Several years ago, Bill Gates spotlighted on his blog what he says is “the best business book I’ve ever read.”
Originally recommended to Gates by Warren Buffett himself when asked for his favorite book about business, John Brooks’ Business Adventures is a collection of articles previously published in the New Yorker that dives into the stories and lessons of some of the most important events in 20th Century corporate America.
“Brooks’s work is a great reminder that the rules for running a strong business and creating value haven’t changed,” says Gates. And, indeed, it is the timeless nature of the lessons in the book that makes it so invaluable.
But the lessons are about so much more than just business.
Gates concludes, “Business Adventures is as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another. In that sense, it is still relevant not despite its age but because of it. John Brooks’s work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time.”
Whether you’re considering checking the book out or rather just get a quick look at what it’s all about, we’ve summarized some of the most notable lessons from the book below (however, the book is definitely worth checking out in its entirety as well).
It’s certainly true that many of the particulars of business have changed. But the fundamentals have not.
– Bill Gates
Here are three life lessons from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s favorite book on business, Business Adventures.
1. Failure is a learning experience. Take what you can from it move forward
One of the most useful stories in the book is that of the Ford Edsel, a midsized sedan launched by the Ford Motor Company in 1958. That’s because of, ironically, the sheer volume of mistakes they made in the creation and launch of the model.
But perhaps the greatest lesson of all was in how Ford’s execs reacted to that failure.
During the development of the model, market research was shoved aside (despite being paid for) and trends ignored. What resulted was a monumental failure.
“People weren’t in the mood for the Edsel … What they’d been buying for several years encouraged the industry to build exactly this kind of car. We gave it to them, and they wouldn’t take it. Well, they shouldn’t have acted like that,” J.C. Doyle, the then marketing manager of the Ford Edsel model told the author.
No wonder it failed. Without the willingness to face your failures and learn from them, you’re doomed to repeat. Failure is a learning experience, so accept it, absorb what lessons you can, and use them to make new progress.
2. Don’t let outside forces influence your judgment (when it’s ready, it’s ready)
Business Adventures also tells the story of print and scan company Xerox, one of the great American success stories of mid-20th Century.
While developing the company’s first signature printer (and the very first office printer), the company’s board was pressuring founder Joseph C. Wilson to push development along while he insisted it would take several years of development.
Wilson refused to cave and instead held steady to his vision and what he knew was the right thing to do. The result was Xerox 914, the first office printer and the launching point for Xerox to become a household name.
I love when I see a media company or studio take their time to make a piece of art, whether it’s a film, the next season of one of my favorite T.V. shows (I’m looking at you, Stranger Things), or a tripe-A video game.
As an artist, I know that rushing the process is the kiss of death. Nothing is worse than hurrying through the creation and development process and pulling the trigger before you’re ready.
But you don’t have to be an artist of any kind for this to apply to you. We all create and build things in our daily life, whether it’s a relationship, a new schedule or another aspect of our life, or a goal of some kind.
Sure, you don’t want to fall victim to a lack of motivation and inaction. However, if you’ve passed that point and you have no problem taking action one of the paramount concerns then becomes your process. And a critical aspect of that becomes the speed at which you move and when you decide to take action or put down your pencil so to speak and decide you’re done.
If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you’ve done the work to become skilled at it, allow your own judgment to guide you instead of letting outside forces such as other people’s opinions, the market, and fear affect your actions.
3. Never rest on your laurels
It’s natural human behavior to want to rest immediately following a success. After all, you were successful. You’ve arrived, right?
However, people often miss the point. Life isn’t about a particular level you must reach, it’s about progress. It’s the feeling of progress which makes us happy and it’s progress– an ever-present forward motion that is the most fundamental of all of life’s qualities (in Buddhist philosophy, this is referred to often as impermanence)– which we must strive for and not some magical stage at the end of a rainbow where we can finally rest still.
Happiness, and by extension success, are found in falling love with the process of continual progress and forward motion.
That same company that developed the first office printer and became a great American success story? By 1964, they had stopped developing and innovating their products into the future. The result: by 1965, sales were declining rapidly and competitors had overtaken much of the space.
You might not be competing against anyone, however, by not heeding the fundamental principle of constant motion that is life, you’re bound to be repeatedly and disappointingly caught off guard.
Rejoice and celebrate progress every step of the way, but never forget that life will continue moving forward and you must do the same to stay happy, fulfilled, and successful.