Review: Winning

It turns out there’s a lot in common between books by successful sports coaches on how they achieved what they did and books by business professionals who’ve reached the upper echelon.

The first is that to get someone to read your book, you have to have objective accomplishments that your prospective reader can understand.  You might read a book on the Jamaican bobsled team, for example, but it would be because you expect the story to curious and entertaining, not because the Jamaican bobsled team won a gold medal and made you wonder how you could do it as well.  That would be true even if the skills they acquired were actually greater than those of a team who had the advantages of, say, snow.  Similarly,  a book written by Steve Jobs after NeXT computer ceased being a company wouldn’t be read for insight on how to be Steve Jobs, even if Steve Jobs turned out to be, say, Steve Jobs.

The second similarity is that the skills required to succeed at sports or business are definitely not the same set of skills needed for teaching nor writing books.

The most significant similarity is that there is not a long list of prescriptive instruction for success.  It’s neither clear that the decades that sports coaches and entrepreneurs can be conveyed with a sit of prescriptive tasks, nor even that the writers are fully aware of the steps they took to success.  Is “Neutron Jack” Welch who he is because he invented a reproducible formula for management?  Or is his good fortune in having experiences that honed him to be the head of GE?  Is it the respect and intimidation others feel around him as a result of his personality?  His inherent skill in understanding and directing people?  His innate understanding of the nature of business?

Ultimately, there’s only so good an autobiographical business book can be.  We can gather insights into the thinking and behaviors of someone successful, but we can’t know whether their own understanding of the origin of success can be conveyed in even the slightest way through a book.

But on the other hand, there’s only so bad such a book can be either.  Getting any insight from someone who’s had extraordinary success, including their own view, and even their indulgences is worth the time it takes to read on of their books.

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