time, but rather comparing against the horse and buggy. He wanted to market it to the masses, and make their transportation faster and more reliable. He was addressing their needs, not the needs of the elite with their highly customizable cars.

Finding a blue ocean requires a very different kind of market research. It also requires you to look at the world with an inquisitive mind to find a new way of addressing people’s problems. You need to start looking past what’s currently done to find what could be the solution.

The beauty of creating something entirely new is that there’s no one else doing the same thing. Obviously, this can be a good thing by having no competition, but it can also be more difficult to ensure the right people, those who would benefit from it, can actually find your product/service.

Don’t focus on benchmarking

Tying into the point above about your market research being different, that also means you won’t be doing the typical benchmarking exercise. Generally, companies do benchmarking to see what their peers are doing, where they are being successful, and how you’ll compare to them. If you’re creating a blue ocean, you won’t have any peers.

Without any peers, you’ll have to define a lot of things for yourself, such as what’s considered successful. By creating a blue ocean, you’re able to carve out your own space and do things how you want to.

You’ll also have to be creative when determining how to gauge your price-point and how to fit into the market. You’re doing something new, so you’re not trying to be better or cheaper, you just need to be different. To find a price-point, you’ll need to look at other markets and figure out how much value you can provide them.

Price it based on potential customers

Once again, tying in nicely with the points above, you need price your product/service based on your potential customers, not what’s currently available. You should base it on those you can give value to and how you may take away from other markets. For Cirque du Soleil, it’s priced as a very nice night out, comparable to a Broadway play, even though it’s completely different.

You’re looking at how to solve people’s problems and at what cost will the product/service be worthwhile to them. For Ford’s Model T, he priced it against the horse and buggy, not the fancy customizable cars of the time. He wanted to make it close enough to the cost of a horse and buggy, so that the majority of people could start considering and even justifying the switch to a car. Another example was the school lunch caterers, who simply considered how much would parents be willing to pay so they don’t have to pack their children’s lunches everyday.

The goal is to look around and find new problems to solve. Then determine how much your potential market would value the product/service. How much time, effort, and money does your product save them. It’s not the typical business planning, but it can be hugely beneficial if you do it correctly.

Final thoughts

The book was quite interesting. I enjoyed learning about how others have created a blue ocean, such as Cirque du Soleil. The book provided so much more context for these landmark inventions, most of which isn’t typically common knowledge. I feel like I learned both about business and history, which is always an insightful combination.

Overall, I feel like the idea is very simple and straightforward. Of course if you create a new market you initially have less competition. But the problem is finding a way to create that blue ocean. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but incredibly difficult to implement successfully.

But I do think the book provides a lot of food for thought on the power of being different and finding a new way to solve people’s problems. Especially in this day and age where there is always someone cheaper or faster. Now you really do need to be different or more creative to start a successful business. With the increased connectivity of the world, there’s just so much competition, it’s even more important to find a blue ocean.


How entrepreneurs can address poverty, carbon emissions, and unemployment

Have you ever considered the interaction of poverty, unemployment and carbon emissions? As I was reading the book A World of Three Zeros by Muhammad Yunus, he describes how the interaction of these can be addressed by social businesses. In his perspective, social businesses (an expansion on what’s currently considered business) can get us to a world of three zeros; zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero carbon emissions.

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Key ideas

  1. Everyone can be an entrepreneur.
  2. Expand the concept of a “business.”
  3. Change the systems and assumptions.

Everyone can be an entrepreneur

One of the biggest messages in this book is that everyone can be an entrepreneur. There is no specific type of person that is born to be an entrepreneur, it’s not limited to certain people. It’s really just another way to be creative and finding innovative solutions. Anyone can develop that skill, if given the opportunity.

Everyone has the potential to become an entrepreneur. We just need to provide the opportunity, resources, and expand the concept of what a business can do. Sometimes people are limited by a lack of opportunities or resources (especially capital investments). But sometimes people are just limited by the idea that a business has to revolve around making a profit (see next section).

When everyone can become an entrepreneur, you allow people to change from being a job seeker into a job creator, which helps everybody. Letting people change their mentality of having to find a job, into how to create a job for themselves and others opens the door for so many new ideas and opportunities.

Expand the concept of a “business”

Going hand in hand with above, is to change the concept of a “business” to do more than create profit.

A business is just a creative way to address a problem. It doesn’t need to create profit, it needs to sustain itself and have potential for growth, but what you measure as success expand past just profits. Instead of profit being the main measure of success, profit can simply be a means to grow the business, by putting the money back into the business to create more opportunities

Business can be a tool to develop creativity and self-discovery. The entrepreneurial spirit is primarily innovation and creativity, and can be applied to any issue. There is tremendous opportunity to channel these skills for the greater good and creatively solve

An alternative to the profit driven business is a social business. A social business is a business that aims to address a social problem. The success of the business can change from ROI (return on investment) that primarily looks at profits to maximizing SROI (social return on investment). Once you expand what a business can do, you can easily adjust the key performance indicators (KPIs) to focus on areas that are important to the success it hopes to achieve. The key skills of building a business can easily be adjusted to other definitions of success.

Once you expand this concept of “business”, you open the door to creative solutions to so many social issues. It also gives people the opportunity to do what they’re passionate about, while improving the world around them. Community based solutions are typically the most sustainable and effective as they are more likely to understand the context and what will actually work within the community.

People are the key to solving world problems, and right now there’s so much untapped potential.

Change the systems and assumptions

In order to expand business concepts and open the door to more creative solutions, there are systems and assumption that need to change. To start, we need to change business to be more than just about profits, providing alternative definitions of success.

Another key assumption that we need to change is that all people are inherently selfish. Generally, people want to help but are restricted by the system, which limits what can be done. However, if we start functioning on the assumption that all people are inherently selfless, we can chance the systems and open society up to help others.

Another way to support changing the system is to provide training and support to those starting their own business (social or any other kind). Training provides guidance for other people on their journey, and you often need more than just a good idea, you need to know how to put it into action. Providing resources (money, connections, etc.) can greatly improve people’s access to starting a business. Businesses require money to start and build momentum, and money can create opportunities where people feel like they have none. Micro-loans became very popular because they showed that sometimes people just need a little support, and that people can do a lot with a little.

Overall, we need to change the system through an integrated manner. Change mindsets and provide opportunities, then you’ll see people flourish.

Final thoughts

I felt like this book was very hopeful. It chose to look at the good in humanity and highlight how we can actually address large social issues. We have the potential, people are inherently good, so let’s setup systems that encourage positive change.

This book felt aimed at people in business, and not necessarily at people who just want to change the world. It had business language and talked about untapped opportunities, while providing hope and challenging what it means to be a business.

It was a unique book. It’s not a typical entrepreneurial book nor a typical let’s save the world kind of book.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!