Every now and then, a new business book hits a sweet spot. And in the last fortnight, I’ve been lucky enough to encounter two: US marketer Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus, and WIRED UK former founding editor David Rowan’s Non-Bullshit Innovation, recently named by the Financial Times as one of its Business Books of the Month.
In that tight space somewhere between topical and necessary on my reading list, I regularly – where I can – fit in books that spark the grey cells and lubricate my creative thinking.
Now, for large swathes of the year ……..cue the sound of tumbleweeds ……that list remains shamefully under-resourced. I try not to beat myself up about it, but when I heard recently that the average (I’m presuming, successful) CEO reads at least 60 books a year, I thought I’d better up my game.
Make Your Reading Multi-task
And if I’m going to read a business book, if it can overlap with my private life and offer learnings there, well, so much the better. Two birds, one stone. You get the picture.
So when Michael Hyatt’s hardback Free to Focus thumped onto the doormat last week I was thrilled to read that, just as he had promised, this is a book that does just that. No surprise that I found the strapline particularly inviting: “A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less”.
Who wouldn’t like that idea?
Speak to Your Audience
For those not familiar with him, Hyatt is a U.S. author, blogger, speaker and leadership mentor with a nice line in best-selling books on planning, leadership and goal-setting. Hyatt shares his knowledge widely and generously. A shrewd businessman and leader, in his books he has an ability to speak simply and directly both to the reader and to the problem at hand.
In Free to Focus, the problem is a knotty one: in a world full of distraction and pressures – Hyatt calls it the ‘Distraction Economy’ – how can we focus on what matters and get it done well?
Do away with the ‘clutter’
Hyatt identifies and then strips away all the ‘clutter’ we fill our time with, whether through habit or in response to demands placed on us (including the unreasonable ones), and shows us how to set and reach the goals that matter, personally and professionally. I especially love the recommendation that concludes the chapter titled ‘Eliminate’: build a Not-to-Do List. Now there’s a list I’d like to stick on the fridge!
When you complete this list, he says, ‘you should be able to look back at it and recognize each of the items listed as being too low-leverage, unimportant or irrelevant to occupy your attention at all.”
I’m not quite finished the book yet, but already I can feel ideas from it coming into my head when I am planning the week/month/quarter ahead. I like it because like all good business books, it gets me asking questions, like ‘What do I really need to focus on? Where or how can I create value, serve a purpose, build a great or better relationship, or generate goodwill or impact?
Innovation, but not as you know it
The second book I came across is very different in content but is also guaranteed to get you thinking. Just like Hyatt’s book, David Rowan’s brilliant No-Bullshit Innovation has a deeply compelling byline: “Radical Ideas from the World’s Smartest Minds”.
In a breezy, engaging style, Rowan, in his search for approaches to innovation that really work, tours what he regards as some of the most innovative people and companies in the world.
It’s not just the big companies that innovate
As the title strongly suggests, he deplores bullshit of any variety, particularly some of the titles used to describe a person or department charged with ‘innovation.’ Titles like ‘innovation sherpa’ (that one made me chuckle). Rowan invites us to look beyond labels and formulas to explore what really makes for true innovation: diversity of thought, resilience, collaboration across disciplines, ages, cultures.
There are some familiar names in the books, like Google and Qantas, but it’s not all about the big guys.
I found the example of a London bookshop particularly interesting, perhaps because the end of the bookshop has seemed imminent for so long (and I do love books).
Re-invent your business
Heywood Hill, in the very upmarket neighbourhood of Mayfair, found a way of reinventing itself as a high-end book-subscription or library-assembly service (piece of trivia: the shop was mentioned in John le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and is owned by the wonderfully named Peregrine Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire). In one case, Heywood was even commissioned to assemble a vast library of books for a wealthy client’s overseas home. For a small business to make a leap like this takes not just courage, but real imagination. So inspiring!
And that’s the main word I would use for Rowan’s book. Inspiring. This is a book that gets you thinking – and thinking hard – about what innovation really means and who really creates it best.
The Financial Times reviewer puts it well,
“Innovation can be encouraged, but it is a mistake to think that it can be planned, predicted or summoned to order. It is a thing that emerges from an ecosystem of experimentation, in unexpected ways, and it grows in a seedbed called freedom”.
So, how can we find ways to provide that kind of freedom? I’d love to know your thoughts!