Cover Story

Once again, Seth Godin’s recent blog post offers good advice on a topic close to my heart – How to read a business book!  In it, Godin expounds his thoughts on how a business book is different from most other categories of books, and hence, needs to be handled differently…

There’s a huge gap between most how-to books (cookbooks, gardening, magic, etc.) and business books, though. The gap is motivation. Gardening books don’t push you to actually do something. Cookbooks don’t spend a lot of time trying to sell you on why making a roast chicken isn’t as risky as you might think.

The stakes are a lot higher when it comes to business…. The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.

Computer books, of course, are nothing but bullet points. Programmers get amazing value because for $30 they are presented with everything they need to program a certain tool. Yet most programmers are not world class, precisely because the bullet points aren’t enough to get them to see things the way the author does, and not enough to get them motivated enough to actually program great code.

Godin also offers some pointers that will help you make the most of your experience with business books:

Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a postit or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it… Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, “are we there yet?”

Tim Sanders also writes about this subject in his book – Love is the Killer App – where he describes his strategy of “cliffing” over several pages, to those willing to learn from it.  800CEORead.com adds to Godin’s post by way of pointers like “Don’t skip the Introduction”, and “Don’t pick and choose parts of the recipe”.

Me? I always buy my own copy, and extensively follow my own variation of cliffing to help retain the key points in the context in which I first encountered them.  I also make an active effort to understand how what I just read applies to an earlier piece of work, and to my work life in general.  Thereon, I try to implement some of the learnings, as best as possible, in my sphere of work.

The most important learning here?  Reading business books is a different kinda ballgame.  If you’re serious about learning from these writings, you’ll need to review your approach towards it.  If all you want is to act informed, head to your favourite “Business Book Summaries” website today!

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