There are so many business bibles out there, each accompanied by the publisher’s hype. Lots involve great common sense, a bit of lateral thinking and some pretty standard business principles. However, once in a while, a book comes along with real insight and could change your mind set forever. These are the books we think really make an impact.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Published in 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow has sold over 1.5 million copies. Nobel laureate Kahneman, is an Israeli-American psychologist. His work focuses on the psychology of decision-making and human judgement. The key tenet of Thinking, Fast and Slow is that human thought is divided into two contrasting modes, ‘System 1’ refers to the instinctive, emotional, quick-fire reactions whereas ‘System 2’ refers to the slower, logical, deliberate decision making.
The book is a fascinating journey into the human brain. A particularly interesting section of the book is about biases and heuristics (the branch of psychology referring to judgement). Essentially Kahneman suggests that the human brain is much worse at rational and logical judgement than we think it is. Various ‘instinctive’ intrusions, especially when looking a statistics cloud our judgement considerably and the book explains how and why these biases work.
Although much of Thinking, Fast and Slow will make you question whether you are nearly as clever as you’d like to think, it gives genuine, practical insight into your potential failings when making important decisions. Once equipped with the knowledge of the limitations of your brain to make instinctive calls you can work out ways of making more ‘intelligent’ decisions.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The black swan was thought to be a mythical creature and used as a metaphor for a non-existent fantasy. However with the European discovery of Australia came the discovery of real life black swans. Taleb’s Black Swan Theory refers to the fragility of beliefs. ‘Certainties’ can be undone in an instant and we are unable to predict events and discoveries with any degree of accuracy, however brilliant we are!
Taleb is an Lebanese-American statistician and former trader and risk analyst. His experience of financial practices led to writing Black Swan in 2007, just a year before the financial crash of 2008. Many of the concepts he discusses regarding over-confident systems are seen as predicting the crisis and his theories have been adopted and analysed by many key players in finance, economics and politics across the world.
In a way, the key lesson of The Black Swan, is that, however much we plan, predict and analyse, we cannot control the future. The only sensible recourse therefore is to build as many buffers as possible against these unpredictable and potentially catastrophic events. In terms of career planning, long-term strategies of building a considerable financial nest-egg and then diversifying your skills portfolio may be ways of insuring yourself (to a degree) against those surprising black swans.
The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike, Jr.
Of the three, this book is the more classical business bible but it’s a great read for leadership skills and also insight into the upper echelons of American business.
The book is divided into eight chapters giving essentially case studies of some of the US’s top CEOs and the key message must be that there is no one way to the top. The case studies have wildly different backgrounds, leadership styles and motivations. What joins them all is only their success.
There are some great stories in here, from Katharine Walker who essentially inherited the Washington Post Company in 1963 at the age of 46 with 3 young children to care for when her husband died. She came from an exceedingly privileged background and had really never worked before. Needless to say she went on to become one of the country’s most exceptional CEOs.
The book provides a good mix of personal stories and also detail into how these extraordinary people made such a difference in the companies they led. The lesson is that it’s best to do things your way and push for success rather than always be looking at the people around and trying to fit it in.
Think you don’t have time to read books? That may be a false economy. Many of the leading business figures, including Mark Zuckerburg and Warren Buffet make an active habit of reading. It’s a way to both forget the small worries of the day and also to obtain that knowledge that will make you a better decision maker in the future.