the knack book summary

The Knack Book Summary and My Thoughts

Are you ready to start a company? Read this first.

This is the 17th book in the series Learning Together and Leading Together where we are going through the Personal MBA plan curated by Josh Kaufman. Our goal is to get through 99 books this year. Do we read the whole book? Nope. We digest the summary(s) of the book and I give my thoughts and you give your thoughts. Feel free to follow along and comment if you would like.

The best summary I found on this book was by and is quoted below.

A website dedicated to this book can be found here: says this about The Knack:

“A lot of people starting out in business would prefer to have a step-by-step formula
or a specific set of rules they could use to achieve their goals. The problem is, there aren’t any.
Rather, there’s a way of thinking that allows someone to deal with many different situations and take advantage of many different opportunities as they arise.”

The Knack, page 3

To say Norm Brodsky is an experienced entrepreneur would be an understatement. At the heart of Norm’s entrepreneurial success philosophy is not a “step-by-step formula or a specific set of rules”. Rather, it’s a set of mental habits – “a way of thinking that allows someone to deal with many different situations and take advantage of many different opportunities as they arise.”

So what’s the most important habit an entrepreneur should learn? Follow the Numbers.

Golden Egg

Follow the Numbers

“After all, to be successful in any business, you need to develop a feel for the numbers.
You need to get a sense of the relationship between them, see the connections, figure out
which ones are especially critical and have to be monitored accordingly.”

The Knack, page 74

“Numbers run businesses. They tell you how you can make the most money in the least time and
with the least effort – which is, or should be, the goal of every entrepreneur. What you choose to do
with the money after you’ve made it is another matter. You can give it all away if you want to.
But you first have to earn it, and the numbers can tell you how to do that as efficiently as possible, provided you understand their language.”

The Knack, page 74

So how do you learn their language?
The following two GEMs explore how to do just that.

GEM # 1

Track Your Numbers By Hand. No Computers Allowed.

“Here’s the best advice I can give to anyone starting a business: from day one, keep track of your monthly sales and gross margins by hand! Don’t use a computer. Write down the numbers, broken out by product category or service type by customer, and do the math yourself, using nothing more sophisticated than a calculator.”

The Knack, page 74

Yes, in this technologically advanced world, with the Business Intelligence and Analytics industry offering businesses innovative tools to gain better insight into their businesses; Norm puts it plainly, “With pencil and paper. No Computers allowed.”


Writing down your numbers (actual/projected revenue, expenses, gross profit, etc.) by hand, at the very start of your business, gives you a feel for your business that you wouldn’t get if you relied on a computer to produce these numbers for you. You get a chance to really focus on your numbers, instead of simply reviewing them; especially key numbers such as gross profit (not only sales).

“You have to write the numbers out by hand and calculate the percentages yourself.
If you let a computer do the work, the numbers become abstract. They start to blend together.
You don’t focus on them. You don’t absorb them. You don’t get to know them as well as you must if you’re really going to be in control of your business.”

The Knack, page 77

After taking Norm’s advice to manually track her monthly sales, costs of goods sold, gross profit and gross margin, she had a “revelation”.

“The reports were a revelation. Anisa later told me that it was like reality hitting her in the face.
For the first time, she saw what it took to make money in business. Before, she said, she’d been winging it. Afterward, she began to understand how she could be in control… She was doing fine with some products and customers, but the others were dragging the average [gross margin] down.”

The Knack, page 76

GEM # 2

Track Your Numbers Weekly and Find The Key Numbers.

“I believe every business has key numbers.”

The Knack, page 79

One of the key advantages of regularly tracking your numbers is the ability to identify key numbers.

You begin to see what numbers really drive your business. And as Norm discovered with his record storage business in 2003, you can be alerted to “potential problems before they become serious, so you can make the right decisions in time to prevent further complications.”

Every Monday morning, Norm reviewed a two-page report on his business. One of the key numbers he tracked in that report was the number of boxes they put away the week before: a key number he had learned was a reliable indicator of overall weekly sales.

“If I didn’t have a key number I’d have to add up sales from all the different sources to get the total.
As a practical matter, that would mean waiting until we did our monthly billing. But I didn’t want to wait that long, and I knew I wouldn’t have to if I could find a number that rose at the same rate as overall sales. After years of searching, I zeroed in on the new-box count and was eventually able to devise a formula that allowed me to estimate sales within 1 percent or 2 percent of the actual figure.”

The Knack, page 78-79

One particular Monday morning in the spring of 2003, Norm noticed that the new-box count had decreased by 70 percent from the previous week, which immediately raised Norm’s red flag: “That stopped me dead in my tracks.”

Up until that point, they had been experiencing steady growth, and were in “constant hiring mode”. But based on the sudden, and sharp, weekly decrease, Norm put a temporary hold on hiring because he didn’t want to take any chances should the decrease be an indication of future events.

It turned out Norm’s cause for concern was valid. He noticed an overall decrease over the next four months, and their annual growth rate had “plunged from 55 percent to about 15 percent”.

So what’s the lesson here?
1)      Track your numbers daily or weekly. Don’t wait for the “official” statements.
2)      Look for, and identify, key numbers (not just sales, cost of goods sold and gross profit) that are at the heart of your business. And watch them like a hawk.

“Indeed, the best businesspeople I know all have certain key numbers they track on a daily or weekly basis. It’s an essential part of running a successful enterprise. Key numbers give you the financial information you need to take timely action. Business moves too fast to wait for the monthly, quarterly, or annual statements from your accountant.”

The Knack, page 79

My Thoughts: 

Many of the people I meet with that want to start a company start by saying, “I have a great idea!” They then move to how do I make that idea happen. Then form a team or start developing this idea on their own. At this point it is a uphill battle. No matter the idea, no matter the team, or no matter the market. There is an ebb and flow to any business. The Knack and the principles in this book helps you tremendously get past the ebbs and flows and to the core. It’s hard to move from idea to numbers for many. They want to stay at the idea or the heart. The numbers seem like it is all about the head. So how do the head and the heart of the business come together? Knowing both inside and out is the key. Yes you have to understand the big picture and where things are going but you can’t forget to know where things are. This is truly a balance that must be dealt with if the person and company will be successful.

The other 6 keys I got from this book are:

  • There is no one single formula for success. You have to find the core and build from there.
  • Resilience is important.
  • If you’re new to a niche don’t try and compete on price. Add value and care more.
  • Don’t try a new idea, but improve on an existing idea.
  • Too many low-margin sales can drive you to close your doors.
  • Salespeople should work as a team not independent of each other.

If you need a hard copy of the book go here: [amazon_enhanced asin=”B004J645B6″ /]

Do you have the Knack? Do you agree with this book and how it approaches entrepreneurship?

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4 Responses to The Knack Book Summary and My Thoughts

  1. JTapp at #

    I think it’s great advice to be on top of numbers from the get-go and find a go-to metric. It’s like a spending diary needs to be the first step in personal financial planning, once someone sees where the money is going every day (as opposed to waiting until their bank statement comes in) they suddenly sit up and pay attention; it affects their decisions. I will read this book.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the summary, Matt! Plenty more where that one came from 😉

  3. Chris, I really like your site and the service that you guys provide. Thanks for taking the time to do that for guys and gals like myself.


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