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May 23, 2008

News & Opinion: Thoughts on Seth Godin's "How To Read a Business Book"

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 2:14 PM – Filed under: The Company


Seth Godin wrote a great post on Wednesday titled How to read a business book. I encourage everyone to go read it in its entirety. The main points are that business books are essentially recipes for action, but that the majority of a book's words are spent convincing and motivating the reader to action. "Cookbooks don't spend a lot of time trying to sell you on why making a roast chicken isn't as risky as you might think," Godin writes. He continues saying that readers don't get enough from the experience if they are just reading for the recipe.

Here are my extensions to what Seth started with his post:
  • I think business books are self-help, in the most positive sense of the word. And you'll pay $30 for a business book in hardcover because the potential payoff is huge.
  • I am not sure cookbooks are the right metaphor for business books. Business in all its components lacks the certainty of the physics and chemistry. There is a repeatability problem. Following a business book recipe does not guarantee the same results for different cooks.
  • Having said that, the biggest contributor to failure is most don't follow the recommended recipe to start with. People like picking and choosing the easiest pieces and are surprised when they don't get the roasted chicken like the one in the picture.
  • Book summaries are the distilled recipes. I know they are popular with a certain segment, but I don't get it. You don't remember the five important points from a book by reading them in a list. You do it by understanding the context and internalizing the stories the author uses. Whenever we write a Jack Covert Select or publish a manifesto on ChangeThis, our intention is tell you about the book and convince you it is worth your time to read it in its 225 page form.
  • I surprised by the number of people who tell me they skip the introductions to business books. I will admit before I started reading "professionally", I did the same. DON'T SKIP THE INTRODUCTION. It often does the same thing as the opening credits to a good movie. You get an idea of what you are getting into, the sort of language the author will be using, and what the compelling points are going to be. If the introduction doesn't grab you, put the book down and find another.
  • Take notes and I am going to strongly suggest you do this electronically. Open a text file. Name it with the title and author. And just start writing what you think as you are reading or right after you are done. Writing about what you learned and ability to go back to find it later will pay back in spades. If you want to keep things in the meatspace, get some of these. They were invaluable as we were doing research for our book.
  • Finally, reading books is an act of meditation. It is a mental refuge for you to explore your thoughts and feelings about work, but also life as a whole. Take some time to help yourself.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.