They’re not as much fun as the likes of Harry Potter, or even Fifty Shades of Grey but business and self-development books can help you get in ways A Game of Thrones never could.
Yes—being swept away into a fantasy world makes for a frolicking good time, but gaining access to the latest thinking about the challenges we face in our own realm can be just as rewarding, IF you give it a chance.
Unfortunately, too few of us do.
Last year a Pew Research study reported that more than 1 in 4 Americans didn’t read a single book in the previous 12 months. Not a one. Not even partially. No matter what genre. No matter what format.
But the good news is that on average, Americans read 12 books a year!
Obviously, that number is skewed upward by avid book lovers who can’t get enough, but even so, the median number of books read by Americans stands at a respectable four per year. But most of those are not self-development or business related books.
So, if you’re a non-reader I would like to ask you to give business books a try.
And if you’re a book lover and your most pleasurable reading comes from fiction, I would ask you to make a little room for non-fiction genres like history, business and highly regarded self-development books—like the books we read in the Outsight Business Book Club.
These are the works of the world’s leading thinkers and the wisdom and insights they provide can be invaluable—spiritually, professionally and financially.
Here are some of the advantages you can expect from reading great business books:
Let’s face it, sometimes we get stuck in a rut. We want to create better results at work and in our personal lives but somehow we continue to come up short. We continue to create the same results we always have and, in some cases, experience diminishing returns.
Other times we may not know exactly how to deal with a particular situation and we become fearful of making the wrong decisions. And still other times, we are at a complete loss as to what to do.
These situations can frustrate us and drive us into a funk that prevents us from moving forward. We’re frozen. We may even lack the motivation to take steps to improve our situation.
That’s where self-development books can really help.
They’re the most affordable way to gain access to expert advice that can get you unstuck. In fact, the mere act of deciding to find helpful advice in a book is often enough to get you motivated and moving in the right direction again. Acknowledging that you need a little guidance and starting the search for answers can create forward momentum. And the ideas you find can help you get the leverage you need to get unstuck and maintain your forward progress.
Get smarter and wiser
Do you know what the Flynn Effect is?
How about the following:
- Parabolic discounting
- The circular economy
- Probabilistic thinking
- Cognitive diversity
- Bayesian psychology
- Data disfluency
- Deliberate practice
These are fascinating concepts that I’ve come across in various business books I’ve recently read. These aren’t just esoteric concepts for business nerds, they’re actionable insights anyone can use to understand the world better, improve their performance and make more intelligent decisions.
Unfortunately, you close yourself off to this fountain of knowledge and you put yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t read any business books.
Part of the problem is that after high school or college, our formal education ends and it becomes our sole responsibility to continue to learn and grow. But too few of us are taking this responsibility seriously. Many people may think that it’s their employer’s job to teach and train them. Of course, it isn’t. It’s OUR responsibility—not our boss’— to make sure we continue to expand our base of knowledge, experience and expertise. Your boss may have a role to play in the process but the responsibility is wholly yours, no matter what stage of life or career you’re in.
Interestingly, our ability to acquire new knowledge and skills is more crucial than ever, and this skill increases in importance with every passing year.
Let’s face it, the world belongs to learners, so if you want to stay competitive and have access to high-value jobs today and in the future, it behooves you to read business books so you can stay in the know and work on your game every day.
Become a better person
This plays out in many ways but self-development books can provide the insights and interpersonal skills you need to succeed. Empathy, for example, is a skill that is increasingly being cited by researchers as the foundation of excellent interpersonal communication, team building, customer service, and leadership (to name but a few important areas of business concern). As a result, reading books on emotional intelligence, empathy, and other prosocial skills is tremendously useful in helping us do work that has impact and makes a connection—work that brings value and purpose to ourselves and to others.
The same applies to development of communication skills. Books such as the excellent, Crucial Conversations can give you the tools you need to deal with a wide variety of difficult situations at work, or in your personal life.
To be a better teammate, you might read Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team or Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better.
And if you want to understand how you can make a unique contribution and find the work you love, you may want to take a look at Tom Rath’s Strength Finder 2.0, Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut 2.0, Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception or Richard Bolle’s, What Color is Your Parachute.
Meet tough challenges
Whether it’s stated explicitly or not—we all get paid for performance. So whether you’re a CEO, owner of your own company, a manager or employee—you get paid to generate results. That means that, more likely than not, you have some sort of urgent business challenge on your hands. Maybe you need to grow sales, improve customer retention or improve some aspect of your operation? If so, who you gonna call?
Fortunately, there are some great books available that can help you better understand and get some traction over whatever business challenge you’re facing. All you need to do is look.
You may eventually call on a fancy consultant to help you solve your business challenge, but spending some time to do some research and deep thinking about the issue up front will put you in a better position to enter into such a relationship collaboratively. And who knows, you may be able to meet the challenge armed with the insights you picked up in a book—no consultant required.
In today’s world, we can either fight change, ignore it, tolerate it or help drive it. If Kodak invented the digital camera, then how come their invention destroyed their business? To put it bluntly, the digital camera didn’t put them out of business, their resistance to change did. They lost sight of the big picture.
What does this have to do with books?
Well, to innovate we need to practice outsight—the ability to zoom out and see the big picture and books are an excellent way to gain outsight and understand what’s going on in the world and what change is coming. Also, business books are part of the research phase of any innovation challenge as you seek to understand what the world already knows about what you’re trying to do.
But also, innovation is about gaining inspiration from analogous solutions to problems. Case studies abound in business books that can inspire you to generate new ideas for your company. For example, we could learn a lot from the hospital that studied formula 1 pit crews to get insights into how they might improve patient care; or from Procter and Gamble which was able to turn a product nobody wanted into a new billion dollar market; or how a cement company in Mexico revolutionized their industry by taking an anthropological approach to understand customers in poor and neglected communities, and on and on.
There are countless ideas for you to mine. Business books are a treasure trove of information which you can use to innovate inside of the organizations of which you are a part.
Be a better leader
The work of leaders inside of an organization can’t be offshored to China, nor automated by quantum computers, nor performed by super-intelligent, human-like machines. For leadership positions, at least—only humans need apply. Now, and in the future, the work of leaders will be in high demand and will pay well. Everything else, we’re not so sure about.
Fortunately, book stores are replete with volumes about leaders, leadership and how to lead. You can’t miss them. Start reading them! These books are a good place to start but you’ll have to develop your own mental models of what constitutes an effective leader, not only by reading but by doing. You’ll have to read. Reflect. Act.
And just to be clear, leaders aren’t born, they’re made. Thus, anyone can be a great leader. Anyone with the courage and guts to take responsibility, that is. It’s a choice, first and foremost, and then it is a journey of exploration and continuous improvement.
And while I fully admit that reading business books can’t turn you into a great leader, they can be a great source of guidance, insights and inspiration all along your leadership journey.
Get paid and promoted
Here’s a hypothethical question for you. What if you had a co-worker who was a committed self-starter—smart, wise and skilled—an empathetic problem-solver with innovative ideas and an effective leadership style? Impressive, right? Would you be surprised if such an individual got promoted often and was paid very well for the work she does?
Most reasonable people would say: “absolutely not, such a person would be deserving of advancement and higher pay.”
Well, I’m arguing that YOU are deserving of those things too and that YOU can be that person.
You don’t need fancy Ivy League degrees to make a difference. And you don’t have to be from the House of Lannister to gain power and influence and get ahead in the game of thrones that is today’s crazy-competitive job market.
But you do need to pursue deliberate growth and learning, and you do need to make business books your new best friends.
Please excuse the hackneyed cliche, but it’s true…people who read, suceed.
image courtesy of Bantam Books, A Game of Thrones by R.R. Martin