Business Innovation and the Five Books of Stupid

August 9, 2021 Author: Gary Ralston

What is the best way to get up-to-speed in a new industry or subject? Entrepreneurs and other leaders must repeatedly do this in the course of exploring and opening new markets to serve. The problem with the go-to approach (i.e. Googling!) is that it can leave big holes in one's understanding that undermine credibility with experts and decision makers in early conversations. What we need is for the experts and influencers we talk with to say: "You're asking great questions! How long did you say you've been in the industry??"

In “The Art of Impossible”, author and journalist, Steven Kotler, outlines a powerful strategy for rapidly learning the basics of a domain that starts with...

The Five Books of Stupid

What Kotler means is that he selects and reads five books on a subject without judging his learning along the way.

But he doesn’t read just ANY books - he has specific criteria and order:

  1. Domain BestSeller - start with the most popular, bestselling book on the subject - fact OR fiction. E.g. “The Da Vinci Code”.
  2. Pop Science - nothing too heavy, yet. More technical and on-point. E.g. “Drive”.
  3. Semi-technical - more precise language and expert-level detail. E.g. “Thinking, Fast & Slow”.
  4. Textbook - hard & detailed book about the problems real experts are thinking about. Maybe it includes a history. Also, it may point to where the ‘crazy’ lies: the stuff experts feel is balderdash.
  5. Macroscopic / Future Book - looks into the cutting-edge future of the subject and its implications.

So the next time you need to quickly develop a working knowledge of a domain for a new venture, apply this approach and build momentum from your first conversation!

PS: For a future post, please help by sending me a “Five Books of Stupid” list for YOUR area of domain expertise to Please don't feel constrained to "books", either. Include ANY source of information you find highly valuable.

If you’d rather talk than type, I’m at

Thanks in advance,


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