On Black Friday, I was working on Spreedly along with my co-conspirators in that business, and one of them threw this out in to our Campfire chat room:

“The world is consuming today and we are producing.”

Now, I’m not anti-consumption by any means – I think the giving of gifts during the Christmas holidays is a wonderful thing, and to be encouraged. That said, there is something fun about being an entrepreneur and knowing that while most of the rest of the world is blithely acquiring, you’re spending some of your time quietly creating things of value for others to use and enjoy down the road. It’s like being part of a secret club, one to which everyone’s invited but few decide to join.

And so as the holiday season shifts in to high gear, I wanted to give my fellow entrepreneurs a few reading ideas – between vacations and family time, there may not be a lot of opportunities to actually create, but while everybody else is watching the game, or having the annual politics discussion that accomplishes nothing, you can sneak off in to a corner and curl up with a good book. I guarantee that all of these books will make you think, and leave you with lots of good ideas for your business come 2011.

I’ll start with one you’ve probably already heard of, at least if you’ve talked to me about books in the past year. The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank is one of the best business books I have ever read, and if you’ve even thought about starting a business it’s a must-read. Four Steps introduces the Customer Development process, whereby anyone can take their vision, get outside the building, and iteratively learn whether there’s actually a market for it.

That said, here are a few tips to bring to Four Steps along with your spiced apple cider: the book is Steve Blank’s course notes from his teaching at Stanford, and hasn’t really been edited. Thus expect some interesting speeling and grammar rough, and don’t let the lack of polish make you miss the gems buried in this book. The other thing you should know as you read the book is that because it’s based on a course, it sometimes gets super detailed and task oriented, and that can bog down your reading. When you find yourself getting stuck and/or bored, just start skimming. It’ll get interesting again, I promise.

My second recommendation is at the top of my reading list this holiday season, and I’m already part of the way through it. Getting to Plan B by John Mullins and Randy Komisar is so far a great read, and I expect it to just get better based on the people who’ve been recommending it. I heard Randy speak at the Startup Lessons Learned conference, and thoroughly enjoyed him; his passion is helping entrepreneurs realize that their plan A probably won’t work, and then working with them to find the plan B that will.

Just last month Ben Carey presented at our local Lean Startup Circle meeting about using a Business Model Canvas. The book behind the ideas, Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, is my third recommendation – a very visual work that looks to pack a lot of ideas in a very digestible manner. I’ll be reading it alongside of Getting to Plan B as a tool to use in working with Terralien clients and my other businesses to understand what business model is currently in use and how it could be tweaked to improve outcomes.

Finally, I just bought a pre-release copy of Ash Maurya’s new book, Running Lean. It looks like it ties together a lot of the ideas from the previous three books within a Lean Startup framework, and I can’t wait to dig in and see how Ash is going to paint the complete picture. If you’re not familiar with him, Ash is one of the most prolific and insightful writers in the Lean Startup space, and if his blog is any indication, “Running Lean” is going to be packed with actionable insights.

So there you have it – four great reads that you can take with you to the in-laws and read for inspiration for the year to come. And while you might be accused of being weird and a bit anti-social now, that’ll switch to you being “lucky” after you make your first million. But those of us with you in the secret club of entrepreneurship will know that your overnight success is made up of many a Black Friday spent producing rather than consuming.

Posted by Nathaniel on Dec 7th, 2010

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com