Book Review: Three Feet from Gold

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a business classic. Published during the Great Depression, the book provides an inspirational look at perseverance and the qualities of character that are necessary for success.

A recent book from the Napoleon Hill Foundation modernizes Hill’s book. Relating the stories of dozens of successful businessmen, Three Feet from Gold provides an abundance of pithy nuggets of wisdom. The title comes from the story of a prospector who abandoned a mine. Though he had found a small amount of gold in the mine, he eventually concluded that he had found the small amount in the mine and sold his property. The new owner dug three feet in a slightly different direction and discovered a huge deposit of gold. The original owner had literally stopped three feet from gold.
It is often the case that we abandon our dreams too quickly. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, it can be easy to give up. And often success was just another step or two away.
This does not mean that we should never abandon a goal. There are times when doing so is the rational thing to do. However, such decisions should not be made lightly or in haste. Anything of value requires effort and perseverance when times are tough.

Book review: The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, was first published in 1984 and has become one of the most popular business books ever published.

Written in novel form, The Goal traces the story of a struggling factory and how its employees turned it into a profitable operation. By identifying “bottlenecks” managers were better able to manage resources and improve overall production.

The Theory of Constraints introduced in the novel states that the maximum output is limited to the maximum output of the “bottleneck”. Put into other terms, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As the story unfolds we learn that managers often focus on the wrong things. While statistics and measurements can be useful tools, they are valuable only to the extent they help us achieve our primary goal. And in the context of business, all companies share the same primary goal– to make a profit.

Measurements of efficiency, for example, can be misleading. If we focus on maximizing the efficiency of each step of a process, we might actually decrease the efficiency of the overall process. That is, we must look at the big picture before we look at the details. And when we examine the details, we must always remain focused on the big picture.

In the context of a factory (the setting for the novel), this might mean keeping a particular machine idle at times. If the machine produces more than the next step of the process can handle, the excess accumulates as inventory. Both the inventory and the manpower used to produce and move increase expenses. In this situation management should focus on increasing “throughput”, that is, the amount of product available for sale.

The significant message in The Goal is the process of discovering and correcting “bottlenecks”. But this process is not a one-time event. It is a continuous process, or as the subtitle states: “a process of ongoing improvement.”

Book review: The E-Myth

Few books can be called revolutionary. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael Gerber, is one such book.

This best seller presents a compelling argument for entrepreneurs to look at their business differently. Gerber points out that many entrepreneurs start a business doing something that they love, believing that their days will be filled with an enjoyable activity. However, as the business grows, and new employees must be hired, the owner quickly discovers problems that previously did not exist.

These new employees don’t have the experience and motivation of the owner. They don’t have the same drive and desire as the owner. While the owner recognizes the need to train his employees, it is the nature of that training which often proves inadequate.

While sitting in a McDonald’s one morning, killing time between appointments, Gerber wondered why the Golden Arches were so successful. Most of the employees were teenagers possessing few job skills. Yet the quality of the service and the product was similar in every store.

Gerber realized that the company’s success derived from its approach to the business. Each step of the process was carefully analyzed, and then procedures and policies were developed. That is, a system was developed, and when followed, the system virtually assures success. Thus, a McDonald’s in Houston operates almost identically to one in London, and with very similar results.

Throughout the book, Gerber exhorts the reader to work on his job, not at it. In other words, develop a systematic approach to each job within the organization. In the process, the success of the business is less dependent upon any one individual. As with McDonald’s, the system becomes the key to success.

Of course, this is usually easier said than done. Within any business, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tasks must be performed. Often, the owner has automatized these tasks, and performs them with little or no conscious thought. Yet, he must identify and then explain each of them clearly. Systems, and their documentation in an Operations Manual, is the key to becoming a true business owner, rather than the owner of a job.

By developing production procedures and policies, and then properly training production personnel, this transition can go smoothly. The owner can then spend his time working his business, rather than in it.

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