Tips and stories to add value to you and your organisation
I have a shelf of business books. Some of them have even been read by me. The world of books is odd, in that there are more printed than sold and more sold than read. Many years ago, before the internet, when printed books were the goto form of books, I worked as a planner for a large book printer and binder. The figure banded about was that 60% of all the production was eventually recalled from shop stock and binned. I suggested, jovially, to the production manager one day, that we should put a skip at the end of the binding line and cut out the middle man. He wasn’t impressed.
Business books can be useful, dull, self-serving, or egotistical. The market is crowded and inevitably attracts a lot of ‘how I made my millions’ by people who forget to mention that their pluck, drive and amazing business acumen was given a healthy kick-start by inheriting a business, being part of a wealthy family, or having a well-connected relative who introduced them to the head of lending at a major bank.
Call me cynical, and yet it’s good to be aware that not everything is as it seems.
So then, which business book is being reviewed here?
One of my all time favourites: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by the much missed Douglas Adams.
But hey! I can hear people shouting. That’s not a business book!
Well, what is a business book? For me, it’s one that has valuable lessons which we can apply to business.
H2G2, as it’s known, is full of useful lessons. If you’ve not read it, here is the essence of it:
Arthur Dent is the sole survivor of the destruction of planet earth, thanks to the Vogon constructor fleet clearing the way for a new interstellar bypass. Pitched into the vagaries of an uncaring universe, with Ford Prefect as his guide, he navigates through ambiguity and scare, always craving a decent cup of tea. Which the galaxy steadfastly refuses to supply him with.
The book is witty, pacey and full of creative brio. It’s also the first of a trilogy of five books (Adams loved to poke fun at convention) and followed on from a ground breaking radio show.
In a poignant twist, I decided to write this piece and then noticed that the death was announced today of Stephen Moore, the talented actor who supplied the resonantly dour voice of Marvin, The Paranoid Android, in the radio and tv series. If you don’t know Marvin and his one liners then check him out.
I’m sure Douglas would laugh at H2G2 being referred to as a business book. It isn’t of course. In the way that a trilogy isn’t five books.
However, it is about resilience. We have to be resilient in business and deal with what is thrown at us. Arthur Dent has to make sense of his new world and survive, despite the lack of tea.
The book was written as a continuous stream of narrative, as Adams famously refused to plan it. He would sit and type whatever came into his head, creating a problem for his characters and then solving it. I think that’s an excellent metaphor for business.
We have to continue with our narrative and be creative to find solutions to issues. We can do some planning, never a bad thing, but we have to react and face the reality of our situation.
When the business Earth of our lives is destroyed by the Vogons (unpleasant creatures with a fondness for excruciating poetry) we have to deal with it.
Are there Vogons about, creating mischief? Perhaps there are …the banks are too big to fail (leading to handsome bailouts in the last recession), dotcoms are more powerful than many countries and Brexit is going to reshape the business landscape. Our business narrative flows before us and we can embrace these things and find ways to be resilient.
Any book that we read and enjoy and find inspiration in is a better business book than one sitting on the shelf gathering dust. We can all draw useful lessons, that serve us well, from a wide range of resources.
Which books inspire you in the world of business? Winnie the Pooh, maybe? A classic.
This week, have fun searching for the perfect cup of tea and pondering what resilience means to you and your business. The Vogons may be just around the corner.
Next week: USP Or Bust
Don’t we just love technology! In the old days (as my kids love to call them) before smart phones and the internet, business was conducted using the telephone, face to face, or via the magic that was the fax machine.
Obviously that was long before the electric light was invented, according to my children, who have a skewed sense of history, in the way that kids do.
Luckily we now have electric lights and so all is good!
I can remember in the 2008/9 recession wondering how to rebuild my business and hitting on the idea of using Skype. Instead of being constrained by geography, suddenly my market place was the world. I don’t mean that to sound grand, it’s just a statement of fact.
My network is dispersed and it’s always easier to sell to people who know you, than stay local and spend weeks slogging about and getting to know new people. I meet new people all the time and that’s great, but when you’re in a hurry it’s easier to find a shortcut. Skype was mine.
I know there are other video systems and I like Skype because it’s ubiquitous and free. Zoom is good too and if you want to explore that, then go for it.
Skype has been good for business and I’ve coached all over the world from the comfort of my house, although time zone differences can make for early starts and late finishes.
The reaction from colleagues has been mixed, with a good percentage of them suggesting that Skype coaching isn’t real coaching. It is. Clients are real people at all times and Skype bridges a gap, saves a lot of driving and is a gateway to good work.
I use Skype for my own supervision and for counselling work too. We contract for safety and the work done is professional and purposeful.
So I love Skype. It’s good to use technology in ways that benefit clients and business. My bet is that in 10 years time we will all be using video conferencing for home use as a standard feature, and not just for the occasional FaceTime.
My frustration is that the technology doesn’t always work so well and that Microsoft, in their wisdom, like to muck about with the ability to invite new contacts.
In the old days you could invite a new contact with one button push. Thanks to ‘improvements’ I now have to remember where the sub menu is, scroll down a long way, past Lands End, click on a button, pause to make a cup of tea, send an invitation email and then turn to face the setting sun in a precise alignment that ancient druids would have approved of.
And if you think I’m exaggerating, then please feel free to write in with the exact sequence needed to invite a new contact. (If you have the patience to work it out first).
Technology is there to enable business and we can use it safely and ethically. Lots of counsellors (I’m the therapeutic variety, which makes for a great addition to my coaching work) may say that the work isn’t the same if you’re not physically co-located. That may be true for certain types of client and yet I do wonder, that if there was a law passed insisting all counsellors had to use video conferencing, then those same people would adapt to the technology pretty quickly. Or go out of business.
I’m happy to debate the point. This piece is about encouraging us all to see technology as a force for good. Personally I’d rather use Skype and see the supervisor I want, than have to use someone local that isn’t my first choice.
The world is there for us all to explore and if you’re thinking that online work isn’t for you, I’d invite you to be brave and give it a go. It may bring more clients to you, reduce overhead costs and be an easy way to tap into new markets.
Love it, hate it, or feel frustrated by it, Skype is, in my opinion, a force for good in business.
This week, have fun with Skype and its cousins.
Next week: A Business Book Review (Which One Will It Be?)
Click icon for details
Click cover to view details on Amazon
Brilliant ways to increase performance, stay employed and keep the money rolling in
Published 2011 Marshall Cavendish
Secrets and skills to sell yourself effectively in the Modern Age
Published 2010 Marshall Cavendish
An insider's guide to working for yourself
Published 2007 Cyan Books and Marshall Cavendish