Why books matter for business

Barbara GrayThis week’s episode of the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast features Barbara Gray, who has self-published her book Ubernomics using the Reedsy platform. There’s lots of fascinating stuff in the interview about publishing options, economics, writing, blogging and more, but one exchange really stood out for me. Barbara has a ‘library’ area on her site, and I wanted to ask her why: 

Me: Let’s talk about your business book library. On your site you actually have a library section, which is great. I thought, “Everybody should do this; this is wonderful!” Why do you think it’s so important for business people to read books?

Barbara: You have to. Things are changing so fast. You need fresh ideas. If you’re not reading books you’re not keeping up to date with things. You can read Twitter, you can read LinkedIn, you can read blogs, but books go deep… I’ve read over 200 business strategy books since 2010. It’s just, you get so many ideas from it. If I hadn’t read those books … you know I did my Commerce degree, I did my CFA, my Chartered Financial Analyst designation. All of the ideas I have come from the books I’ve read. You can have an MBA you can have whatever but if you’re not keeping up to date and reading the latest books you don’t have the current knowledge. 

Me: It’s really interesting that you pick up on the up-to-dateness of them because actually that’s a charge that’s often levelled against books. ‘You don’t need books because you’ve got blogs, you’ve got Medium, you’ve got all this kind-of-reasonable-quality stuff going out on the internet.’ I love that phrase that you use, that ‘books go deep’. There is something about that sustained argument, isn’t there, that’s qualitatively different.

Barbara: I think so… my book represents the body of work that I’ve done since 2010, and maybe even before that, because in order to have the insight to develop the ideas I had I needed to have my whole career as an analyst before me. You can dive into the whole knowledge base of a person, it’s fascinating. I’m sort of a book groupie. You know, people like rock stars and stuff, I like business strategy authors.

Me: Do you think it’s even more important if you’re planning to write a book to have that kind of… garbage in, garbage out, what’s the corollary of that? Good books in, good book out?

Barbara: I think so, because I think authors, at least most of them, seem to build their ideas upon other people’s ideas. I mean if you look at the footnotes/endnotes of most business strategy books they’ve referenced so many people and I’m the same way. I just actually finished doing all my endnotes and I think I’ve got 75 endnotes, most of them being business books.

Me: I thought you were very transparent and very generous in the way that you cited not just books, but even talks, and people who planted seeds that then you took off in a different direction. I really like that. Often I find especially first-time authors nervous about reading too much and being seen to take ideas from other people, as though somehow that devalues them. Actually it’s standing on the shoulders of giants isn’t it? It’s taking something and combining it with something else and adding something of your own and creating something new and fresh.

Barbara: Yes, exactly. What’s interesting if you think about it from the perspective of an analyst is that’s called Mosaic Theory: taking unrelated pieces of information, putting them together, and coming up with a thesis that will give you insight into whether to buy or sell stock…. You want to put knowledge out in the world, to share with others and to build upon, as you said, the shoulders of giants, those that came behind you.

What are YOU reading today that will help you think deep and serve as a foundation on which to build your own writing?