A Book Review: The Creators Code

Jared Wolff · 2015.6.13· 7 Minute Read · book review

In this book review, I talk about The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson. Amy had been featured on one of my favorite podcasts these days The School of Greatness. I’ve been especially interested how the most successful people in the world got to where they are. I digress, the conversation got me interested enough to read the book, thus this book review!

During the podcast Amy described how she wanted to write this book to showcase industry leaders and their companies. Not only that but these companies need to start from nothing and be considered multimillion dollar companies today.

Once I got my hands on the book (borrowed an eBook from the library – yes, we live in the future), I inhaled it in my spare time. It’s a relative short but but the insights and the way everything was organized was quite valuable. The book was split into six different sections. Each section highlighted a different aspect of how a leader and business builds a company from an idea to something great.

Find the Gap

One domain to another

Many entrepreneurs find ways of taking one technology and applying it somewhere else. For example Dean Kamen took Gyroscopic technology and put it into a wheelchair and subsequently into what we all know as Segway. Another example was with Howard Schultz. His team worked on a technology that was targeted originally to freeze dry blood for lab testing and use it to dehydrate coffee. That technology is used now today to produce Starbucks Via coffee.

Architect from the ground up

The Elon Musks and Sara Blakelys of the world are always questioning the status quo. They are constantly asking themselves and their employees to think about processes. They constantly thinking about existing products and processes. The question is posed, “How would I do i if I had no preexisting biases and techniques?” Often unique, cheaper and more effective solutions come about to solve a problem that has been around for years if not decades. Some of the biggest examples are Elon’s search for a cheap rocket and Sara Blakely’s search for comfortable pantyhose. Both quests are examples of a vision turned into successful multi-(b/m)illion dollar companies (Spanx and SpaceX).

Combining Concepts

The idea behind combining concepts is to take some technology and mash it with some other technology. I am actually living this idea today by combining technology into a cup. There is a whole burgeoning industry in the San Francisco Bay Area that is focusing of this very concept. There are projections to put Internet of Things (IoT) devices into the billions in only a few short years.

The biggest problem with this is combining technologies together to make something that delivers value to the customer. For instance, another example of this is the Jawbone Up (a fitness tracker). People often find themselves using them for a short few months and then interest wanes and it becomes some other piece of technology junk that sits on the nightstand.

Another successful example in the book related to Chipotle. It was the brain child of Steve Ells. He first got the inspiration from the lines going out the door of a taqueria in the Mission of San Francisco. He took a tally of the line going out the door and realized that they were making some serious dough. He packed up his life and moved back to Colorado to open the first Chipotle. He took the idea idea of a taqueria and mashed it with the fast food model with a huge focus on using only the highest quality ingredients. As you very well may know, Chipotle is a huge multi-billion dollar company and it’s only getting larger!

Drive for Daylight

The main idea of this chapter was to describe the fact that successful entrepreneurs don’t focus on what to the side or behind them but only focus forward. They are often not concerned with who are next to them or behind them but they focus on the path ahead.

For instance the vision and focus of Hamdi Ulukaya helped create one of the largest brands of greek yogurt in the US. Hamdi had humble beginnings and originally sold cheese to small restaurants. He had received a letter in the mail about a Kraft manufacturing plant closing down. Even though the paint was cracking and everything seemed to leak he took the opportunity to purchase the plant and make the first batch of Chobani greek style yogurt. Despite not being perfect he managed to ship and his first shipment sold pretty instantaneously. The rest of the story is history.

Fly the OODA loop

The OODA loop was coined by John Boyd and was used to train fighter jet pilots to make split decisions faster and more effectively than their enemy counterparts. The process was as follows:

  1. Observe and take in information about their surroundings and situation.
  2. Ignore the superfluous information and concentrate on the pertinent.
  3. Make a split decision based on the information processed in the orient step.
  4. Finally, once the decision has been made, act!

Without the final and most critical step, in most cases, pilots found themselves in very deadly situations.

This very same process is used for successful entrepreneurs today. Amy describes how Paypal had thwarted some of the biggest issues they were having by observing, orienting, deciding and acting. For instance, they observed that there was a significant amount of automated fraud occurring through their system and asked the question “What can humans do that computers can’t?” Shortly after they integrated the distorted letters images that required the user to type in the word displayed. This simple addition significantly curbed the automated fraud being committed through Paypal and saved them thousands of dollars they were loosing to credit card processing fees.

Fail Wisely

Failure is the way we learn. It’s the only way to get better. Successful entrepreneurs know this as well. Not only that, but they try to minimize the significance of a failure by taking smaller bets. By doing this over and over it substantially decreases the risk of trying new things. For instance, Jessica Herrin and her business partner Blythe Harris of Stella & Dot found that the best way to test new products is to do it in small batches and intensely focus on the feedback sent back from their representatives and team members. This feedback would then help them figure out what worked and what didn’t. It ultimately has prevented them from making lofty and costly mistakes saving them thousands.

Network Minds

Networking minds involves assembling a team of people around a certain goal or objective that normally wouldn’t come together otherwise. Just down the peninsula at Stanford’s d.school, the David Kelly constantly fosters the creation of groups composed of professionals from different fields to solve every day problems. It is often said that diverse groups that can collaborate together can move mountains as they collectively have so may different experiences.

Another example is the development of Jawbone Up. After the initial release, they realized that the product had some serious design flaws often breaking after the first day of use. Hosain Rahman, CEO of Jawbone, assembled a war room of experts from all areas to scrutinized the design and find solutions to their reliability issues. Only after thousands of hours of collective design, testing and tweaking did they re-launch the Up becoming an instant success outpacing Fitbit and the Nike Fuelband.

Gift Small Gifts

In the final section, Amy discusses how the the most successful entrepreneurs often give small gifts. The example she used was Bob Langer of MIT. He is constantly and consistently giving back to his students often adopting an open office policy for all. Though he is extremely busy and accomplished, the fact that he still gives despite these things is likely one of the main reasons he is so successful!

Just recently I purchased and read Give and Take by Adam Grant. In this book, Adam focuses in on the idea of giving small gifts is often the highest indicator of professional and personal success. It was great to see that this philosophy is touted as one of the main indicators of success. More on Give and Take in future posts. ;)


When you can combine vision, execution, the ability to step past potential failure, the ability to recruit people smarter than you and giving value every way possible magical things happen. More about the The Creators Code on Lewis Howes’ podcast.. You can also find The Creators Code on Amazon or your local library.

Thanks to JD Hancock for the rad post photo.

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