The Most Successful Small Business in the World: Book Review

"What we have done for ourselves alone die with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal" - Albert Pike

Entrepreneurship is one of the most challenging ways to make a living. Done right, however, it can be the most rewarding, allowing one to fulfill one's dream, vision, purpose, and mission.

With a strong emphasis on the virtues of ethical entrepreneurship, Michael E Gerber's The Most Successful Small Business In The World distils 10 principles of success that any start-up should consider. Author of the highly successful The E-Myth series (especially The E-Myth Revisited), Gerber's latest volume is more of a self-help book than a business guide.

The premise behind the book is enchanting. Like his previous books, Gerber takes on the guise of an elderly mentor (he was 73 when the book was published), advising young entrepreneurs to venture beyond becoming a sole proprietor. Here, his main protagonist is Joseph, a mechanic-cum-businessman.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, we're told to break out of the mold of thinking of ourselves as mechanics, doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, or publicists who have simply "broken free". Instead we should consider ourselves as businesspersons working on our business rather than in our business.

In the book, Gerber proposes 10 principles that underlie the creation of the uber successful small business. Let me highlight what these are:

1) A small business, built rightly, can grow 10,000 times its current size

Consider the possibilities of scale and how you can build a business that isn't just like "countless millions" of others.

2) A small business is no more effective than the idea which it is built

Challenge yourself to walk away from your "old mind", embrace a "new mind" and create a business revolving around a transformative idea.

3) A small business is a system in which all parts contribute to the success or failure of the whole

A business should comprise two major parts, both of which should work in tandem. The parts outside the business include its consumers, competitors, channels of distribution, media, and financing sources. The parts inside include strategic parts (strategy, marketing, operations, finance), tactical parts (marketing, operations, finance), and incremental parts.

4) A small business must be sustainable through all economic conditions, in all markets, providing meaningful, highly differentiated results to all of its customers

To prevail in all situations, consider the seven rules of success:
i) Choose the most ordinary (ie a business that never goes out of fashion);
ii) Constantly improve;
iii) Listen to your customer;
iv) Respond to what you hear, see, and feel;
v) Set the highest standards;
vi) Write the exquisite story; and
vii) Live your story.

5) A small business is a school in which its employees are students, with the intention, will, and determination to grow

Ask the right questions, encourage learning, and consider how employees can learn about the "10,000 store" way in customers, relationships, systems, leadership, management, and everything else about the business.
6) A small business must manifest the higher purpose upon which it was seeded, the vision it was meant to exemplify, the mission it was intended to fulfill

Through a process of awakening, discovering, experiencing, internalising and becoming, one is able to "awake" from one's mental and emotional slumber and truly discern what one's true purpose is.

7) A small business is the fruit of a higher aim in the mind of the person who conceived it

Here, we're told that uncovering one's true purpose isn't enough. One should aspire to achieve a higher aim which teaches, engenders values, adds meaning and moves one from the practical to the noble. Two examples of entrepreneurial individuals who have reached this state are Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and Mother Teresa.

8) A small business possesses a life of its own, in the service of G-d, in whom it finds reason

The ultimate aim should be a divine one. Gerber (a Jew) believes that serving God is the ultimate objective of a company. In other words, one should consider what God would have one do.

9) A small business is an economic entity, driving an economic reality, creating an economic certainty for the communities in which it thrives

While money provides the fuel for businesses to achieve the aim, it shouldn't be the only reason for setting them up. Rather, the business should consider the wider context in which it is set up in.

10) A small business creates a standard against which all small businesses are measured as either successful, or not, to upgrade the possibility for all small businesses to thrive beyond the standards that formerly existed, whether stated or not    

Finally, small businesses should aspire to reach above-world-class standards. These should not only cover visual, emotional, functional and financial standards, but include spiritual, psychological, ethical and philosophical ones.
While I was a huge fan of Gerber's previous work, The Most Successful Small Business In The World was a bit esoteric towards the latter half of the book. Principles 6 to 10 felt as if they were written by a philosopher, with long rambling paragraphs and existential type sentences.  I also felt that it was a little strange to equate businesses like Microsoft, Apple, McDonald's and Wal-Mart with God.

Having said that, there are useful lessons in the book, and it did cause me to ponder a little deeper on my own professional journey. At only 151 pages, the slim volume can be quite a speedy read, providing a unique perspective missing in other "hands on" books on entrepreneurship. However, those looking for more direct lessons and "best practice" templates would be better off doing so elsewhere.

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