I’m holding, in my fat little fist, an actual hard copy book written by my friend and biz partner, Alex Hillman. Words cannot express how simultaneously strange and awesome this is… but this is a review so I’m gonna do my damnedest to make it work!
First off: It’s an object. A real, physical object! One you can flip through, write in, and shove in the back pocket of your jeans.
This is a first for our business, and I fucking LOVE it. I had not expected to be so moved by concrete evidence I could hold in my hand.
Physical stats: It measures just a touch under 5” by 7”. It has 133 pages. It weighs less than 10 ounces.
It’s… mustard, or as I prefer to think of it, goldenrod.
It’s the platonic ideal size for the jean-back-pocketing or shoving in a bag or tucking under your monitor so it can live at-hand. The pages are a good thickness, not too thin like you’d expect a print-on-demand book to be. The cover has that sort of luxurious, touchable, almost silicone-y coating. It’s a comfortable size and weight to hold open. I do wish the gutters were a little wider.
As a reader, I value this meatspace presence. You all know I love me some ebooks, especially for research — but there’s something magical about holding a physical book you can rifle through, land at a page by random happenstance, catch a sentence that speaks to you. Almost like… a divining rod.
Aside from the introduction, which is typeset as a regular book, each page has a short mantra or thought-provoking question or idea set into a little box… with plenty of room to write notes or ideas in, which I highly recommend!
This is a book designed for that ritual.
The Use Case
Tiny MBA is a short, pithy book that evolved from a Twitter thread — obvious, if you follow Alex on Twitter — but less obviously, it also stems from Alex’s love of insight tools, like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck. (An obscure love we share!)
There’s an essay introduction by the ineffable Nilofer Merchant, and then every subsquent page is a short, sharp thought to chew on.
These little tidbits are in a logical order; you can read the book end to end, and it works well that way.
But Tiny MBA can also serve another, much more powerful purpose: like a non-mystical tarot, you can pick a card, any card, and extrapolate from that randomness a lens to sharpen your thinking in any given situation.
Like Phone-a-Friend, but the friend is inside you all along; you just need the right surprise to lure them out. You just need, as Roger von Oech — my other fave insight tool maker — put it, “a whack on the side of the head.”
And that’s why I can use The Tiny MBA myself, even though Alex and I have collaborated in business for the last decade and know each other’s opinions inside and out.
My Personal Experience
You see, I’ve been having a really rough time this year.
I spent March through June totally debilitated with coronavirus, back when there were no answers, and my software business was freefalling due to the shock to the economy for freelancers and agencies, and I could do nothing but watch it happen.
As has only ever once ever happened to me before, my body and mind hit their limit simultaneously. I’m still not fully recovered.
Consequently, I had absolutely nothing to do with this book. Nothing! Alex occasionally told me what he was doing but it wasn’t for my input, just to make me feel included.
So, for once, I get to enjoy something of ours like a customer.
Here are a few of the “cards” from Tiny MBA that are speaking to me right now:
Because right now, I’m still traumatized by watching my business crater and being too sick to do anything about it.
And as I’m slowly crawling back to physical health, I find myself overwhelmed by the size of the task before me.
These pages have reminded me that it’s easy to get fixated on the wrong things, and suggested ways I can let go of that wrong thinking and see what I really need to see.
These pages aren’t the ones I’ve seen other folks quoting in their reviews — and that’s the magic of it. You find the bits that speak to you. Every page is gold, and it’s right there on the surface, too.
In short, I love this book, and I think you will, too.
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