Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Motivation from Knowing

The following is from the blog of author, Seth Godin, who has written many books:
I like reading magic books.

I don’t do magic. Not often (and not well). But reading the books is fun. It’s a vicarious thing, imagining how a trick might work, visualizing the effect and then smiling at how the technique is done. One after another, it’s a pleasant adventure.

A lot of people read business books in just the same way. They cruise through the case studies or the insights or examples and imagine what it would be like to be that brilliant entrepreneur or that successful CEO or that great sales rep. A pleasant adventure.

There’s a huge gap between most how-to books (cookbooks, gardening, magic, etc.) and business books, though. The gap is motivation. Gardening books don’t push you to actually do something. 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.

The stakes are a lot higher when it comes to business.

Wreck a roast chicken and it’s $12 down the drain. Wreck a product launch and there goes your career...

I’m passionate about writing business books precisely for this reason. High stakes, high rewards. My guess is that there are more business books sold than most other non-fiction categories--it's not just recipes.

The fascinating thing is this: I spend 95% of my time persuading people to take action and just 5% of the time on the recipes.

The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.

Which leads to your role as the reader. How to read a business book... it’s not as obvious as it seems.
  • Bullet points are not the point.
If you’re reading for the recipe, and just the recipe, you can get through a business book in just a few minutes. But most people who do that get very little out of the experience. Take a look at the widely divergent reviews for The Dip. The people who ‘got it’ understood that the purpose of the book was to get you to change your perspective and thus your behavior. Those that didn’t were looking for bullet points. They wasted their money.

Computer books, of course, are nothing but bullet points. Motivated programmers get amazing value because for $30 they are presented with everything they need to program a certain way or in a certain language. Yet most programmers are not world class, precisely because the bullet points aren’t enough to get them to see things the way the author does, and not enough to get them motivated enough to actually program great code.

So, how to read a business book:

1. Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

2. If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a postit or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

3. It’s not about you, it’s about the next person. The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it... pushing those around you to get in sync and to take action--that’s the main reason it’s a book, not a video or a seminar. A book is a souvenir and a container and a motivator and an easily leveraged tool. Hoarding books makes them worth less, not more.

Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, "are we there yet?"
In reading business books, Seth is absolutely right - the gap between most how-to and business books is motivation. Business books stimulate you to do something, while how-to books do very little in this regard.

The thrill that I get from reading business books is the risk. The risk comes from not knowing when I am presented with a problem. If I am presented with a problem and have previous knowledge in the area for alleviating it, I feel better off about myself. If I do not know a resolution to the problem, I am determined to find one. For me, it's not just finding a resolution to every problem that I face in my life, it's putting the maximum effort forth to finding the best solution.

I absolutely bask in certain topics that are important to me in my life. The reason for this is the motivating thought of 'being the best at something in the world'. For example, if I want to be the best at investing in the world, I look for ways to accomplish this. I mimic investing gurus, I read investment books and business books, I email owners of businesses that are selling, I ask questions to people in the profession, I look at what others are doing and try to do them better, etc. My motivation stems from the thought of putting my maximum effort forth, knowing I will be very good at it eventually. That simple thought is what keeps me going.

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