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.