There has been an explosion of self-help books and business books over the years to the extent it is a challenge to filter. And it is important to filter content we consume as highlighted in a piece we featured recently. The other challenge about self-help and business books that this article highlights is the lack of context. Whilst you can select books about companies in industries that you are familiar with to build context, not everyone works in industries on which good books have been written says the author. So the other way to learn from context is to look at our interests outside of business such as music and sports and learn from books in these fields where we might have better context. Here’s Tyler Cowen, a professor of Economics relating from his experience:

“Most people have favourite musical artists, athletes or sports teams. Often they have been following these people and institutions for years. That gives them enough context to make sense of the management stories — how the teams were put together, how leaders emerged, how people dealt with setbacks and failures, and so on. All these are business-relevant topics.

I have learned a great deal about management and group dynamics, for example, by reading books about the Beatles — especially ones that cover their origins, breakup, or both. You can see the importance of a good manager (Brian Epstein, until his death), competitive pressures from other musicians and intragroup rivalries, such as the eventual ascent of Paul over John, due to Paul’s superior work ethic. Because I know a lot about the background, the stories make sense to me, and I can ferret out some general principles to apply to other business or small-group settings — such as the importance of getting new projects off the ground, which is something Paul excelled at.

My point is not that you should read about the Beatles. It’s to find for yourself what the Beatles are for me. I have also learned a great deal from reading histories of the Byrds, who were less successful than the Beatles, and the British punk group XTC, who never made much money from their music at all. Failures and lesser successes are also worth studying, but traditional business books tend to focus too much on villains and scandals rather than attempt a sympathetic understanding.

One of my favourite “business books” is a scintillating autobiography by Alex Ferguson, the famous coach of Manchester United. It was written with Michael Moritz, who used to be a journalist and later became a venture capitalist. It is one of the best books I have read on how to understand and seek out talent.

To understand the concept of team loyalty and how to build it, I have also relied on Jerry Kramer’s Green Bay Packers memoir Instant Replay. Both Manchester United and the Packers are businesses, of course. Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules poses the question of whether a charismatic leader, in this case Michael Jordan, can push other workers too hard. I look forward to good, detailed biographies of Magnus Carlsen and Steph Curry, two of the most impressive achievers, both obsessed with continual self-improvement.”

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