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front cover of book

How to Win Friends and Influence People : Book Review

front cover of bookContrary to the title, this book is not a study in “how to be popular” in a modern world. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The central theory that the book proposes is that simply by being an authentic and positive person you will receive what you are hoping for without even asking. Every one of the 30 lessons is indeed simple, however putting each  into practice in a consistent way, on a daily basis, is anything but simple.

How to Win Friends and Influence People was, for me, a complete revelation. Perhaps the fact that it is written by a male engineer helps, as it clearly lists the ideas and provides simple, but nuanced, examples of it being used in practice. Some of the examples are pretty weak, however at least half of the ideas in the book benefit from a simple real life situation that helps you visualise how it might be implemented. It’s probably the most enlightening book I have ever read.

So what’s the big secret of the book? I would argue that it’s probably different for every person. For me, I was in a professional situation that many engineers can probably sympathise with – I was a strong technical leader, but was insecure in my communications and relationships where technical knowledge wasn’t the defining factor. These interactions were necessary, rather than enjoyable. I remember doing a personality profiling course, where it was revealed that some sales people (extroverts) actually needed to talk to people to recharge – the concept of this seemed so foreign to me!

The lesson that this book taught me, was that you get as much out of a person as you invest into them. Be genuinely interested in them, share your ideas freely, focus on the positive, don’t publicly criticise, use their name and be humble. It all sounds so simple, but ingraining it into your personality so it is a fluid and natural reaction takes a lot of repetition of both reading the book and implementing the ideas. I guess this is why neuroscience has emerged in such a massive way lately! Anyway I am now reading it for the second time in a row, and I am still learning new things and finding things I do wrong on a daily basis. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly “green” engineers who are self-aware enough to know they could interact with the world better.

The Innovator’s Dilemma – Book Review

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen is one of the best business books I have ever read. It focuses on the practical aspects of innovation, with two key points (for me at least):

  1. You are most vulnerable when you are most profitable
  2. You need to create the start-up that undermines your most profitable products before someone else does
  3. New markets need simple, cheap products which hit a critical new requirement

This book is great inspiration for those seeking to become entrepreneurs, it shows practical examples of where start-ups have seized on opportunities and completely blind-sided the highly profitable incumbent. That’s the dream right? It also serves as a great warning to those in big business who feel chasing the margins instead of innovation is the path to success. It certainly puts forward a compelling argument, one that even NASA seems to think has merit.

Perhaps margins should be the guide for businesses, but they should work on a goal of an average margin across all their products instead. That way they can maintain a balance of high profitability mature businesses with low profitability emerging businesses. Of course this would need to be combined with some “profit margins must never decrease on a product” rule. Doing this without cannibalising your own offerings (by differentiating based on high end vs low end customers) however is a very fine line to tread.

The other practical reflection I had reading this book was on the Engineering vs Sales argument. Which side is better equipped to run a successful business? I am still yet to work anywhere that balances these two sides perfectly, it always seems to fall one way or the other. My thoughts after reading this book were that an emerging organisation needs to be run by the engineers (focus on product success, not profits or impossible projections) and mature businesses by sales people (focus on profits, finding upmarket customers).

What did you get out of this book?

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