Reading business books – business writing that stands out

Toy doll Woody from Toy Story lying on the floor

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Snapshot : This week, we pull out three different insights from reading business books you can use in your business. Learn how Pixar supports new ideas in their ugly baby stage. From behavioural science, how the distinctiveness bias can help your brand and advertising stand out. And from negotiation theory, how to win a fair deal in any negotiation.

In Brad Stone’s excellent biography of Jeff Bezos, The Everything Store, he shares an interesting early insight from Amazon.

Compared to fiction books, non-fiction books have a much higher abandonment rate. Non-fiction readers often don’t make it to the end of the book. 

If we asked you to check the books on your Kindle right now, we’re pretty sure most of the in progress and unfinished books would be non-fiction.

Are we right?

Woman standing up on train reading business books on Kindle

If you’re into marketing, creative and e-Commerce like we are, we’re pretty sure some of those non-fiction books you’re reading will be business books. But many of them you won’t have finished. 

Reading business books is an important way to grow your knowledge

So with the extra time that no commuting or travel at the moment gave us, we’ve tried to clear some of our own backlog of unfinished books. Reading business books is an important way to grow your knowledge.

And out of those we’ve finished, this week we wanted to share a couple of the most interesting things we’ve learned. Things that you can potentially use in your business.

Firstly, we’ll cover an idea from a book about Pixar, one of the world’s most creative companies that you can use in creative thinking and innovation.

Then, we’ll move on to a bias we learned about from a book about behavioural science that you can apply to brand identity and advertising.

And finally, we’ll close with some advice from a book about negotiating, that you can use with marketing agencies and online retailers. 

Creativity Inc - Ed Catmull

We have to confess that we’re big fans of Pixar here at Three-Brains. We recently read Creatvity Inc written by Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar, which gives a great inside view on what makes them such an interesting brand and company.

It’s part biography of the company and part manifesto for how to build a creative culture and improve creative thinking in your business. That’s quite a challenge to write about.

After all, how do you creatively tell the story of a brand that’s considered one of the best in the world at creative storytelling

Well of course, it does this by telling a great story. Lots of great stories in fact. 

How they work. How the teams and leaders interact with each other. The processes, the environment and the way they do things. Many practical tips you could take into any business to improve creativity.

Whether you want to better understand the value of storytelling or have a specific use in mind like how to use storytelling in marketing, it’s a great business book, and worth a read. 

But we’d especially recommend the chapter on “Fear and Failure”.

This chapter shows that at Pixar, they recognise that creativity is a process to be nurtured and managed. And that part of the process is that great creative work doesn’t appear magically. It’s carefully crafted and polished over time. Great creative results start with rough ideas. And it’s only through honest and constructive feedback and testing, that rough ideas become great ideas

In fact, they call those early rough ideas “ugly babies”. But whereas in most businesses, rough ideas (or ugly babies) get abandoned or thrown away, the opposite happens at Pixar. 

Pixar focusses on nurturing these ugly babies in the early stages. Because they recognise that with the right care and attention, those ugly babies are the future creative superstar ideas.

The Pixar brains trust

In the book, they talk about how they have a “Brains trust” at Pixar. A small team of the most expert and experienced people in the business.

This team meets to review early rough ideas on a regular basis. Any creator of new ideas puts these forward to this Brains Trust. They get detailed comments, feedback and suggestions. Sounds like an approval committee you’d find in most big businesses, right?

But here’s the thing that’s different.

That Brains trust team has no power in the process to block, veto or cancel an idea.

They don’t approve ideas. They are there to help make the idea better.

To nurture it though the key early stages. What that does is help take out some of the initial fear of failure that naturally exists when an idea is in a raw, unpolished state.

We see so many creative thinking and marketing innovation ideas get killed off early. Many businesses have creative approval processes that are set up to make creative thinkers jump over multiple hurdles. Rather than nurture ideas, the focus is on eliminating the ‘ugly babies’ / rough ideas. 

And Pixar flips that the other way. It’s getting the best ideas collaboratively that generates great creative ideas in the end. Not killing them off early. You could use this same approach to make your marketing decision-making work work effectively.

(Also worth checking out their story structure framework which we share in our guide to brand storytelling).

The Choice Factory - Richard Shotton

The Choice Factory takes 25 learnings from the world of bias and behavioural science and links them to common marketing challenges.

It takes a complex subject and brings it to life in a way that makes it very easy to understand and use. 

The book is packed full of practical prompts and thoughts that anyone could build into insights within their market research thinking or into marketing plans and brand activation

These 25 biases are covered in the book with case studies and academic references. These are easy to understand and apply to any marketing context. 

It also suggests anecdotal experiments you could use to build them into your marketing thinking. 

It’s hard to pick one specific bias out. But if we had to, we would highlight the distinctiveness bias.

The distinctiveness bias

This bias argues that there’s no advantage if you follow what everyone else. If you’re the same as everyone else, you don’t stand out. 

If you follow the norms of your category, customers won’t remember you. You’ll be wasting your marketing efforts. 

This bias references a piece of work called the Von Restorff Effect.

It dates back to 1933, but is still valid as a useful principle in marketing and design today.

Red tulip in a field of yellow tulips showing the impact of standing out and looking different

When given a list of similar looking items, with one distinctly different, the test showed repeatedly that respondents remember the distinctly different one more often.

A shopping list with ten items in black ink, and one in green ink. You remember the one in green ink.

A list of 10 items of furniture with the word chipmunk thrown in the middle of the list. You notice the chipmunk exception to the list first. And are more likely to remember it.

You can use this technique to make your brand identity stand out more. To make it easier for customers to remember who you are. 

It’s a commonly used part of design psychology to make designs distinctive. To make designs stand out from the crowd. 

And of course, you can use it in advertising evaluation to make customers more likely to notice you. To drive better recognition and recall. 

What you should take from this learning is that when you’re distinctive, you’re more memorable. 

Three columns with twelve rows of the three-brains logo - one logo has had the colour altered so it stands out from the other 35 logos

Never Split the Difference - Chris Voss

Chris Voss, the author of Never Split The Difference used to be lead negotiator on the FBI’s hostage rescue team.

The book gives a great insight into how to think about the negotiation process.

While negotiation is a broader life skill, it has clear implication for the world of business. In how you work with marketing agencies, for example. Or getting creative approval for a marketing project in ]your business. Or even close a deal with a retailer

It’s packed full of useful insights that most people in a negotiation never even consider. 

He uses a lot of real-life examples of bank robberies and kidnapping. But also in areas like buying a new car. And he talks through some of the techniques and processes you can use to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome in a negotiation. . 

What is a ‘fair’ deal?

We particularly liked the insight he shares around the way most people are pre-programmed to be “fair” when it comes to making a deal.  “Fair” is a word loaded with subjective meaning.

We only want what’s fair. It’s a fair deal. Your offer doesn’t seem fair.

But most people don’t really consider what fair actually means. And how your interpretation of fair and someone else’s interpretation of fair can be very different. 

In particular, we like how he challenged the perception of what “fair” is when it comes to negotiation. How most people think a “fair” negotiation is one of compromise. Where the two parties start at opposite extremes and meet in the middle.

He gives some great examples of where this is not actually ‘fair’ at all and can lead to a bad deal. And he shows how no deal can be a better outcome than a bad deal. 

There are plenty of other great tips and tactics you can apply to your next negotiation. You can recognise if you are up against a good negotiator if they apply the tips and tricks from this book.

A final word on reading business books

As a final point, we also wanted to share why these particular insights we took from reading business books stood out. After all, there’s thousands of business books out there.

Firstly, for each insight they share, they give practical examples of HOW you can use that insight.

This is important.

Reading some business books, you see them fall into the trap of presenting conceptual ideas, but with no direction on how to apply them. Practicality and implementation is a big thing when reading business books.

The target audience for business books wants or needs to learn new skills or technique that give them an edge in the business world. So business writing always needs to have this want or need in mind. The benefit reading business books offers needs to be relevant to that want or need. 

Secondly, they also use storytelling, real-life examples, anecdotes and descriptions to bring conceptual ideas to life.

This both reinforces the core idea as well as making it more memorable. They demonstrate and give evidence for why their claim or assertion worked or didn’t work. This makes their overall claims much more impactful. Because of the evidence they provide and the way the provide it, you believe what they tell you. 

Be authentic, distinctive and offer the reader a good deal

And finally, though these three books are all on quite different topics, they share some common characteristics. 

The writing style and open and honest examples (both good and bad) make them all feel authentic, distinctive and that they offer the reader a good deal.

Authentic like the characters in a Pixar movie. 

Distinctive like Shotton’s Van Restorff examples. 

And a good deal for the reader like Voss’s learning how to negotiate better. 

Toy doll Woody from Toy Story lying on the floor

Get these things right and customers are more likely to trust you, notice  you and value what you have to offer. Those are business book learnings worth reading and writing home about. 

Check out guides to business writing, or contact us if you need help with any of the topics we’ve covered reading business books in this article. 

Photo Credit

Toy Story doll : photo by Melanie THESE on Unsplash

Woman reading Kindle : Photo by bady abbas on Unsplash

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Flowers : Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

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