Friday, September 18, 2020

"The Pumpkin Plan," by Mike Michalowicz--Nonfiction Review

Now I know what you’re thinking—it’s Kevin, you’re reviewing a self-help book? Isn’t that outside of your bailiwick? Listen, for a man who lives in an imaginary dome, in an imaginary desert, constantly under siege by imaginary sandworms; I need all the help I can get. No, no, it isn’t. So let’s talk about “The Pumpkin Plan” by Mike Michalowicz and feel the entrepreneurial spirit together. But before we do, I should be upfront that I bought my copy of this book in 2016, and Michalowicz has since updated it—so you might not be reading the exact same copy of this book as I am, but I’m sure the gist is the same.

Mike Michalowicz

What I love about this book:

The book immediately jumps off with Michalowicz explaining the metaphor of his book’s title “The Pumpkin Plan.” He describes how the same techniques used to grow the massive gourds can be used to drive a business to greatness. I appreciate this bit because, well, it’s pristinely clear what the rest of the book is about.

Throughout the book, I love the practical advice Michalowicz gives you, drawn from personal experience. Early on, Michalowicz describes his struggles to grow his own business and the advice he got from his mentor about where he was going wrong. Like with most wisdom, when initially heard, he didn’t appreciate it—at first.

Overall Michalowicz, keeps a positive tone throughout the book and can be humorous at times. It’s easy to follow him as he breaks down step-by-step how his method works. Then at the end of each chapter, he sets up a hypothetical business, each in a different sector and industry within the economy, and describes how he might apply his method. At the very least, they’re interesting thought experiments.   

What I don’t love about this book:

Some of his descriptors he uses to get across his point can be a little distracting. His fear of becoming “one nut guy”—precisely what it sounds like—springs to mind. Also, at times, his writing can become a bit manic—it’s especially evident in the audiobook version, which he narrates. 

I get that this is a book about what hard work, creative flexibility, and insight can do for your business, and all those positive things, but I also feel it doesn’t do enough to address the things entirely out of the blue that can torch a business. Advising on how your business can cope with a catastrophe isn’t really discussed in this book about advice for business, which should be evident in today’s climate is incredibly necessary. Now I’m not trying to go too hard on Michalowicz for not being prophetic and anticipating the pandemic of 2020—but massive economic downturn should always be somewhere in business owner’s lists of contingencies to prepare for if they happen.

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Parting thoughts:

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, books like this can be worth reading anyway. My reason is that authors such as Michalowicz can offer real insight into problem-solving and creative thinking that can be used in other dimensions of one’s life. These skills are valuable to enrich any life, even one not directly pursuing profit. He talks about the importance of focus, playing to one’s strengths, communal cooperation with others—but I’m not going to lie to you, this isn’t really how the book is intended to be used and is an exercise in the abstract. My point is, information is inherently valuable, and how it is applied is primarily up to the recipient. 

More-and-more I find myself more likely to be aligned with the left politically, a position I feel I’ve been pushed toward by the GOP from my typically centrist tendencies. Why I bring this up is for the same reason I talked about ideological purity in an earlier review. There are those on the left, politically, that wouldn’t see the value of this book, and would be pretty annoyed by me for choosing to review it because it is a book extolling the virtues of capitalism. The people always going on about late-stage capitalism spring to mind.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not proselytizing the greatness of pure and unfettered capitalism stripped of all government regulation. The days of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller weren’t great times for anyone other than the few that had made their way to the top. The problem with that time in American history where capitalism reigned supreme is: that once at the top, with all that wealth and power, great capitalists stopped being positive forces for society. They became preoccupied with entrenching their “legacy” and destroying any and all competition from rivaling them—all at the expense of, and while exploiting the poor. When anyone tells me about how pure capitalism is the greatest boon to society, they always sound na├»ve to me and like they just don’t know their history.

The same goes for anyone describing to me their belief in a socialist utopia. Again, it’s a failure to appreciate history. Smart people, educated and well-meaning people—like Christopher Hitchens for one—believed in worker’s paradises before now and were disillusioned because it’s never worked out. In the positive pursuit of enriching the masses, equitably, pure socialism and communism fail to take into account the potential for corruption. The strong man—the autocrat—always seems to rise from such environments. Don’t believe me? Take a good hard look at China, Russia, and Eastern Europe. 

Which brings me back to my theme—purity—is inherently a bad thing. It’s terrible in genetics, and it’s just as bad in economics. I don’t have any grand solutions here, other than to say I have heard good capitalistic ideas and good socialistic ideas. I believe it’s the balancing of the two extremes, that endless competition between ideals is what keeps society healthy.

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