November 1, 2010 | last updated May 29, 2012 11:15 pm
BIZ BOOKS

Knowing Yourself Gives Insight To Your Business

"Raising Eyebrows — A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right" by Dal LaMagna (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95).

LaMagna states: "The most important part of dreaming is what you do when you wake up." He's done more than his share of dreaming about starting businesses — he started his first when he was eight. Most of his dreams turned into real-business nightmares when he woke up. He admits to being a "compulsive capitalist" who made every mistake an entrepreneur can make on the road to success.

LaMagna's chronicle of missteps provides budding entrepreneurs with a roadmap of start-up pitfalls and how to avoid them. Here's some of what you'll learn:

• "Tell the truth, it's always easier to remember." With truth comes transparency; tell your employees what's going on — the good and the bad. You'll be surprised how many of them have ideas that make the good and bad better.

• At first, "Do every job at your business." Once you know how things are done, delegate. Teach others to do the jobs; they'll see the dirt under your fingernails and appreciate your effort. Appreciate theirs, too: Be open to feedback from your employees because how you did the job may not be the best way it should be done. Giving them a piece of the profits ensures they'll be interested in continuous improvement.

• "Don't overdesign your product." Every time you think about adding features, ask yourself if the customer wants it and will pay for it. Adding features adds cost which, if not recoverable in the retail price, shrinks gross margin and raises the break-even point. You'll have to sell more units to make the same gross profit. You'll face increased costs of carrying inventory and shipping, too. LaMagna also learned that overdesign can make the product more difficult to use — and easier to misuse. One of his ventures failed because customers "broke" the product when using its added features improperly.

• "Some things can't be saved." Commitment is admirable; foolishness is not. Recognize reality. LaMagna's mother told him: "Failure is just a perception. Learn from your mistakes and move on."

He got his winning idea from wood splinters imbedded in his butt. Regular tweezers wouldn't remove them. What would? Tweezers with needle points and 32 redwood splinters later, Tweezerman was created. After growing the brand for 25 years, he sold the business for millions.

While many of LaMagna's stories are humorous, their messages are dead serious.

"Personality Poker" by Stephen Shapiro (Portfolio Penguin, $25.95).

Shapiro, the former leader of Accenture's "process excellence" practice, uses a deck of Personality Poker cards (they come with the book) to identify your strong and weak suits, and those of your teammates. Once strengths align, teams produce better results quicker.

Each suit represents different personality traits. Spades indicate those driven by facts and principles. Diamonds are for the multi-faceted visionaries whose ideas bring change. Clubs define those who plan and execute. Hearts are for leaders who achieve results by getting the most from their staff and relationships/alliances. Each card lists a personality trait which relate to its suit.

The object of the game, which has been validated by over 25,000 people, is to create a five-card hand that mirrors the personalities of each team member. With the initial hands, the players focus on their personality. Ensuing hands work toward identifying the traits of their teammates. This gives each player an opportunity to see if self-image squares with how they're seen by others. The result: Teammates understand how to work with each other and the roles for which they're best-suited.

At http://game.personalitypokerbook.com/poker.php, you can play Personality Poker as a video poker game.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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