There are men and then there are legends. Michael E. Gerber is the latter. According to INC Magazine, he is the “World’s number 1 small business guru”; he is also the author of the best-selling small business book of all time, “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It”. This book was first written in 1977 and is still regarded as the small business bible by many.
When I first started reading business books properly a few year’s ago, I asked my business contacts, “what’s the first business book I should read?”, unanimously, they replied, “The E-Myth Revisited”. Having now read it several times, it’s easy to see why.
We also recommend the E-Myth to the Acorns on our 20 week Business Accelerator Programme and the other small businesses we speak to. Given the significance of this book and its author, you can imagine my elation at having the opportunity to meet and listen to Michael E. Gerber last week in Glasgow!
This week’s blog will talk about some of the main lessons from Gerber’s world-class talk. Despite being “79 going on 80 years old”, he was sharp as ever and kept the audience engaged (without slides or props) for the entire 90 minute presentation.
I didn’t know what to expect from his presentation, obviously I’ve read the book but this was billed as “beyond the E-Myth”. His approach was direct, invigorating and challenging, and as my dad would say, “he didn’t miss and hit the wall!”.
“The System Works Hard So You Don’t Have To!”
Gerber started off by claiming that having spoken to thousands of small business owners across the world, he’s heard all of their excuses and frustrations: the economy, the competition, finance, the weather and the list goes on. He exclaimed, “the biggest problem in a small business isn’t any of these, it’s YOU – the business owner! You are the biggest problem, you always have been the biggest problem and you always will be the biggest problem!”.
He continued by saying that he’s met too many small business owners who are miserable! Miserable because they work too long, too hard and for too little money. In the “E-Myth”, Gerber explains that a business is really a system, a series of processes that you follow. This system works hard so you, the business owner, don’t have to.
He cites the greatest example of such a “systems business” is McDonalds – love it or hate it, they create the same experience and are run the same way around the world. Having worked in Starbucks myself, I would also suggest that they are a fantastic example of a business that runs on systems.
Gerber recommends that all small businesses should set themselves up in a similar way from day 1 so that there are manuals and processes for everything – this means that, in theory, you could franchise, sell or take on a new employee tomorrow with relative ease. The main themes are around consistency, implementation and constant innovation.
Michael E. Gerber’s Three “Masters”
In this Glasgow talk, Gerber explains how he created the Emyth. He wasn’t a businessman, didn’t come from a business background and didn’t think he had an interest in business. A series of life experiences with “three masters” led him to the creation of this revolutionary small business philosophy.
There isn’t time in this blog to really explain Gerber’s masters (you should have been at this talk!) so I’ll give a very brief summary before going into the main point of his presentation:
1. His first “master”, his saxophone teacher, Mearl, taught him about the importance of constant practising. He also taught him integrity: “if you don’t practice exactly how I tell you, for as long as I tell you, then don’t bother coming to the next lesson.”
2. Harold, was his second “master”, and Gerber worked with him in a womens’ shoe shop. Harold was the “biggest, ugliest sloppiest man” Gerber had ever seen but he completely outsold all other employees in the store. He watched and listened to Harold’s technique and that’s how he discovered that there is always a WAY to do something.
3. Whilst working for a company, selling encyclopaedias door-to-door, Gerber met his third “master”. He didn’t know anything about encyclopaedias but that didn’t matter as his boss gave him a sales script to memorise and then worked with Gerber to tweak his delivery until it was perfect. It was here Gerber learnt that not only is there a way to do something, there is always a BETTER way to do it, which can be learnt.
“Making It Up!”
You’ll have noticed that I said Gerber ‘created’ the Emyth. In other words, he “made it up”. He claimed that every successful business owner, whether large or small, has done this well: it’s not about money per se, it’s about finding your purpose and achieving your dreams.
He claimed, there’s nothing special about Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or any other business owner – they just “made it up!”. Gerber screamed that Steve Jobs was the “most unlikely person on the planet to succeed in business”: a High School drop-out, a hippie, who travelled to India and then came back to the USA because he didn’t like it there, with no particular skills.
But then one day, he decided to launch a business, by “making it up”. Steve Jobs didn’t have an education, “he didn’t know anything about anything so he made it up!” Gerber continued that Jobs was, “open and thrilled by the impossible. He was determined to pursue this with everything he had. He had a natural curiously, a purpose and dream”.
To clarify, Gerber wasn’t belittling these individuals’ achievements nor was he saying what they’d produced was inferior or junk; rather he was in awe of their ability to dream. He then encouraged the audience to dream…but dream of more.
How many business owners are winging it? How many business owners are “making it up?” If that’s the case, then if you’re not happy with the way your business is, “make it up differently!”. We’re already doing this to some extent so why not tweak, change or do whatever it takes, to design your business so that you can attain your dreams.
We’re Born to Create But No One Is Teaching Us How
Gerber then went on to claim that, “we’re born to create but no-one is teaching us how”. He blamed society, and in particular, education for dampening peoples’ dreams. He asked, how many times have you been told, “knock that off!”. He claimed formal education is a great fraud: in America, college students currently owe over $1.4trillion!!! He vehemenly asked, “Is it really worth it since they can’t get a job doing much?!
He claimed that anything can be learnt and “If you don’t know anything, all there is is discovery”. Therefore, as business owners and, or as a human being, all it takes to be able to do something new is the belief and commitment to learning how to do it.
So there you have it, the worlds number one small business guru and author of the best selling small business book ever, telling you all you need to do to be successful is: have a dream (“make it up!”), find yourself a “master”, learn how to do ‘it’, systemise it to ensure consistency and then better it. The system works hard so you don’t have to.