I want to tell you about a friend of mine. He is a doctor. He performs an important out-patient surgery. His calendar is full. He arrives in his office early in the morning, and the first surgery is scheduled pretty much right off the bat. I have lunch with him about once a month. I bring lunch to his office. He walks into his office for lunch just having finished with a patient. He has one hour, and usually has to make a phone call or two before we can visit – to other doctors, about the needs of his or their patients. He then operates on others through the afternoon. He has an amazing support staff. They keep his schedule flowing smoothly.
He takes off early one afternoon a week. On that afternoon, he catches up on “paper work,” and reads professional journals. This really is mandatory reading for a man in his profession. (He also gives lectures to others in his field). He is very, very good at what he does. D Magazine listed him as among the best in the city for his type of medical practice.
He has more than one child – at the age where they do everything: soccer, baseball, Lacrosse, and that’s just the activities I remember. He described a recent weekend, and it was multiple locations, multiple events, all week-end long. He is a former top level athlete, in great shape, and he was exhausted by the demands of the weekend.
His wife is also a Doctor, with the advantage of working a self-imposed reduced schedule. But when she works, she works as hard as he does. (She is also very, very good at what she does!)
So, I have a question: when will he read books that would be “good to read?”
He is not lazy; he is not a poor time-manager; he is simply too busy doing his job and serving/enjoying his family to read books that he wishes he had time to read.
When you read this blog, you are inundated with book titles that make you say: “I need to read that.” And so you buy the book, open the book…but, I suspect that your stack of partially read books is becoming a mountain.
I don’t have a solution to this problem. I do know that my Doctor friend needs to be doing what he is doing, and reading the books may never make it into his schedule.
By the way, I share most of my book synopsis handouts with him. It is not enough; it is not as good as hearing the synopsis while following along with the handout. It is not as good as reading the book himself. But he can find the few minutes it takes to read the handouts that I point out to him as especially valuable, and he is grateful.
I asked him recently if my handouts are valuable to him. He said “absolutely!” He was not hesitant. He said they give him ideas, help him think about his practice, especially the “business end” of his practice. And he said that he simply would never have time to read the books themselves.
I would never think less of him for not finding time to read the books; I’ve seen his work ethic. If I need his kind of medical attention, I want it from him. He provides exactly what people need.
You may be as busy as my friend. Or, you may have friends who are that busy. A little insight from a book is better than none at all, isn’t it? And our synopses provide more than just a little insight from the books we present. We provide two pages of key quotes from the books; the outline of the key content; and if you can find time to listen to the audio, you hear a cool/key/enlightening story or two.
No, it’s not as good as reading the book for yourself. But it is not nothing!
You can order our synopses, for yourself or that busy friend of yours, with handout + audio from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
I read a lot of books — not as many as some, and in this chapter of my life, not as many as our blogging partner Bob Morris — but I read a lot of books. Let me state the obvious — many (most) business books are not masterpieces of great literature. But nearly all of them are worth investing some time to learn what is in them — and nearly all of them have an idea or two that if I actually followed through on, my business life would be more productive, my thinking might be a little clearer, and my path to success would be helped.
Recently, I was reading some reviews for one of the books selected for the First Friday Book Synopsis (no, I won’t tell you which book it was), that complained that the book would have been fine as an essay, but there was simply not enough in it to justify a full book. And it got me thinking.
First, my agreement. Yes, there are business books that would be just fine as essays. The authors had to stretch things a bit to come up with a full book.
And, I have come to learn that a fair number of business books give you almost as much as you need in the introduction. The introduction is written with thoroughness, and when this is the case, the rest of the book is primarily commentary and elaboration. There is nothing wrong with this approach — and I appreciate, even love and greatly respect, a well-written introduction to a book. (By the way, I see this pattern in books on poverty and social justice also. I present synopses of such books at the Urban Engagement Book Club sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries).
But here’s the thing. Many times I read a book, and when I reach a key paragraph, I put the book down, and start “working,” because the book gave me the right prompt, the right idea, the right nudge…
Or, I have listened to a speaker, and a phrase, an idea, something, is said and I “tune out” for a while, because I am thinking about the implication of the idea just heard in the midst of a still ongoing presentation. I can assure you that I see this happen to people who listen to me — they hear something, and go into their own world of implications searching. So I miss part of a presentation, and maybe am partially tuned out (even, at times, when I am reading), because I am so energized by a good, important, useful idea.
So I am not bothered by a book that is really only worthy of an essay. If the ideas are good, I will take them in any form they arrive. And I will appreciate all good ideas. And, by the way, there is a chance I would not learn about this good idea if it were in an article or essay — I may have a better chance of discovering it if it is in a book.
Now — certainly, I prefer a book full of good content. But if all I get is an essay full of good content packaged in a too long book, I’ll take it. It is the bad ideas, the worthless content, that I dislike. And I can usually tell that in a hurry.
Maybe this is why our short synopses are so valuable. And maybe this is why the Q & A format that Bob Morris uses on this blog is so worthwhile. We are really lucky when we learn any ideas that are genuinely useful and helpful. And our synopses, and this blog, can provide such ideas from the books we choose.
(Note to authors, and to those of you who have a favorite book or author: of course I am not referring to your beloved book when I describe a book as not being a masterpiece. Your book is clearly a true, brilliant masterpiece. It is all of those other books I am referring to…)
“Get to Work! You aren’t being paid to believe in the power of your dreams.” (from a poster available on the dark site, despair.com).
Here’s a problem. How do we stay focused on business improvement, business innovation, business excellence, when so many people are simply dealing with business survival? The news is bad, and not getting any better (that’s a nice way of saying that it’s bad and getting worse). As I type this, I have just heard the offical prediction for 2009 — the entire world economy will lose 1% in GDP. This has not happened since World War II. In other words, things really are bad — and not getting any better any time soon.
I am reminded of Maslow. We have been living in the upper portions of the hierarchy for quite some time: self-esteem, self-actualization. But now we are back on the lower end of the list, worried about basic (physiological) needs and safety concerns.
So — what do we do now? Why, in this era when the data is depressing and the proposed solutions seem so tentative, do we even meet to discuss books that speak of innovation and change?
Because we have to. Work is not just a means to an end (a way to make money), but a central part of life itself. It is why the independently wealthy have always looked for things to do. Having something to do is part of what makes us human. And a job is valuable in and of itself. Yes, it pays the bills, but it is so much more.
And besides, to take a page out of the real estate success handbook, when times are tough, you work even harder — market, market some more, stay in touch with all of your clients, get everything in order — so that when the market rebounds you will be ready to take full advantage of the renewed opportunities.
So, for March, our two books are talking about what to do. Strengths Based Leadership will help us think about how to encourage leadership based on an individual’s unique strengths. And in Talent is Overrated, we will be challenged to develop our skills more fully.
We will keep presenting books about business improvement and excellence and innovation and leadership because we have to. It is our job. And as we find a few things to use now, we will find much more to keep us in position to do better when times get better — again — as they will.
The underlying message is this — keep working, keep aiming to get better, learn to enjoy any accomplishment, and then strive for more.
One of my favorite “to ponder” exercises is this one: “what if we fell asleep today and woke up 20 years from now?” We live in a time of such rapidly accelerating change that we can hardly imagine the change that is coming.
Try this – what will the year be in which we no longer get around with vehicles that have drivers? Too far fetched? Let’s make it simpler – what year will bring the arrival of transportation for most people that uses something other than oil? For such a change is coming! The real issue is not if, but when – and, how will we get there?
Thomas Friedman has already led us on similar journeys – in retrospect, and in process. My first exposure to Thomas Friedman was in 1999, when I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It was an announcement that globalization was upon us. His next volume (I read it in 2005) told us how flat the world was. And now, the world is just as flat, but it is also becoming increasingly hot and crowded. Since I haven’t read his new book yet, I don’t know what his prescription for change is. But I know this – change is coming. Real change.
I heard Mr. Friedman interviewed on 60 Minutes about this new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America. One sentence jumped out at me. He described how ludicrous it would have been to lead a pep rally for the IBM Selectic typewriter at the dawn of the personal computer age. You remember that typewriter, don’t you? Interchangeable fonts on those easily removable balls, ease of use – it was a marvel!
(By the way, there is now a Selectric Typewriter Museum).
Who today would switch back to it?
Not me, thank you. A new age is upon us. And now I have added to my keyboard that nifty tiny keyboard on an iPhone. Who would have predicted?
Mr. Friedman calls us to a new revolution – a green revolution. One that will help our planet. One that will help our people. One that will help our nation.
Even his critics admire his work ethic. He continues to travel, to observe, to ponder, to think, to write.
And most of all, he makes us think.
I hope we will listen…