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Reading business books – business writing that stands out

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Why read this? : Reading business books opens up your mind to new ideas that can grow your business. We share lessons from 3 of our favourite recent reads. Learn how Pixar support new ideas. Lean how to use the distinctiveness bias to help your brand stand out. And learn how to win a fair deal in any negotiation. Read this to learn some of our favourite lessons from 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 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 to discover new ideas

So with the extra time that comes from not commuting or travelling at the moment, we’ve been working through our backlog of unfinished books. Reading these mostly business books is a great way to discover new ideas.

So this week we want to share some of the more interesting ideas we came across. Ideas you could use in your business.

First, we share how Pixar, one of the world’s most creative companies handle early ideas. You can use this approach to improve your creative thinking and innovation.

Then, we share how behavioural science can teach us about biases. We cover a specific bias that you can use to boost your brand identity and advertising.

And finally, we share advice on negotiating, that you can use with marketing agencies and online retailers. 

Creativity, Inc. - Ed Catmull

We have to confess we’re big fans of Pixar. We recently read Creatvity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar, which gave a great inside view on their business and culture.

It’s part biography of the company and part manifesto for how to build a creative culture and improve how you manage 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. Lots of great stories about Pixar 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 read. 

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

This chapter shows how Pixar recognise that creativity is 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 call these 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 focus on nurturing these ugly babies. They recognise with the right care and attention, those ugly babies will eventually become 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 to review ugly baby 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’re there to help make the idea better.

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

Many creative thinking and marketing innovation ideas get killed off too early. Businesses have creative approval processes which exist to put up hurdles to new ideas. Rather than nurture ideas, they aim to prevent risk. And that means eliminating the ‘ugly baby’ ideas.

Pixar flips that around. It’s all about collaborating to get the best ideas. Not killing them off early. You can use this approach 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 that makes it easy to understand and use. 

The book is packed full of practical prompts and thoughts. They’re easy to build into insights in your market research thinking or into your  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 easy experiments you could do to look for biases around your own brand. 

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

The distinctiveness bias

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

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.

It dates back to 1933. But it’s 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

The basic premise is that when given a list of similar looking items, with one distinctly different, respondents will repeatedly notice and remember the different one more often.

A shopping list with 10 items in black ink, and one 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 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 them stand out from the crowd. 

And of course, you can use it to create more impactful advertising. Adverts that are distinctive have better recognition and recall. 

The key lesson here 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 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 you getting 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’ll spot a good negotiator if you see them using the tips and tricks from this book.

Conclusion - lesson 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’s 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 is key when reading business books.

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

Secondly, they also use storytelling. They use 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 share evidence for why their claim or assertion worked or didn’t work. This makes their overall claims more impactful. Because of the evidence they give and the way they give it, you believe what they tell you. 

Be authentic, distinctive and offer the reader a good deal

And finally, though these 3 books are all on quite different topics, they have 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 offer. Those are business book learnings worth reading and writing home about. 

Check out guides to business writing for more. Or contact us if you need help with anything 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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