2008-05-29 | Filed Under Tech |
You can tell a lot about people by what they collect. For instance, when I was a teen, one of the ways that I would learn about the party host was to rummage through their stack of LPs. It said something about the guy’s personality if he had B.B.King and Hendrix albums on the top of the pile, vs. Donovan and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
As I got older, I would look through the books on the shelf. Dozens of heavily thumbed sci-fi pocket-books paints a different picture of personality than does 1000-page romantic epics (like The Thornbirds) stacked like bricks next to the bed.
Even in today’s electronic world, books remain an interesting indicator of personality. Business books are among the standard fixtures on the credenza of many of the business executives I know. The giant lettering screaming at you from the glossy dust-covers seem to be the sine qua non of the mahogany set. Often, my executive colleagues are sporting the latest just-off-the-press hardcover by the guru of the moment. Smiling at us from the back-page vanity photo, these authors extol us that our mission is in REENGINEERING THE CORPORATION, but we have to take on the SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE as go IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE but to be careful about CROSSING THE CHASM or else we may reach the TIPPING POINT.
The Cream of the Business Press?
I read many of these kinds of popular business press books while I was studying for my MBA. As my studies were part-time and took 5-years to complete, I saw more than a few ideas come and go. New theories would contradict (or at least displace) the old ones. Firms that were highlighted for their ‘excellence’ were a few years later bankrupt and out of business. Authors which were lauded on talk shows for their brilliant insight were soon in the shadows of obscurity. Few of the ideas stood the test of time. I am not saying that their is nothing to learn from those that study the nature of economics and commerce. But the track-record of the popular business press is poor.
Some Non-Business Books on Business
I am a technology executive and I too do a lot of reading about business. However, I rarely read business books. In fact, I believe some of the best ideas on the subject is in the realm of evolutionary science, psychology and in human history. In my reading of evolution (through such brilliant authors as Richard Dawkins, Robert Wright and Jonathan Weiner) I have learned about game theory, competition/collaboration, the interplay of genotype/phenotype, envorionmental fit, adaptation and human psychology. Douglas Hofstadter, Roger Penrose and Steven Pinker have taught me about the fundamental building blocks of the mind and how they form culture, morals, behaviours and norms. Through my study of conflict and military history (by such authors as John Keegan, Sun Tzu, Anthony Beavor) and the history of innovation/trade/economics (by Daniel Boorstin, Mark Kurlansky, Pierre Burton) reveal the manifestation of our evolutionary and psychological makeup in the interplay of leadership, technology, passion, risk taking and the pursuit of security, status and wealth.
The ideas in these books speak to the fundamental nature of who we are, how we interact with one another and the ways we can make our living in the world. Isn’t that what business is all about?