Why read this? : We share examples of how reading business books helps spark new ideas. First, learn from how to support new ideas like Pixar does. Then, how the distinctiveness bias can help your brand stand out. And finally, the real meaning of a fair deal when negotiating. Read this for examples of lessons you get 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?
If you’re into marketing, creative and e-Commerce like we are, 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 working through our backlog of unfinished books. Reading these mostly business books is a great way to discover new ideas.
And we thought this week we’d share some of the more interesting ideas we’ve come across. Ideas you could use in your business.
Creativity, Inc. - Ed Catmull
We’re big fans of the Pixar business. We recently read Creatvity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of its co-founders. A fun read giving a great inside view on their business and culture.
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.
We especially like the chapter on “Fear and Failure”.
This chapter shows how Pixar recognise 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 rough ideas “ugly babies”. But whereas in most businesses, rough ideas (or ugly babies) often get 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 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 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
It takes a complex subject and brings it to life in a way which is easy to understand and use.
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 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. 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, which dates back to 1933. But it still works as a useful marketing / design principle today.
The basic premise is that 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.
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.
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 really like the insight he shares around 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 really 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 - 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 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, because 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. That 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.
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.