There are times when reading business books there is the risk that it can feel like watching a film whose conclusion is known. We already know whether a business succeeded and made millions for its founders or flopped and became a case study. The business books I read this year were either on the Butali House Book Club reading list, or I stumbled upon them by chance. Choosing my top three books, however, is based on which book made me do things differently, which one have I used in arguments as a reference and also which books have I recommended the most throughout the year. My top three business book reads for 2017 are:
1. Good to Great by Jim Collins
This is a book I would recommend for any manager, supervisor, team leader or anyone who hopes to become one in the future. Jim Collins bases this book on five years of research studying over 1,400 Fortune 500 companies to come up with his findings. He delves into what separates companies from Good to Great, and it has something to do with the people at the helm. He also explores ideas such as Level 5 Leadership and the Hedgehog Concept. Jim says, “The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at- not what it “wants” to be the best at. The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intention; it is an understanding. This book focuses on the people who lead and work for the companies, unlike other business books that are revenue or idea driven. In one part, the author says, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed.” It is a well-researched and written book worth your time.
2. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
This is a book I stumbled upon and am I glad I did. Success is celebrated, applauded and publicly recognised. On the other hand, failure is often shameful, embarrassing and concealed. There are far more books on success than there are on failure and that is what makes this book a gem. Matthew Syed draws comparisons between the aviation and health sector to drive home his analysis of failure. He says, “… the aviation industry has made dramatic improvements by learning from failure. Investigators have examined data from accidents and reformed procedures. As a result, the number of crashes has fallen.” The black box contains data that can reveal what happened before a plane crashed. The aviation industry can determine what caused the accident and make improvements. According to Syed, “If we edit our failure, if we reframe our mistakes, we are effectively destroying one of the most precious learning opportunities that exist.” He advocates that rather than punishing failure like most institutions do, it is better to be open and investigate whether the failure was as a result of a flaw in the system or the person involved. As someone who has encountered my fair share of failure in 2017, this book is a welcome reminder that the grind continues even in the midst of a small bump called failure.
3. Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
The fascinating thing about this book is that its idea was birthed out of someone’s [Blake Masters] lecture notes. Peter Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal and among the first investors in Facebook and SpaceX; therefore, he has a story to tell. Peter taught a class at Stanford University and Blake, who was a student in that class took down lecture notes. He later posted them online, and they became an internet hit. Perhaps we should be thanking Blake Masters for the gift of Zero to One. After reading the first paragraph from the book I was sold. You be the judge, “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.” If I could sum up this book in one word, it would be SCALE. How do businesses scale? Growth is important for many factors such as investors, survival of the business and innovation among a few others. This book covers aspects of technology, competition, monopolies and venture capital and Peter largely draws from his own experience to articulate his points. My favourite advice is the one he gives in his chapter on company founders. He says, “Choosing a co-founder is like getting married, and founders conflict is just as ugly as divorce.” In a country like Zambia where you can count on one hand multinational companies owned by Zambians, this book leaves you with hope, possibility and belief that it can be done.
There you have it my top three business book reads of 2017. By the way, I must mention that after years on my to-read list, I finally read The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. I am not sure whether it was my high expectations or the book’s message was diluted because of other business books I have read previously. It was an ok book not amazing as most people have referred to it. The one hopefully I will cross off my to-read list next year will be Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.