Writing about the business of business


I trawl through bookstores, both real and on-line, in search of business books.

The category is big business, but is rarely stimulating and interesting.

Business books often belonging in the engineering – detailed and somewhat mechanical accounts of a ‘how to’ variety – or science fiction sections – so fantastical and imaginative in their prescriptions and analyses of successful businesses that they belong on another planet.  

Anita Roddick’s Body and Soul has been with me since the early 90s when I played hooky from a tedious HR conference and sat in a Harrogate café with it and endless cups of coffee.  My fascination with the book is more to do with her drive and passion than the Body Shop and its products.

I read Subroto Bagchi's The High Performance Entrepreneur on a train journey to the Lake District at a time when I was also reading the Panchatantra.  One a lesson in business, the other a lesson in life, but the defining lines between the two are never all that clear.

Subroto is a founding director of MindTree.  His perspective from the coalface is very valuable, much more so than writers who have never hewn coal or have long since forgotten the experience

He teases out one defining feature of a successful entrepreneur – the capacity to focus both on  a compelling vision and a disciplined implementation of process, which in combination is then scaleable.  He explains why these supposedly incompatible activities of vision and process need to work together.  

His book belongs in the "Imaginative Engineering and Real-Life Science Fiction" section.

Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow is not a business book - one of its attractions is that it is not immediately clear where the book belongs - but it deserves to be read and then read again by anybody in business.

It is carefully written and densely populated with ideas and reflections so doesn't lend itself to neat summaries.

But the observations keep coming:

  • Successful CEOs rely upon a very significant amount of luck and contribute little overall to the success of their companies
  • Fund managers, investment bankers and other finance experts are clearly not 
  • Predictions about the future are pointless beyond a limited period of time from the present.  The discussion on BBC Radio 4 yesterday about house prices in 3-5 years was an exercise in imagination
  • Job interviews and assessments of potential, including presumably any number of talent management programmes, don't do what they are intended to do
  • Compensation linked to performance is a fudge, if not a waste of time and money
  • Negotiation and mediation activities should recognise the irrationality of much decision making by individuals and organisations

I now understand why I make so many mistakes when hiking with maps.  I force the evidence around me on to the map in front of me, fuelled by a dose of optimism, irrespective of knowing I have made this mistake on countless previous occasions. I shall take Kahneman with me when next I hike.

From here to there.

Or not, on occasion.