What I’ve Learnt from Business Books

I have a guilty secret. I enjoy business books.

I’m not talking about high-level economics tomes here, I’m talking about books that tell you, as an individual, how to “make it big” (side note: I have yet to make it big).

For the record, some of these books are actually excellent. Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup” is essential reading for any new entrepreneur launching a product. The vast majority of these books, however, are somewhat derivative. They tell the same stories, with the same messages to the same audience. If I hear the story about the marketing successes of Febreeze one more time, I’m cancelling my Audible account.

So, to save you the trouble of reading a dozen of these texts yourself, I thought I would compile something of a digest of lessons for you which I include below. I will do my best to channel my inner self-help guru to ensure the effect is not lost in translation.

Learn from your failure and always try again

What separates the successful from the rest is not a clear, unobstructed path to the top but rather a series of failures from which lessons were learnt. This might take the form of a newly released feature to your product or an ambitious new way of working you’re trialling. The point is that failure is a temporary state providing you learn from it and adapt your approach for next time.

Professionalism reflects better on you than one-up-manship

Have you ever had a plumber/mechanic comment on the work of their predecessor? The cliched line often heard might be “Ooof, you’re lucky I got here when I did, Guv’nor”. This is an attempt to separate the workmanship of the old guy from the new, improved workman whose services you are about to pay through the nose for.

In reality, this rarely has the desired effect in a closed system like an office space because it will become clear very quickly that you are bullshitting everyone. The fact of the matter is that if you spend your time badmouthing your colleagues or gossiping behind everyone’s back you will actually diminish others’ opinions of you, not improve them.

It is infinitely better to praise your colleagues or subordinates for a job well done because it is the right thing to do and any attempt to downplay the achievements of others in order to amplify your own will be seen as plainly transparent and cowardly.

You suck at multi-tasking

Multi tasking is a lie. Humans cannot do more than one thing at once. The best you can hope for is doing one thing for a few seconds before switching to another thing. This is neither effective, nor efficient.

In order to do something to the best of your ability it must be the only thing you are currently doing and you must spend a significant chunk of time doing it. Anything else will be, at best, a poor representation of your ability or, at worst, a waste of damn time. Don’t do it.

Passion and hard work are more important than talent

The value of talent is massively overstated. What will make you successful is hard work and determination. In other words “grit”. The best Marines are not the ones with the biggest muscles or the ones with the best rifle aim. The best Marines are the ones who get back up. The best entrepreneurs are not the ones with a natural flair for business, they are the ones who bite down and will not let go. Don’t be brilliant, be tenacious… ideally be both.

A good team will beat a great individual

Teams are the future of work. Any given individual’s performance is of negligible concern compared to the performance of the team as a unit. Lone wolf tactics in a modern organisation will not endear you to either your colleagues of your managers. It’s not unheard of for a team to improve its performance by 100, 200 or even 400% and to keep on improving. How are you going to improve an individual’s performance by 400% without surgically attaching some more arms? Teams can do more and, importantly, improve more than an individual ever can.

Well that’s my business book summary in full. If you’re interested in these kinds of books for your own entertainment I recommend all of Daniel Priestley's books as well as Work Rules! by Lazlo Bock.

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Steven Poulton is a web developer and technical architect living in Manchester, England. In his spare time he likes to make indie music, make indie games and play with his indie cats.