I had breakfast with my blogging colleague Bob Morris this morning. He reads more books than anyone I know. You cannot talk about a business issue, a business idea, without him knowing the two or three books to read on that specific issue. And in the midst of the breakfast, I had one of those moments of insight – you know, an “aha” moment.
So – a little background. I used to preach (I still do, occasionally, but only as a guest preacher). I preached at least two new sermons a week – for about 20 years. If you go to church, then you know the truth about sermons – after a few, they all deal with the same themes, the same issues, repeated a multitude of times, in whatever new and creative ways the preacher can come up with.
One homiletics textbook said that most preachers only have 5 sermons anyway (plus or minus), and then challenged preachers to make sure they were the right 5 sermons.
So what was my “aha” insight? It is this: Reading business books is a lot like listening to a steady diet of sermons.
Here’s a simple truth: people who go to church and listen to sermons learn very little. They are simply reminded of the basics, over and over and over again.
So it is with business books. There are about five major themes (or maybe 7, or 10…the number is imprecise). But the truth is clear. Business books do more reminding than they do teaching.
Some of the themes that crop up over and over again are:
• be an ethical leader
• have the important conversations that you need to have
• treat your people well
• be a good team leader/player
• be sure that your product/eservice is top quality
• and, though you provide top quality, make it even better next year (innovate, constantly!)
• and, use your time well (it disappears so very fast)
• study the successful companies/leaders, and emulate them
• study the unsuccessful companies/leaders, and do not repeat their mistakes
• plan well, execute better
• communicate! — openly, often — hide very little!
You could expand on this list. But… I think it really is true that after you’ve read a good initial stack of business books, you continue reading not to learn, but to be reminded. Don’t you think?
So – how many books should you read a year. It depends – how quickly do you forget to do what you know to do? I suspect the answer to that question is… pretty quickly. That is why preachers always encourage their folks to show up at church week after week. Unfortunately, it takes regular reminders to “love your neighbor” to help you do a good job of actually loving your neighbor. And, it takes regular reminders to lead well, to treat your people well, to keep getting better at what you do.
So, read more books. Lots more books. It takes a “business sermon” a week – just to help you remember.
And, by the way, some books are better than others. Lots better. So too, some sermons are better than others. But it is better to read a mediocre book to help you remember than it is to not keep reading, and thus fail to remember.
I want to tell you about a friend of mine. He is a doctor. He performs an important out-patient surgery. His calendar is full. He arrives in his office early in the morning, and the first surgery is scheduled pretty much right off the bat. I have lunch with him about once a month. I bring lunch to his office. He walks into his office for lunch just having finished with a patient. He has one hour, and usually has to make a phone call or two before we can visit – to other doctors, about the needs of his or their patients. He then operates on others through the afternoon. He has an amazing support staff. They keep his schedule flowing smoothly.
He takes off early one afternoon a week. On that afternoon, he catches up on “paper work,” and reads professional journals. This really is mandatory reading for a man in his profession. (He also gives lectures to others in his field). He is very, very good at what he does. D Magazine listed him as among the best in the city for his type of medical practice.
He has more than one child – at the age where they do everything: soccer, baseball, Lacrosse, and that’s just the activities I remember. He described a recent weekend, and it was multiple locations, multiple events, all week-end long. He is a former top level athlete, in great shape, and he was exhausted by the demands of the weekend.
His wife is also a Doctor, with the advantage of working a self-imposed reduced schedule. But when she works, she works as hard as he does. (She is also very, very good at what she does!)
So, I have a question: when will he read books that would be “good to read?”
He is not lazy; he is not a poor time-manager; he is simply too busy doing his job and serving/enjoying his family to read books that he wishes he had time to read.
When you read this blog, you are inundated with book titles that make you say: “I need to read that.” And so you buy the book, open the book…but, I suspect that your stack of partially read books is becoming a mountain.
I don’t have a solution to this problem. I do know that my Doctor friend needs to be doing what he is doing, and reading the books may never make it into his schedule.
By the way, I share most of my book synopsis handouts with him. It is not enough; it is not as good as hearing the synopsis while following along with the handout. It is not as good as reading the book himself. But he can find the few minutes it takes to read the handouts that I point out to him as especially valuable, and he is grateful.
I asked him recently if my handouts are valuable to him. He said “absolutely!” He was not hesitant. He said they give him ideas, help him think about his practice, especially the “business end” of his practice. And he said that he simply would never have time to read the books themselves.
I would never think less of him for not finding time to read the books; I’ve seen his work ethic. If I need his kind of medical attention, I want it from him. He provides exactly what people need.
You may be as busy as my friend. Or, you may have friends who are that busy. A little insight from a book is better than none at all, isn’t it? And our synopses provide more than just a little insight from the books we present. We provide two pages of key quotes from the books; the outline of the key content; and if you can find time to listen to the audio, you hear a cool/key/enlightening story or two.
No, it’s not as good as reading the book for yourself. But it is not nothing!
You can order our synopses, for yourself or that busy friend of yours, with handout + audio from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
The once-monthly-updated Hardcover Business Best Sellers list has been published by the New York Times. (click here). One noticeable new volume in the top five: Robert Reich, Aftershock. Other volumes we have not presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis include The Orange Revolution (scheduled after the first of the year), the new Tony Dungy book, (which I have blogged about here), and the Robert Sutton book, Good Boss, Bad Boss (which Bob Morris has blogged about a few times).
Here’s the list for this month.
|1||DELIVERING HAPPINESS, by Tony Hsieh. (Grand Central, $23.99.) Lessons from business (pizza place, worm farm, Zappos) and life. (†)|
|2||AFTERSHOCK, by Robert B. Reich. (Knopf, $25.) Looking at the future of the United States economy, the Clinton-era labor secretary fears that inevitable national belt-tightening could trigger a political convulsion.|
|3||SWITCH, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. (Broadway Business, $26.) How everyday people can effect transformative change at work and in life. (†)|
|4*||THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $27.95.) The people who saw the real estate crash coming and made billions from their foresight.|
|5||OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent — from the author of “Blink” and “The Tipping Point.”|
|6||THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK, by Timothy Ferriss. (Crown, $22.) Reconstructing your life so that it’s not all about work. (†)|
|7||THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, $24.99.) Debt reduction and fiscal fitness for families, by the radio talk-show host. (†)|
|8||STRENGTHS BASED LEADERSHIP, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. (Gallup, $24.95.) Three keys to being a more effective leader. (†)|
|9*||YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW TO BE GREAT, by Alan Fine with Rebecca R. Merrill. (Portfolio Penguin, $25.95.) How to remove the obstacles that get in the way of applying skills you already have. (†)|
|10||DRIVE, by Daniel H. Pink. (Riverhead, $26.95.) What really motivates people is the quest for autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards.|
|11*||THE ORANGE REVOLUTION, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. (Free Press, $25.) A guide to building high-performance teams capable of transforming organizations. (†)|
|12||REWORK, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. (Crown Business, $22.) Counterintuitive rules for small-business success, like “Ignore the details early on” and “Good enough is fine.” (†)|
|13*||GOOD BOSS, BAD BOSS, by Robert I. Sutton. (Business Plus, $23.99.) How great bosses differ from the just so-so, or worse. (†)|
|14||THE MENTOR LEADERby Tony Dungy. (Tyndale House, $24.99.) The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts football team offers tips for helping to inspire growth. (†)|
|15||SUPERFREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $29.99.) A scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything: the sequel.|
In a recent Weekly Insights newsletter from Verne Harnish (sign up for this newsletter here), Verne included this paragraph:
A-Player Execs Read 24 Books Per Year — Brad Smart, father of the Topgrading concept, researched 6500 top executives. The difference between the A-Players and the C-Players? The A-Players were continuous learners, reading on average 24 books per year (12 fiction and 12 non-fiction). Those who don’t read barely have an advantage over those who can’t!!
Here is the key paragraph from the Brad Smart source for this info, Topgrading Tips (Vol 5, No. 14) What A Player Executives Read:
The bigger company executives read a couple of books per month, typically one fiction (for relaxation) and one good, solid non-fiction book – topics such as how international politics impacts business, best sellers such as Good to Great (Collins), and books on strategy, and finance (understanding the subtle implications of finance/accounting/M & A). Recently Kindle and iPad have captured the imagination of only a small percentage of our sample, but they are enthusiasts!
(Brad Smart surveyed 6500+ senior executives in his research).
My observations: first, successful leaders and managers keep learning. Second, reading books is still a key way to keep learning. Third, it is a good idea to read books for the purpose of learning that is specifically work-related, but it may be just as important to read fiction and other non-work related works.
To quote myself again, “the more you know, the more you know.”
You can purchase our business book synopsis presentations from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com. Each synopsis comes in a zip file with audio + handout. You can load the audio into your iPhone/iPod, or other player, or, simply listen on your computer.
Most of these are presented to a live audience, most frequently at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. And most audio recordings are between 15-17 minutes. Nearly 150 synopses are available, with at least 2 new titles added monthly. Click here to visit our web site.
Here’s the updated Hardcover Business Best Sellers, published by the NY Times, September 2, 2010. I have written before that this is the best-seller list that I pay most attention to. It is updated only once a month.
Karl Krayer and I present 24 books a year at the monthly First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl presented the #1 book, Delivering Happiness, just yesterday at the September First Friday Book Synopsis. I have presented #2, The Big Short, for a private client, and #3, #5, #7, #8, #12, and #13 at earlier First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings. Karl presented #11 at an earlier gathering. Some of these books have lingered for quite a while: I presented The 4-Hour Workweek in March, 2008; Outliers in January, 2009; Superfreakonomics last December. Karl presented Strengths-Based Leadership in March, 2009.
Some of these do not quite fit our own “selection criteria” (which is subjective, and is our own…). But, yes, there are a couple of new books we need to take a look at, and consider for future gatherings..
Here’s the list:
|1||DELIVERING HAPPINESS, by Tony Hsieh. (Grand Central, $23.99.) Lessons from business (pizza place, worm farm, Zappos) and life. (†)||1|
|2||THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $27.95.) The people who saw the real estate crash coming and made billions from their foresight.||2|
|3||OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent — from the author of “Blink” and “The Tipping Point.”||3|
|4||THE MENTOR LEADER, by Tony Dungy. (Tyndale House, $24.99.) The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts football team offers tips for helping to inspire growth. (†)|
|5||SWITCH, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. (Broadway Business, $26.) How everyday people can effect transformative change at work and in life. (†)||4|
|6*||THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, $24.99.) Debt reduction and fiscal fitness for families, by the radio talk-show host. (†)||6|
|7||THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK, by Timothy Ferriss. (Crown, $22.) Reconstructing your life so that it’s not all about work. (†)||5|
|8||DRIVE, by Daniel H. Pink. (Riverhead, $26.95.) What really motivates people is the quest for autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards.||7|
|9||IT’S NOT JUST WHO YOU KNOW, by Tommy Spaulding. (Broadway, $23.) Secrets for engaging colleagues and contacts in lasting, genuine relationships. (†)|
|10||BURY MY HEART AT CONFERENCE ROOM B, by Stan Slap. (Portfolio Penguin, $25.95.) The power of emotional commitment in managers and how to achieve it. (†)|
|11||STRENGTHS BASED LEADERSHIP, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. (Gallup, $24.95.) Three keys to being a more effective leader. (†)||13|
|12*||REWORK, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. (Crown Business, $22.) Counterintuitive rules for small-business success, like “Ignore the details early on” and “Good enough is fine.” (†)||9|
|13||SUPERFREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $29.99.) A scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything: the sequel.||11|
|14||THE FACEBOOK EFFECT, by David Kirkpatrick. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) The origin of Facebook.||15|
|15||DOING BOTH, by Inder Sidhu (FT Press, $24.99.) They strategy of “both-and’ is far more productive than the limiting “either-or” approach. (†)||8|
Cheryl offers: Surprisingly, there was an interesting item in my mail yesterday. It was the Dallas edition of a Medical Directory with an article called “Mind Matters”. I’m intrigued by the brain, so I started reading it. Low and behold, on the second page I found this. “Frontal lobe function, also called “executive function,” is not what you know but how you use what you know. This begins to decrease in many people in their 30s because they simply stop using it. (NOW comes the good part!) Reading a book is fine for your brain; analyzing it, and talking about it with a friend or book club is good for executive function.” Woohoo! Experiencing a book synopsis of a relevant business book focused on women’s business topics, then discussing the contents of the book’s synopsis led by facilitators who ask thought provoking questions is exactly the format for our event, Take Your Brain to Lunch! So now, we can rightfully claim, not only is this a fun event, it’s good for you too. How many other things does anyone get to do that are both fun and good for you? Not enough say I. Join us July 14 for your brain’s “executive function” workout. We’re doing How She Does It by Margaret Heffernan and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Raz Aahl. No leotards required!