Strong Shoulders

We often feel like we need to reinvent the wheel. But here's a secret: you don't have to. Learning from those who came before you can save you time, money, and a lot of headaches. Let’s talk about standing on the shoulders of giants and how it can elevate your business, featuring inspiring stories from successful individuals who have embraced this technique.

The phrase "standing on the shoulders of giants" means using the insights and achievements of those who have already done the hard work. It's about recognizing that you don’t have to start from scratch. By studying successful entrepreneurs, you can learn what worked for them and what didn’t. This insight is invaluable.

I use books as my 'shoulders of giants' and, increasingly nowadays, YouTube videos.  You really can learn anything on YouTube but, more than that, you can get inspiration.  Even if you are not watching a business video, you can learn how to be 'A Better Entrepreneur' by noticing the traits of those who are successful in other areas.

As is the way with great mentors, you can often hear their voice in your head if you ask them what to do in any given circumstance.

I often hear Gary Vaynerchuk in my head going 'Nobody cares!' when I'm feeling a bit victim-like...

You can watch people going through adversity alone (Alone: Alaska), you can learn patience with breaking seemingly insurmountable tasks down into smaller parts (Survival Skills) and you can watch people becoming better, more effective, kinder people (Justin Rhodes) even while battling with adversity like five chikdren, house fires and chronic pain.

Practical Tips

Start by identifying leaders in your field. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, and watch their interviews. Absorb as much as you can. When you see a strategy that resonates, adapt it to fit your business. Remember, it’s not about copying; it’s about learning and evolving.

  1. Identify Your Giants: Who are the leaders in your industry? Make a list and start researching their journeys.
  2. Learn from Mistakes: Giants have made plenty of mistakes. Learn from them so you don’t have to repeat them.
  3. Adapt Strategies: Take what works and adapt it to your business. Customize their strategies to fit your unique needs.
  4. Network: Don’t be afraid to reach out. Connect with these leaders on social media, attend their webinars, or even ask for mentorship.
  5. Stay Humble: Always stay open to learning. No matter how successful you become, there’s always something new to learn.

Real-Life Examples

1. Pat Flynn - Founder of Smart Passive Income

Pat Flynn openly acknowledges how he has learned from other successful entrepreneurs. When he started his online business journey, he immersed himself in learning from industry leaders like Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk. Flynn's success with Smart Passive Income was built on the foundational knowledge he gained from these giants, which he then adapted to fit his own style and audience.

2. Chris Guillebeau - Author and Founder of The Art of Non-Conformity

Chris Guillebeau is another example of an entrepreneur who has benefited from learning from others. He traveled to every country in the world and used the experiences and stories of people he met to shape his own entrepreneurial ventures. Guillebeau's popular book, "The $100 Startup," draws heavily on the principles and success stories of other small business owners who started with minimal investment.

3. Sara Blakely - Founder of Spanx

Sara Blakely often credits her success to the lessons she learned from others. Before founding Spanx, she read countless business books and biographies of successful entrepreneurs. She was particularly inspired by Richard Branson’s autobiography, which encouraged her to think outside the box and take risks. Blakely's willingness to learn from others' experiences helped her navigate the challenges of starting a business and ultimately led to her success.

4. Howard Schultz - Former CEO of Starbucks

Howard Schultz, the man behind the global expansion of Starbucks, openly acknowledges how he stood on the shoulders of giants. Before transforming Starbucks, Schultz traveled to Italy and studied the culture of Italian espresso bars. He observed how they served as community hubs and brought this concept back to the United States, shaping the Starbucks experience. Schultz’s ability to learn from the Italian coffee culture was pivotal in creating a unique business model that set Starbucks apart.

Recommended Reading

  1. "Tools of Titans" by Tim Ferriss: A compilation of tips, routines, and habits from some of the world’s most successful people.
  2. "Mindset, Marketing & Money" by Nicola Cairncross Insights on starting, building and running a successful business from a collection of interviews with some of my most respected entrepreneurs.
  3. "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill: A classic on success principles from studying the habits of wealthy individuals.


Standing on the shoulders of giants is about leveraging the experiences of those who have paved the way. Learn from their successes and failures. Adapt their strategies to suit your business. Stay curious, stay humble, and keep learning.

This blog post was inspired by one of the lessons in my book 'A Better Entrepreneur'

Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash


Entrepreneurship, learning from others, mentors, mentorship, nicola cairncross, shoulders of giants, strong shoulders

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