4 Business Books That Transcend the Corporate Boardroom
I love business books for two reasons. One, their success stories inspire me to work harder, take risks, and focus on my goals. Two, their stories of failure remind me that sh*t will inevitably hit the fan and in dramatic fashion.
However, I’ve found the lessons from business books often translate to general lessons about living a good life. After all, the life of a business is essentially an abstract version of human life.
A business is born; it succeeds or fails; it pivots or remains the same; it prospers or dies. From these stories, we can gain tremendous value, but only if we can extract the abstract, and turn it into actionable ideas.
Here are four lessons from business books that taught me how to live a better life.
Why Simple Wins ~ by Lisa Bodell
As the title implies, Why Simple Wins emphasizes the importance of simplicity. Bodell suggests that managers should prioritize the simplification of complex processes. She describes that complexity creates frustration and inefficiencies that hurt a company’s performance.
I’ll be honest; this book wasn’t an easy read. At times it was so dull that I fell asleep. However, that doesn’t take away from the central tenet of the book.
Simplifying is possible and necessary.
Bodell describes simplifying as making a task minimal, understandable, repeatable, and accessible.
- Minimal suggests reducing excessive information, but not so far as to make it useless and oversimplified.
- Understandable means clear and concise.
- Repeatable means it is easy to follow and replicable by anyone.
- Accessible implies the path of least resistance.
I reflected on my life to think about the areas that could benefit from simplification. What mental processes, mindset, habits, or routines could I simplify? A lot, I concluded.
Most notably, I simplified my goal-setting process.
I would set goals by writing out my primary goal across the top of a page. I would list the consequences of achieving or not achieving the goal. I’d create an action plan full of secondary objectives to act as milestones. And then, I would make a progress schedule. When I finished, I would have a beautiful page of text, full of motivation, and concise metrics to help me attain my goal.
However, this method of goal-setting did not create the desired outcome. The artistically designed page would sit on my desk for a few months. It would eventually end up at the bottom of a drawer littered with dried out pens, old test papers, broken headphones, and unused plastic spoons from a previous takeout order.
My goal-setting process was neither simple nor effective.
My current method involves a single, laminated piece of paper. It is about the size of a small business card. I keep one of the cards in my wallet, and the other sits next to my computer monitor. It only contains three sentences.
- Finish my graduate program on August 28 with straight A’s.
- Start my social venture by September 30.
- Write at least one article per week between April 1 and October 1.
My new goal-setting process adheres to Bodell’s four tenets of simplifying. First, my method is minimal. I’ve condensed each goal into one simple sentence. Second, it is understandable, printed in a bolded font on white paper. Third, it is repeatable. If anyone else were to read it, they could replicate my goals. Finally, it is accessible, strategically placed in high-frequency areas.
I’ve found simplifying different areas of my life to be liberating. It reduces the time it takes to do tasks, certain routines become automatic, and it’s much easier to manage my day without a ton of moving parts.
It’s not quite minimalism. Instead, it’s a form of decluttering that has freed up time and energy to focus on other things, like working productively, being creative, studying, and playing with my dog.
How Clients Buy ~ by Tom McMakin, Doug Fletcher
This book found its way onto my list of things to read. I’m not sure how because it’s not a very popular book. At the time of writing, it is #193,945 in Books. Nonetheless, I bought it when I found it in a used book store.
The book discusses the challenges that professional service firms, like law firms, face due to increasing competition and market saturation. McMakin and Fletcher suggest these firms do not maximize their business opportunities because the firms sell their professional services like tangible goods.
A professional firm can’t use prospecting, cold calling, or high-pressure selling tactics. They need to be subtle and focus on identifying a client’s needs and demonstrating that they can solve their problems. I decided to apply this principle to dating.
Trying to sell yourself doesn’t work.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had the sexual charisma of a brick. I was a chronic right-swiper who tried way too hard to impress girls. Within the first few minutes of a conversation, I would somehow manage to communicate everything good about myself. Effectively, I was pitching girls and expecting them to buy me based on my product-features.
I decided to stop selling myself like a product. Instead, I tried to figure out how I could communicate my value without hard-selling.
Now when I talk to a woman, my first impulse isn’t to tell her about my life. I focus on her and ask her questions to figure out her intentions. If I can reasonably conclude that we might be a good fit, I indicate my interest and ask her out on a date.
Once we’re on the date, then I’ll talk about myself. But I still maintain focused on prioritizing my date’s needs rather than marketing myself.
Secondly, I discovered that helping to solve her problems was often reciprocated. On a few occasions, I went on a date with an awesome woman who was not right for me. Not wanting to waste either of our time, I would tell her directly. But I would offer to set her up with one of my friends who might be a better match.
Three out of the four times this happened, they set me up on a date with one of their friends without me asking. When I asked one woman why she did that, she told me she was genuinely motivated to help me find someone. I had been a gentleman and shown an interest in learning things about her, even if we wouldn’t go on another date. She wanted to help me be happy.
Finally, I’ve learned that dating is more comfortable when I’m not putting pressure on myself to impress. I thought I needed to outcompete the other suitors. But dating is as simple as demonstrating genuine interest.
You’re both there to solve a problem. You don’t need to hard-sell yourself to achieve that end.
Toyota Production System ~ by Taiichi Ohno
I can’t tell you where I got this book. It just appeared in the corner of my closet one day amidst a pile of worn-out clothes, old textbooks, and empty shoe boxes.
The book tells the story of how Toyota Motor Company innovated the Ford assembly line concept. Taiichi Ohno, one of Toyota’s first engineers, was in a supermarket in the United States. He observed that customers went to the store to buy groceries. Comparatively, sellers in Japan would go to the customer, selling goods door to door.
He also observed that the supermarket carried just enough merchandise, receiving shipments from suppliers when stocks were low. Both of these observations contributed to the renowned Toyota just-in-time production method.
As a Japanese-Canadian, I started reading this book with an expectation to gain a more profound sense of national pride. However, my takeaway from this book had nothing to do with Japan, Toyota, or cars. I learned a lesson that lies central to Toyota’s innovative production method.
Answers are everywhere; you just need to look.
Someone has already solved all of my problems. The challenging part is to find that person because they may exist in an entirely different domain. The next challenge is to operate with a sense of openness to recognize the lesson because this requires outside-the-box thinking.
In the case of Toyota, its production methodology already existed. But, it was halfway across the world in a grocery store. I don’t know if any two industries are more dissimilar than automotive and food retail.
However, Taiichi Ohno operated with a curious mind and drew inspiration from seemingly unrelated domains. Without his readiness to look for answers and his openness to learn from unconventional teachers, Toyota may have never created just-in-time automotive production.
I’ve applied this lesson to building muscle.
A few years into working out regularly, my progress started to plateau. I wasn’t getting bigger or stronger. I was stuck. So, I decided to push my body harder. My workouts were significantly more intense, but still, no improvements.
Around the same time, I was learning about the stock market and day-trading. I remember looking at a price chart when an idea dawned on me. My body was like the price of a stock.
A good company’s stock price should increase over the long-run. So, if you look at the stock price over the company’s lifetime, there will be an upward trend. But if you look at the price action over shorter periods, like six months, you’ll notice that the price of a stock increases and decreases.
I realized that my pedal to the metal approach to building muscle was unsustainable. I wasn’t giving my body ample time to rest and recover. As a result, my improvements had plateaued.
I decided to take five straight days of rest at the end of every month. I would later discover that this is an actual fitness protocol known as a deload period.
I also extracted this concept and applied deload periods at work. I use the Pomodoro method, which divides up work periods with short breaks. Instead of pushing myself for hours on end, I work for 48 minutes, take a 12-minute break, and then get back to work. I’ve discovered noticeable increases in my productivity.
None of these life improvements would have been possible if I hadn’t been open to looking for answers in different domains. I took a successful methodology from one area of life and applied it to another.
The solutions to improve life are everywhere. You just need to look.
The Airbnb Way ~ by Joseph Michelli
I’ve been a massive fan of Airbnb since I listened to one of the founders tell their success story. So when I found this book in a small bookstore, I knew I needed to buy it.
I know the Airbnb story quite well. But it wasn’t until reading this book on a rainy afternoon in my tiny Seoul apartment that I discovered a critical principle that I had missed.
Our framing dictates our world.
This idea wasn’t new to me. I’ve read many books that talk about the power of framing. We have an incredible ability to change our subjective observations by merely changing our perspective. If we prioritize different aspects of a situation, we can arrive at an entirely different conclusion.
I think Tony Robbins does an excellent job of describing the effects of reframing. In one example, he describes a situation where you’re required to pay an extra $X,000 in income tax. You could be upset that the government is taking your money. Or, you could be proud of yourself for earning more that year.
But back to Airbnb. When you think about it, Airbnb is absurd. You’re sleeping in a stranger’s house. Stranger danger!
Airbnb has convinced us to reframe the situation and reprioritize the ideas that guide our thinking. You give your host the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming the worst. Empowered by technology, you choose to trust them and benefit from a better, more hospitable experience than a hotel.
I believe that everyone should try to question whether their current frame of thinking is ideal. Is it creating the most benefits? Is it making you the happiest you can be? Or is there a higher peak to reach? Odds are, there is.
I can think of countless examples where I’ve benefitted from reframing a situation. I’m sure you can too.
I love it when life lessons appear in business books or books outside of the personal development realm. It suggests the ideas are close to universal principles. The recurring themes are often the most important things to pay attention to and internalize. For this article, the four key takeaways were:
- Simplifying is possible and necessary.
- Trying to sell yourself doesn’t work.
- Answers are everywhere; you just need to look.
- Our framing dictates our world.
I hope these takeaways help you in life or business.
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