by • May 14, 2012 • UncategorizedComments (5)322

When business books are not a waste of time

Business books are a huge waste of time when reading them is the result of browsing “for something interesting.”

But they’re a lifesaver if you have a specific question you need answered.

Reading a book is always a good use of time when you’re missing a learnable bit of knowledge. The types of questions you should be answering with books are:

  • How does big sales work?
  • What are the business models at play in the travel industry?
  • How does cashflow work and why am I permanently victimised by it?
  • What is fair equity compensation for our first hire?
  • What did Gary V do differently to succeed at making money from video blogging?
  • When has an idea like this been tried before?
  • What am I really asking for (and offering) when I make a “partnership proposal”?
  • How do I respectfully fire someone?
  • What has to happen within a big company for them to want to acquire a startup?

The list goes on. When you run into one of these types of questions, and when it’s important for your business, then you should leave work early, run to the bookstore, and head home to sit in a bubble bath with a pitcher of mojitos and your newly printed knowledge.

You have a question. Books have the answer.

The wasteful type of business-book reading, on the other hand, is exemplified by airport bookstores. They are the gateway drug. You trawl the shelves for one with big white words and a bright, solidly coloured cover, and figure it’s better than staring at the in-flight magazine for 3 hours. Then, it’s sort of work-y, so maybe you take an hour in the morning at your desk to finish it off.

Business books are a lot of fun. They feel like work. Spend the time to enjoy them if you enjoy them. Just keep clear in your head whether they are work or play. Building up a mental warchest of experimental research results is probably not the most critical task for your startup’s future.

If you didn’t go to the bookstore to answer a specific question, it’s just play. If you have a specific, fact-based question and don’t go to the bookstore, you’re wasting time.

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5 Responses to When business books are not a waste of time

  1. @cedricbellet says:

    I think that you may also mention Fred Wilson’s as a reliable resource for startup founders. In particular, the MBA Mondays series gives really interesting insights on how to deal with human capital, board issues, and so on.
    Last, it’s always nice reading you Rob ! Thanks for sharing !

  2. J.D. says:

    Business books are a lot of fun? Going to a football match is a lot of fun. A dance club is a lot of fun. Heck, Parcheesi is a lot of fun. Business books? Ouch.

  3. Audrey Geddes says:

    Business books can be fun when you come across just the right book(s). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I just finished an easy to read two books in one by Joseph N. Stein entitled, Bottom-up and Top-Down Innovation: Innovate Your Way to Success! Create an Innovative Company! The books are light on theory, and heavy on action.

    (Note from editor Rob: a link to the author’s website has been removed for seeming suspiciously planted. Feel free to google the author if it’s of interest to you)

  4. I agree with your post Rob, with one important remark. Your opinions apply to specific moment in entrepreneur’s life: when (s)he has already enough knowledge&skills gained from education and/or experience. Below that basic level of competences one simply has to learn (from general books, blogs, seminars etc.) to simply understand business and realize what’s left learn. That’s where further, specific questions come from. And later there’s another phase of entrepreneur’s development when it’s time to read just to get inspiration, insights, broader perspective – without specific needs defined. It’s a moment when one stops to treat books as a tools that give easy advice/solutions. Sure, it’s fun then but also might be beneficial if the books are good. And even later the time comes to pick books that doesn’t provide answers at all, but instead they question one’s beliefs, convictions, mindset etc. to push the reader further in the development.