My Book Chapter 2



Today I have posted the next chapter of my book, which was first published in 2001 but which I am fully revising this year. The book is all about how to think creatively, dream up new ideas, and build businesses or not-for-profit enterprises based on those ideas. PDFs of the book will be free, but you will have to register to download them – just click on the link to the left. Here is an excerpt from chapter 2, which talks about why I got interested in business and why I think it is so fascinating:

            I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a General Motors factory town, Anderson, Indiana. GM was then the world’s largest industrial enterprise, at the height of its power. All my friends’ parents worked for GM, provided services to GM employees, or were suppliers to GM itself. In my junior high school homeroom, the girl sitting on my left was the daughter of a top GM executive, and the boy on my right was the son of a United Auto Workers leader. (During strike negotiations, they were not allowed to talk to each other.) General Motors was Anderson, Indiana.
            Meanwhile, in social studies class, our teacher was talking about San Juan Hill and Gettysburg, Teapot Dome and the WPA. One day, I held up my hand and said, “What about General Motors? Tell us about them.” The teacher said, “Well, they make cars. They make Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, and GMC trucks. Now can we get back to our history text?” I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know the history of GM, where it came from and why it existed. Were the people who ran it smart or stupid? Why did they do the things they did? What was important to these people? What motivated them? How would they react to the new Japanese car we’d been hearing about, the Toyopet, made by an obscure company called Toyota? And in the back of my head was the ultimate question: If I wanted someday to start or run a business as successful as GM, what would I need to do? What would I need to know? How did the system really work? What were the sources of success?
            After class, I tried to explain all of this to my teacher. I’m sure I didn’t convey it very well. She told me that if I wanted to find out more about General Motors, I should look in the reference books in the library. But there was no entry for General Motors in the dictionary, or even in the World Book encyclopedia. While all the kids in town and their parents were always talking about GM – about the latest car models, problems at the plant, the chance of new hiring in the next few months – no one at school seemed to want to talk about it. And certainly no one seemed to be asking the fundamental questions to which I wanted answers.
            Then, one day, my family stopped at a newsstand. My sister quickly gravitated to the horse and dog magazines, my brother to the magazines about cars and planes. But as I scanned the racks of periodicals, I caught a glimpse of an oversized magazine called Fortune. Staring me smack in the face was the cover story: “The Fortune 500: America’s Largest Industrial Corporations.” I grabbed it and began scanning the pages. I was stunned to discover a list, topped by General Motors itself and including 499 other creatures of the same species. At last, I’d stumbled across the first source that might help answer my questions.
            Soon I convinced Mom and Dad to get me a subscription to Fortune. I was only 12 at the time! A few months later, the cover story was an excerpt from a new book: My Years with General Motors, by Alfred P. Sloan, the man responsible for GM’s rise to glory. That did it. I was hooked on the study of human enterprise, the hows and whys of building great and lasting organizations.


   Click here to download a PDF version of the first two chapters of my book