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Reading business books – business writing that stands out

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Why read this? : We share examples of how reading business books helps spark new ideas. Learn how to support creativity like Pixar does. How the distinctiveness bias makes your brand stand out. And the real meaning of a fair deal in negotiations. Read this for ideas we’ve found by reading business books. 

In Brad Stone’s excellent Jeff Bezos biography, The Everything Store, he shares an interesting insight Amazon learned about book readers.

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 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 like us you’re into marketing, creative and e-Commerce, we’re 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 to discover new ideas

So with the extra time from not commuting or travelling at the moment, we’ve been reading our way through our backlog of business books. And that’s why this week we share some interesting ideas we’ve found. Ideas you could use in your business.

First, we share how animation company Pixar handles early creative ideas. You can use this “ugly baby” approach to improve your creative thinking and innovation.

Then, we look at what behavioural science can teach us about biases. We cover how the distinctiveness bias can boost your brand identity and advertising.

And finally, we cover negotiating. And share a helpful tip about being “fair” when dealing with agencies and online retailers. 

Creativity, Inc. - Ed Catmull

We’re big fans of Pixar. We recently read Creatvity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of its co-founders. A fun read giving a great inside view of their culture.

It’s part company biography, and part manifesto on how to build a creative culture and improve the way you come up with creative ideas. That’s quite a challenge to write about.

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

Well, of course, it does it by telling a great story. In fact, lots of great stories about Pixar. 

How they work. How the teams and leaders interact with each other. Their processes, environment and how they do things. Many practical tips you could apply to 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 read. 

We especially like the chapter on “Fear and Failure”.

This chapter shows how Pixar recognise creativity as a process to be nurtured and managed. And that great creative work doesn’t appear magically. It’s carefully crafted and polished over time. Great creative starts with rough ideas. And it’s only through honest and constructive feedback and testing that rough ideas become great ideas

Pixar calls these rough ideas “ugly babies”. In most businesses, rough ideas (or ugly babies) are killed early. The opposite happens at Pixar. Instead, they focus on nurturing them. They recognise with care and attention, those ugly babies will grow into future creative superstar ideas.

The Pixar Brains Trust

The book talks about the Pixar “Brains Trust”. A small team of the most expert and experienced people in the business.

This team meets regularly to review ugly baby ideas. 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 what’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’re there to help make the idea better. To nurture it through the key early stages. That helps reduce the fear which naturally exists when an idea is raw and unpolished.

Many creative thinking and marketing innovation ideas get killed too early. Businesses have creative approval processes which put up barriers to new ideas. Rather than nurture ideas, they try to reduce risk. And that means killing the ‘ugly baby’ ideas.

Pixar flips that around. It’s all about collaborating to get the best ideas. To support them, not crush them. You can use this thinking to improve the way your marketing decision-making works.

The Choice Factory - Richard Shotton

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

It takes a complex subject and brings it to life in a way which is easy to understand and use. 

It’s packed full of practical prompts and thoughts. You can use these insights in your market research thinking, marketing plans and brand activation

Each bias covered has case studies and academic references. These are easy to understand and apply to any marketing context. 

It also suggests easy experiments you could do to look for biases around your own brand. 

It’s hard to pick one specific bias. But if one stands out (!) from the rest, it’s the distinctiveness bias.

The distinctiveness bias

This bias suggests there’s no advantage if you follow what everyone else does. You don’t stand out if you’re the same as everyone else. 

If you only follow category norms, customers won’t remember you. You’ll be wasting your marketing time and money.

This bias references a piece of work called the Von Restorff Effect, which dates back to 1933. But it still works as a useful marketing / design principle today.

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

The basic premise is that when looking at a list of similar-looking items, with one distinctly different, people repeatedly notice and remember the different one more often. It stands out more. 

A shopping list with 9 items in black ink, and 1 in green ink. You notice and remember the green ink item.

A list of 10 items of furniture with the word chipmunk in the middle of the list. You notice the chipmunk first because it’s an exception. And you’re more likely to remember it.

You use this technique to make your brand identity stand out and be more memorable. (See our brand lessons article for more on this).

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

And, of course, you can use it to create more impactful advertising. Distinctive adverts have better recognition and recall. The key lesson here is you’re more memorable when you stand out.

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 great insights into how to think about the negotiation process.

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

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

He uses a lot of real-life examples of bank robberies and kidnappings. 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 chances of getting positive outcomes from a negotiation. 

What is a 'fair' deal?

We like the insight he shares about the way most people are pre-programmed to be “fair” when 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 consider what fair actually means. And how your interpretation of fair can differ greatly from someone else’s interpretation. In particular, we like how he challenges the perception of what “fair” means when negotiating. How most people think a “fair” negotiation is about compromise. Where both parties start at opposite extremes and meet in the middle.

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

There are plenty of other great tips and tactics you can apply to your next negotiation. You’ll spot a good negotiator if you see them using the tips and tricks from this book.

Conclusion - lessons from 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 are thousands of business books out there.

First, 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 are key when reading business books.

The target audience for business books wants to learn new skills or techniques to give them an extra edge. So business writing always has to meet a relevant need or want. People reading business books want clear answers to their problems. 

Second, they all use storytelling. They use real-life examples, anecdotes and descriptions to bring conceptual ideas to life.

This reinforces the core idea, as well as making it more memorable. They share evidence of why their claim or assertion worked or didn’t work. This makes their overall claims more impactful. You believe what they tell you as the story’s so compelling.  

Be authentic, distinctive and offer the reader a good deal

And finally, though these 3 books are all on different topics, they share some characteristics. 

The writing style and honesty of the examples (both good and bad) make them feel authentic and distinctive. You know you’ll get a good deal from reading them.

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 offer. Those are business book learnings worth reading and writing home about. 

Check out our business writing guides for more on this. Or get in touch if you need help with any of these lessons from reading business books. 

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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