How to Use Business Books

Business books contain wisdom and perspective, but sometimes it’s hidden. To solve this problem, start thinking about business spectrums

Digital marketing and business is a matter of navigating spectrums of opposite approaches and usually settling on some compromise for a while.

Consider the following sets of opposites in business.

  • “Who Not How” vs Gaining Momentum. Do you find the perfect expert to do your thing, or just find anyone who will get you started and capitalize on your emotional momentum?
  • Details vs Big Picture. Do you dive too deep into details or refuse to consider them so that you stay focused on the big picture strategy?
  • Solitary Research vs Brainstorming. Your own mind’s creative output around a topic is directly informed by how much research you do. But you get new ideas just from talking with people.
  • Relaxation/Fun vs The Zone. All kinds of work become tolerable and even blissfully if you achieve a flow state, aka The Zone. But do you stay in it at the expense of relaxation from work?
  • Productivity vs Effectiveness. Productivity feels good and gives the impression of maximum potential impact. But you might be more effective at creating impact by ignoring productivity and pulling the levers that move the most weight
  • Conversion vs Brand Loyalty. It’s tempting to optimize your marketing to convert new customers but it pays better to acquire a community of people who are loyal to your business over the long haul
  • Niching down vs Evolving Positioning. Consulting wisdom tells us to niche down and specialize. But the economy changes so fast now. Entire industries are wiped out or transformed every few years.
  • Productizing/systematizing vs custom consulting. To sell a business, it has to be as operationalized as possible. Or to maximum revenue. Or does it? A Consulting service business creates the most value by designing customized and non-repeatable-by-design services
  • Purpose-built software vs Template-Software. Purpose-built software like Asana requires so less configuration than Template-Software like Notion or Airtable. So what’s better for your business?

These are just a few of the business spectrums you will have to navigate over and over. I talked about these a little when I charted out optimization vs transformation and revenue vs costs.

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And you find a lot of these spectrums in books about business, of which there are three types:

  1. General how-to books on specific areas of business (This Is Marketing)
  2. Specific methods or practices that help you with something (The Art of Text Message Selling)
  3. Big idea books that give you wisdom in a certain area, if not certainty over it. These may or may not be “business books”, per se (Talking to Strangers)

The problem with the first two is that they might not give you context. They might help you do something without helping you think about the opposite way of doing it. But almost every single piece of business advice has a corollary that is also good advice yet a tradeoff.

Once you conceive of life and business as a set of spectrums, then business advice becomes so much easier to take in. It comes to a mind pre-embedded with a helpful perspective – the alternative path. Business books become containers of perspectives, not formulas.

Now flip this around – what business spectrums do your clients have to have navigate to succeed? In conversation, we speak of trade-offs as if they are the exception. “But there’s a tradeoff“. Of course, there are trade-offs. The value is in knowing in advance of the conversation what the most important ones are and having a good idea of what to trade for what.


PS. Speaking of Notion/Airtable templates, what a very cool employee handbook!