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Book Review: Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki

By: Steve Johnson

2/10/2009 - 36 Comments

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki was one of the top books on the art of entrepreneurship in 2008, so it made it to the top of my ‘must read’ book list.

It was a lot like Rob Adams book, “A Good Hard Kick In the Ass: Basic training for entrepreneurs”.

January went by in a blur and now we are almost half way through February. I have to get reading if I’m going to reach my goal of reading 20 books this year.

Guy is also one of the top bloggers on the Internet and has produced nine books, including this one.  A guy has been around the block a few times – is a guy to learn from.   

Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition


 What I really liked

Reality Check has a lot of great information packaged into 94 short chapters, which make it each to read with short periods of time. 

Here are the best parts of the book. Guy says;

  •  “Success takes crazy passionate people who believe they can change the world.”
  • “A pitch should contain ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and use no font smaller than 30 points.”
    “The startup cult of cramming people into small spaces is counterproductive: People are what’s really expensive, not space”
  • “Establish a culture of execution. Execution is not an event – a onetime push towards achieving goals. Rather, it is a way of life, and this way of life is set in the early days of the organization.  The best way to establish this culture is for the founders, particularly the CEO, to set an example of meeting goals, responding to customers, and heeding and measuring employees.“
  • “…the way to success for most organizations is bootstrapping.”
  • “Sell, don’t enable buying. … you need face-to-face, personalized, and intense contact. Advertising can’t do this, so for most organizations the best lead-generation methods are seminars, presentations by company executives, and schmoozing. “
  • “Befriend as many bloggers as you can. … some of these unknown bloggers may become big names in the future. “
  • “If you are constantly innovating and serving your customers, you will keep your competition off balance. However, companies go astray when defeating the competition becomes more important than taking care of customers.  … A good company listens to what a customer says it wants. A great company anticipates what a customer needs – even before she knows she wants it.”
  • “Focus on the customer. Here’s what most people find surprising: The best way to drive your competition crazy is not to do anything to it. Rather, the best way is for you to succeed, because your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. “

What I didn’t care for (with some things I did)

The book was too long (450 some pages, 220 would have been long enough).  It didn’t have a common theme or a solid conclusion that pulled it all together.  Its like if Guy has learned so much about business that he no longer can make a solid judgment about what will absolutely work and what will not.  He has seen so many businesses startup from so many different angles that he has trouble saying what will not work.

The last chapter was interesting.  Guy gives a detailed account of a college graduation speech he gave, in which he talks about ten hindsight’s that he sees looking back over his life.

1. Live off your parents as long as possible. Guy rushed through college in three and half years and recommends students to stretch out their college education to at least six years before they have to work for the rest of their life. He says to delay, as long as possible, the inevitable entry into the workplace.

This doesn’t jive with entrepreneurship, which thrives on young educated and extremely hard working young people.  Besides, most people that go to college are lucky to get funding for four years, let alone six.  If your parents of wealthy and have a job or business waiting for you, than maybe you can follow this advice, but even than if you have business in your blood, you will probably start a business before you graduation from college.

Partying and traveling your college years away will not give you the education and the addiction to learn everything you can that you need.  If you don’t know who you are or what you are here for, than don’t even go to college until you do.  I say you should strive to get in and get out with the best education that money can buy and in the shortest period of time possible. 

2. Pursue joy, not happiness.  This is probably the hardest lesson of all to learn. If probably seems to you that the goal of life is to be happy. Now you maybe have to sacrifice and study and work hard, but, by and large, happiness should be predictable. Nice car. Nice material things. Take my word for it, happiness is temporary and fleeting. Joy, by contrast, is unpredictable and intense. 

This is true, but joy comes from doing that we were created to do by God from before we were born.  If you don’t know who created you or why or what your true purpose is in life, you will not find joy in that things of this world because it’s not there.  If you want to find real joy, you need to get to know your creator and find someone that knows the creator that can mentor you. 

On the last page of the book, Guy says; “Here’s the mother of all hindsights for you: My family has brought me by far the greatest joy. This did not occur to me when I was younger – I thought acquiring money, cars, power, or fame (not that I have all these) was the goal. I thank God every day for my four children and my wife. “

You see Guy has found the most joy in things that only God could give to him, his family.

3. Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

This is good advice, but hard to do. This gets harder and harder as your get older, because you get used to things and suddenly the way to did things is old and something new is better and faster.  I have to admit that I tried online banking and I didn’t like it, so I went back to balancing my checkbook and managing my money with my custom spreadsheet.  But, I should probably just give it up and learn how to use the online bank.

4. Learn to speak a foreign language, play a musical instrument, and play noncontact sports. 

Why?  I learned a foreign language and hated it and have never used it.  I think it’s a good idea to try these things to learn what you like to do, but once you learn what you don’t like, than move on.  If you are good at any of these, than go with that, but don’t bet your career on any of these arts. Few people make a living on the arts. At most they make good hobbies.

5. Continue to learn.

This is the best advice to give. If you expect to stay of top of this global economy, then read constantly and stay informed. This is perhaps the best thing you can learn in colleges.

6. Learn to like yourself, or change yourself until you can life yourself. 

Again, this problem is only evident if you don’t know your creator or understand who you really are in Christ Jesus.  This is an identity problem more than anything else.

7. Don’t get married too soon.  I got married when I was thirty-two. That’s about the right age.

This is BS.  Get married when you understand your identity and find someone who shares the same passions as you do and stay married for life. Guy talks about his greatest joy being his family (as quoted in #2) , so why put off your greatest joy? Too many people today wait too long to get married. Life is too short to miss out on your greatest blessings.

8. Play to win, and win to play.

This is also BS. Everyone likes to say things like this, but what does this really mean?  I would rather say, find your identity, set your priorities and word hard. That is winning, no matter how much money you make.  What would it matter if you gained the whole world and didn’t understand your identity or why your where doing what you were doing?

9. Obey the absolutes.

I totally agree.  In an age of tolerance (believing that everything is acceptable) and post-modernism (believing that there is no absolute truth, that truth is relative and therefore right and wrong are indefinable), many are left with nothing but confussion.  The idea of absolutes has been squeezed out of our educational philosophy.  None the less, absolute true still exists and can be found.  I’m not sure Guy realizes that the higher educational systems of today, and the graduates he was giving this speak to, are not taught to believe in absolutes.

10.  Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone.

I totally agree, but this is a delicate balance for an entrepreneur who is always on the move, working long hours and exerting a lot of energy into his business. I have had to turn away from several opportunities in my career to maintain my priorities to my family. 


There you have it, my take on Guys’ new book.  I have not read any of his other eight books, so I don’t know how they compare to this one.  Guy is obviously been very successful and has built some great businesses.  I'm glad I had the opportunity read his book and learn from his experiences. 

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A Good Hard Kick in the Ass

Rob Adams help entrepreneurs find true markets for their products, design solid business models, and hire great teams – because that’s what it takes to build a successful company. The first thing to realize is that ideas are a dime a dozen. “Successful businesses don’t depend on unique ideas. Instead, they rely on a team’s ability to execute – to build, market, and sell a product that’s better, fasters, or cheaper, and to do so to near-superhuman perfection.”

Crossing the Chasm

This book is primary about moving from high tech products from early market success to mainstream market leadership. But, this book explains many of the concepts of moving a business from the starting gate into the marketplace. If you are trying to start a new business, this book will be very useful. This book talks about, attacking a niche market, creating competition, start locally – then globally, building relationships and many others aspects of getting started.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

This book explains how to be effective, regardless of your personality or circumstances. Peter explains how effectiveness can be learned. “Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective.” If you’re starting or working at a new business, this book will give you great advice about hiring the right people and understanding the most important things to do.

The Innovators Solution: Creating and Sustaining Sucessful Growth

Creating growth is a challenge for every company. This book is a study of the keys to creating sustainable growth. The results indicate that the companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products. Much more in this book.