Business books

Business books – these are some of best we have read over the last number of years.

Pre-suasion – Robert Cialdini

This book is a follow-up to Cialdini’s previous book, Influence.  In a nutshell, the author claims that we should focus on the moments before a buying decision is made to persuade your potential customer that they should deal with you.  The applications appear to be mainly business, however if you read the book as a non-business person you could see the potential to influence in all sorts of situations.

This is really preparing the ground before scattering your seeds – so fertilise the soil to get better results.  Cialdini goes through 30 principles to help in the process.

There are too many to list here but touching on some of them – establish trust, focus attention on what you want attention focused on, control everything about the message even seemingly insignificant elements, keep the focus on your own product or service and so on.

The major points though are

Unity – if you can call upon the unity of the group / family / club / team you have a much better chance of succeeding with what you are asking for from the person you are trying to persuade

Language – the way you ask a question can have a remarkable effect on the response you get.  So if you ask ”Are you happy with your current supplier” you will get a particular response, but the focus of that response is on reasons to be happy with the current position.  If you ask ”Are you unhappy with your current supplier” you will get a response that focuses on reasons that that person is unhappy with their current supplier, and that may be the response that you are looking for.

Visual prominence – if you are in the eye line of the person you are trying to influence then you are likelier to influence them.  For example, in a meeting, most people would choose to sit beside those that they seek to influence, whereas you will be seen as more influential if you sit opposite them.

It is a useful update to his previous book, and will give food for thought to anyone who wants to be effective with others.

Parkinsons Law – C Northcote Parkinson

This book, written in the 1950s is a collection of essays, and the title refers to the principle – work expands to fill the time available for it’s completion.  There are a number of topics considered, such as interview techniques, and also the expansion of the civil service as evidenced by the expansion of the Colonial Office in the UK, at a time when there were no colonies to administer and so it’s work should have decreased.

The relevance to 21st century audiences is that work also shrinks to fill the time available – the crucial difference being that you need to squash it in to that time so that this works in your favour.

All topics are treated with humour so it is an light read.

Built to Sell – John Warrilow

The basic principle of this book is that you should build a business that is ”built to sell”.  There are many advantages to this, one being that the business owner frees up his or her time now, whether they ever sell the business or not.

The book is written as a story about a business owner on a journey.  If you like checklists you get one of these at the back of the book.

One mistake a lot of businesses make is that the operation is heavily reliant on the owner.  This is understandable in many businesses, but there are lots of operations that would benefit from the owner standing back, and this book gives a structure to carry that out as an exercise, and also gives the logic behind many of the tasks that should be carried out.

This is a summary of the principles:

Run the company as if it is going to last forever.

The attributes that make a business sellable are desirable – whether you want to sell or not. Positive cashflow, profitable, process-focussed.

Focus on doing one thing well, improve the quality of what you do and stand out from your competitors

Try not to be over-dependent on one customer

Say ”no” to sales that are outside the area of your specialisation

Get your whole marketing process into a system so that when you go to sell you can show how many prospects you need in your pipeline at any time

It is well worth your time to read this book to get some ideas on how you can systemise your business.

The author has a practical section at the end where he re-states many of the points in the main part of the book.  He also gives practical examples from his time running his own businesses before he became an adviser, author and broadcaster.

The 4-hour work week – Tim Ferriss

The author is a charismatic independent-minded guy who has gone on to great success in publishing several other books, but this remains his ground-breaking first book. 

The important points from the book:

Focus on the 20% of tasks that bring 80% of your results to be more productive.  Doing something well does not make it important, and so busy-ness is not being productive.  Recently Tim Ferriss has produced hundreds of podcasts, and he refomulated this principle – eliminate the 20% of tasks/customers/products/whatever that brings you 80% of the hassle in your life.

Whatever ideas you have, test them first before spending any time on them.  You should create a premium product and charge more for it, because it is more profitable to do so, and the customers who will pay more are less demanding.

There are a plethora of other ideas in this book which make it worthwhile, because if even one of them helps you then it will be worth reading.  It was ahead of it’s time in encouraging the reader to work remotely, and leverage broadband, laptops, wi-fi and lots of other techologies that free people from a fixed workplace.

Lastly one nugget that was not in the book, but is from Tim Ferriss’s podcasts – don’t take advice from people unless they are sucessful at what they are advising you about.  That eliminates the majority of people in the ”self-improvement” market.

The 7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey

This book is used widely by college and school students and unless you have been living on a remote island, you will have heard of the principles espoused by the author.

He starts by saying how he came up with the ideas – he studied ”success literature” from the very earliest times up to today and then set about coming up with his own principles, around which people could build their lives, not just in work but in general.

The 7 habits are:

Be proactive – take action, take the initiative

Begin with the end in mind – what do you want to achieve, set out your plan to get there based on where you are now

Put first things first – you need to distinguish between urgent and non-urgent, important and unimportant.  Non-urgent and important is the quadrant to focus on to be most effective

Think win-win, rather than ”I win, so you lose”

Seek first to understand, then to be understood – listen to others needs and wants, then express your own

Synergise – use teamwork to solve problems together

Sharpen the saw – seek continious improvement, keep your training and education up to date.

The book has spawned an industry with 7 habits for families, teenagers and so on. 

You can learn the 7 habits in workshops and there are franchised trainers throughout the world who will sell you the system. 

It is a very useful and positive system to use in everyday dealings, and at the heart of it is the principle to deal fairly with people you meet and you will get fair treatment back.

Managing time – loving every minute – Peter Greene

This book is published by the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the UK.  It is a collection of some ideas about managing time, rather than a big bang new idea.

Having said that, if you are a person that has never tried to use any system to manage time in the working day, then this is useful in that you will find some basic principles here which will give you back some control over your working day.

The claim is made that a person can save 20% of time in a day using the information in the book, and I’d say that’s the least amount you could save if you actually apply what is in the book. 

If you have studied and used time management before, then this book will have very little in the way of new information or tips, so it’s probably not going to make a huge difference to you.

The book is peppered with easy-to-remember stories – for example the author explains the ”chicken farner syndrome” of someone that works hard at small problems and tasks throughout the day, but never gets the big and important tasks taken care of because he is busy with the distractions that crop up.  This and many methods to save time and be more effective are laid out for the reader.

Another method to save time is to list the most important tasks of the day and tackle them first.  Start on the most important problem or task, and don’t stop working on that until it is solved or that task is completed.  Start on the next most important task and so on.  If you don’t finish something, just transfer it on to tomorrow’s list.

Buffett – the making of an American capitalist by Roger Lowenstein

This book was written in 2007 before the Lehman Brother collapse in September 2008 and all that has happened since, so it does not have any perspective that might come for the new information we have now since 2007. 

It does however set out Buffett’s investment philosophy and also underscores the mans shunning of most material wealth and the trappings he could well afford.

Warren Buffett had saved $9,800 before he went to do a post-graduate course in Columbia in the 1950s, and this money was the seed capital for all his later exploits. 

If you learnt nothing else from this book, it is that the savers of this world can amass fortunes, whilst the spenders go broke.

Buffett’s number one rule was ”Don’t make losses” and he studied in Columbia under Ben Graham who was renowned for his book ”The Intelligent Investor”, which advised investors to seek unloved and undervalued stocks to invest in.

The author had no access to Buffett but was not obstructed in his work either.  The result is educational and informative without being the hype of recent years that Buffett has inspired.

How to win friends and influence people – Dale Carnegie

This is the daddy of all self-improvement books, written by Carnegie for a US audience in 1936 in a folksy style. 

Modern readers will not garner much in the line of new information, as most of the tips are pretty much mainstream. 

However if you do come across someone who needs help in improving their human relations skills, you could do worse than gift them a copy of this book.

There are tips on how to behave at what are now called networking events – listen to people and take a genuine interest in what they have to say, and they will find you interesting and genuine.  There are many tactial suggestions like this, and if you don’t already follow these principles, you can find that they make a massive difference to your business and personal life.

Carnegie says that the amount of money we earn doesn’t reflect what we can understand and what things we can do or our technical knowledge (how-to stuff), but is more dependent on our ability to deal with people and our ability to lead people.

If we want to earn more, get a promotion, or increase your business income, it pays to learn how to effectively deal with people. (This is a claim that is backed by science.)

Thinking, fast and slow – Daniel Kahneman

This book is a summary of the lifetime work of the author, and contains many nuggets of wisdom on human behavior. 

Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work on prospect theory. 

Much of human behavior is nominally controlled by the conscious part of the brain but in fact there is an unconscious part of the brain which is making quick decisions without bothering the conscious part of the mind.  This is analgous to the reflex reaction where messages only travel as far as the spinal column before generating a quick reaction.

From a popular science point of view here are some of the interesting facts presented by Kahneman in the book:

You are told a bat and ball together cost €1.10.  The bat cost €1 more than the ball.  How much did the ball cost?  Answer this question before reading further, then go to the bottom of this book summary to read the answer.

If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? 100 minutes or 5 minutes? Answer at the bottom of the summary.

Kahneman goes on to say that if people are presented with the above puzzles in normal print and font, 90% of people will make at least one mistake.  However if the font / printing is blurry, only 35% of people make a mistake , and the theory is that people have to engage the conscious mind and therefore take their time on the problems.

If you know next to nothing about trees in California and you are asked whether a redwood can be taller than 1,200 feet you might infer that 1,200 feet is a reasonable height for a redwood to be.  This effect is called anchoring, and whether the number is known to be relevant or not, it does have an effect on the answers people give.

Simple statistical rules are superior to intuitive judgements in almost every sphere of life.  People resist this conclusion because they think it is cold-blooded or mechanistic, but it combats the halo effect where first impressions cloud later judgements.

Answers – the bat cost €1.05 and the ball cost €0.05.  The machines will take 5 minutes to complete the task.  These answers are contrary to what the quick, intuitive answer would be.

The 80/20 Principle – Richard Koch

People expect life to be simple, straighforward, fair and linear.  So lots of effort brings great results, right?  Wrong.  Work on the important stuff to get great results.  80% of your results come from 20% of your work, and so one of the nuggets from this book is to work on the vital 20% and cut down on the other 80%.

Focus on the things that are producing great results and eliminate the rest.  Thats why Steve Jobs reduced Apple’s product range to less than 10 when he returned to take over the running of the company.  Before that Apple had 300 products.

You don’t have to know what the exact number is, and it may be that it is 90% of your happiness comes from 1% of the people in your life.  What Koch is saying is that there is an imbalance between effort and results – 80% and 20% just happen to add up to 100% but they are two different sets of data.  The point is to make the effort to find out what makes a positive difference and concentrate on that.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz

This is a book written by one of the team that headed Netscape, the browser that went head-to-head with Microsoft’s free browser Internet Explorer. 

The book is a journey through some of Horowitz’s adventures in what would now be called pivoting – that is re-focusing the business in a radically different direction many times. 

The companies he worked for did some of the most amazing work right at the start of the internet.

The main points gleaned from his analysis is that personnel are vital and that the business owner should very carefully pick the team that works with them.  This applies especially to managers in a business.

This may seem self-evident but if you apply ”Moneyball” type principles and focus on measurable outcomes produced by managers in the past instead of more vague notions, then you can have radically better outcomes. 

Just because a potential hire looks like Clark Ken / Superman or Princess Diana / Wonderwoman doesn’t mean they will perform well.

The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande

The book has a few central points- using checklists will improve outcomes, from school runs to surgery. 

Checklists make us perform better overall and raise standards generally.  However if you try checklists and they don’t improve things – give it up.

When doctors and nurses in Intensive Care Units created their own checklists for what they think should be done each day, the consistency of care improves to the point where the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.  Nothing more can be said to state the obvious – checklists can and do make a massive difference.  They are a system versus no system so they help.

However – checklists must be kept simple, clear and ideally less than 9 items.

This book summary could be longer – but I’ll leave it at that.