Why read business books?

Most people in the business world are so caught up trying to meet today’s deadlines that there’s too little time to think about tomorrow. But we pay a heavy price for failing to set aside dedicated thinking time. We lose touch with the new ideas that are the very lifeblood of business survival. Without a steady stream of fresh thinking, businesses are ill-equipped to boost their competitive metabolism. Companies that fail to expose their employees to fresh ideas find it hard to innovate.

An obvious way of injecting fresh thinking and raising the quality of senior teams is to encourage executives to read more business books. This great idea has one small drawback, as anyone knows who has ever tried to hand a business book to a busy colleague, accompanied by a helpful suggestion such as: “You really should read this.” The colleague smiles, thanks you, and then literally or figuratively adds the book to their stack of unread business books. The biggest barrier to reading business books and expanding minds is that scarce commodity we call time.

It’s not that people in business don’t want to read. They do. They simply consider themselves too busy to pick up a book. But time is a strange phenomenon. While we empathise with colleagues who explain why they don’t the time to keep up with their business reading, we would not accept the same excuse from our personal physician who claims to have been too busy for several years to keep up with their professional reading.

I have developed a methodology to help time-strapped executives devote more time to extracting the wisdom embedded in business books. The client chooses books tailored to particular themes, and senior executives read selected excerpts as a prelude to engaging in peer-to-peer discussion and debate that I facilitate. The point of this interactive and dynamic conversation is to explore insights that can be implemented in the workplace.

Phil Rosenzweig in The Halo Effect warns us that no author has a monopoly on business truths or on effective business strategies. Manager should read business books more critically, free from delusions, “their deepest fantasies and fondest hopes tempered by a bit of realism.” Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, warns readers not to read his books too literally. “Any reader who adopts my conclusions hook, line and sinker is a fool. It ain’t the Bible.” To quote a wise Japanese proverb: “If you believe everything you read in books, stop reading.”

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