As Einstein once said, ‘the only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library’. I find reading both relaxing and enthusing in equal measure, and am never happier than with book in hand.
Whether you’re heading off for sunny climes and a lounger, an explorative city break or something more active, your summer break is a superb time to catch up on some business reading.
So here are my top 4 business books to add to your Summer reading list for 2018. Suitcase and flip-flops at the ready!
1) Building the Happiness-Centred Business by Dr Paddi Lund
I first read this book in 2006 and revisit it often. It’s the story of a dentist who found himself suffering intense stress, disliking his work, and feeling overrun.
The book describes the epiphany he had that it was in his own power to change his circumstances.
He realised he could ‘fire’ rude customers, improve his environment, gather together an excellent team, deliver a better service and charge a premium by driving the business with happiness as a target.
Paddi is very open throughout the book. He describes how he often felt inadequate, and assumed others found it very easy to run businesses, even though he found it hard. With the proliferation of ‘imposter syndrome’ and stress many of us feel when undertaking new roles or new responsibilities, it’s reassuring to hear.
His line “In business, profit comes more easily when the business is full of happy people making their customers happy, than when everyone is focused solely on the bottom line” is one of my core beliefs to this day.
The central takeway is so simple but so often overlooked:
People enjoy buying from happy people.
How many of us have walked out of a shop without buying anything because of a hostile shop assistant? We all experience this in our daily lives and yet we so rarely bring the happiness and the fun into our working environments.
This book is a great reminder of why it’s worth investing in happiness and positive effect it can have on employees and customers alike.
One of the main reasons our Support & Customer Success team is called ‘The Ministry of Magic’ here at Customer Thermometer is exactly because of the principles in Paddi’s book. We want to be the best company to work for and the best company to work with, and we hope that shines through in everything we do.
2) TED Talks Storytelling, 23 Techniques from the Best TED Talks by Akash Karia
Crafting a great presentation is a real skill. Some of the best TED talks have been viewed millions upon millions of times because they’re punchy and moving, and because they can communicate a big concept in a very direct and understandable way.
These sorts of skills are crucial whether you’re writing a blog post, pitching a customer or recording a video, so I read Akash Karia’s book with fascination.
At only 60 pages long, you’ll devour it in a single sitting but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it (too) communicates a lot of useful stuff in a small package.
Main points to note from the book:
- It’s all about telling a story. If you can craft an engrossing story it will keep your audience engaged and help them retain your key messages
- Re-watch and listen to any TED talks (or other talks) that move you or you remember months and years after watching them. Note how they start off, the shape of the talk and the key points you remember, aim to craft your own content in a similar flow.
- The fiction writer Robert Olen Butler once said, “Story is a yearning meeting an obstacle.” It’s a quote I love, and a reminder that your story must contain both conflict and and element of ‘what will happen next?’. Did you know for example, Charles Dickens originally wrote his novels and sold them in chapters, ending each chapter with a cliffhanger to maintain the following instalment’s sales. The modern-day equivalent is the box set of 24 or House of Cards.
- Think about building character, plot and imagery into your talk. These are all essential elements of a great story.
- Finally, what’s your takeaway message? What’s the one thing you want people to remember about your talk next week or even next year?
3) Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top by Bo Burlingham
The diminutive package of Bo Burlingham’s book belies its impact. This is a very philosophical and thought-provoking read.
All businesses end in some way, the author argues. And so we must plan for the end all the way through the life of a business to ensure it can reach its potential and end well. It reminded me of the old adage about making a decision, which runs a bit like this:
Even by not making a decision to do something, you’re still making a decision.
The same can be said for your business (and your team or department too). By not planning the ultimate exit, the ultimate goal, whatever that looks like, you’re missing a part of the story.
Key takeaways for me from Burlingham’s book were:
- Understand the durability of what you, your company or team offer and seek to build that. How can you create a performance culture that will outlive your leadership?
- No two exit experiences are ever alike, and so whatever you are told by those who’ve done it, your own path will be just as valid (and unique).
- So many of us have a lot of our personality, self-esteem and purpose bound up in what we do every day. Make sure you have a plan for what comes next – so many of the stories in the book feature people who really struggled with a huge sense of loss when they exited their business.
- Burlingham’s 5 elements of a ‘good’ exit are (1) feeling like you’ve been treated fairly (2) having a sense of accomplishment (3) being at peace with how others in the process did (4) discovering a new sense of purpose after the exit (5) the company goes on to even bigger and better things and that the succession was handled well.
Having been through 2 business exits myself now in under 8 years, these points all really resonate with me.
Even if you have no business to exit at present, this is a hugely worthwhile read which reflects on the nature of journeys, working life and purpose. I highly recommend it.
4) Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner
The Times describes this book as ‘fascinating and breezily written’ and it’s true.
This could be a dry subject but (harking back to Karia’s points above) the stories and anecdotes used throughout this book keep it pacy and interesting.
Tetlock and Gardner set out to describe a group of otherwise-normal individuals who have demonstrated themselves to be much, much better at forecasting than the professional forecasters and experts.
Main themes in this book that resonated with me were:
- All of us will readily conjure stories from the information at hand. The classic example of this is a journalist saying “The Dow rose 95 points today on news that…” when in fact the Dow rose for hundreds of complex reasons and no-one really knows. We need to be watchful for our brains leaping to connect otherwise unconnected information.
- Judging any forecasts is significantly harder than people think. The book cites Steve Ballmer’s famous prediction that, “There’s no chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share” and goes on to demonstrate how that might not have been as far away from the truth as is commonly thought. It all depends what the prediction is measured against, and how long you’re going to give it.
- There is an inverse correlation between fame and accuracy when it comes to forecasting. People who get famous tell tight, simple, clear stories that grab and hold their audience’s attention. What’s really needed in forecasting is the aggregation of many perspectives. But as the book points out, that doesn’t make great TV. Or great social media!
- Those with above-average intelligence and those who were lifelong learners and readers did generally better at forecasting.
The main point of reading this book is, of course, can you use any of the tools or techniques to get any better at predicting the future yourself?
Well, yes you can, although it requires a lot of work (tons of research, reading and very critical and sober thinking). For many of us, becoming a super forecaster would require a big change in the way we currently think; stopping the automatic habit we have of jumping to conclusions and reacting emotionally. It’s great advice but hard to implement.
Tetlock and Gardner provide an appendix of the “10 commandments for Superforecasting”, the central thrust of which is that we need to triage our forecasts into areas we have more chance of succeeding, break down problems into solvable sub-problems, harness a whole range of viewpoints, keep a cool head when the question at hand is potentially divisive and above all be mindful of our biases and automatic responses to things.
Happy Summer reading! If you have a book you’d like to recommend, pop it below in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!
Lindsay is the CEO of SaaS CSAT app Customer Thermometer.