Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

This Is Bill Gates’ Favorite Business Book of All Time

ARCHIVES
Bill Gates Bill Gates Susan Walsh/AP

Bill Gates’ favorite business book of all time has been out of print, is nearly half a century old, and is entirely different from the how-to-manage guides that top many other lists. It’s Business Adventures, a collection of some of the best of long-time New Yorker writer John Brooks’ wonderfully elegant stories about Wall Street and American business. It’s their age and uniqueness that makes them so valuable, Gates writes in a review in The Wall Street Journal.

He says the book, originally lent to him by investor Warren Buffett—who also called it his own favorite business book—stays relevant precisely because it isn’t a how-to guide:

Unlike a lot of today’s business writers, Brooks didn’t boil his work down into pat how-to lessons or simplistic explanations for success. (How many times have you read that some company is taking off because they give their employees free lunch?) You won’t find any listicles in his work. Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters, and show how things went for them.

Gates highlights the example of Xerox (the chapter he references, Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox, is available for free download here.) People who know their tech history know the company spent tons of money on extremely innovative research and development and invented technology that became part of the core of both Apple and Microsoft. It then went on to largely ignore that technology because it veered away from its core expertise.

Brooks tells the very compelling early story of how the company revolutionized copying and became a giant in the first place, thanks in large part to some unconventional thinking and risk taking by individuals. Gates says that it serves as a reminder of how easily innovators can forget the value of taking risks.

Brooks is an excellent writer with a talent for capturing the absurd and human parts of a business story. (Even tax policy gets compelling treatment in a story on the rise of the income tax.) One of the other most famous stories is his chronicling of the real reasons behind the catastrophic failure of Ford’s Edsel sedan in the 1960s. Brooks shows with remarkable clarity how executives with all of the data and time in the world will still go with their gut, to disastrous effect.

Here’s Brooks’ description of the secrecy surrounding the Edsel project’s early days:

…work on it progressed under the conditions of melodramatic if ineffectual secrecy that invariably attend such operations in the automobile business: locks on the studio doors that could be changed in 15 minutes if a key should fall into enemy hands; a security force standing round-the-clock guard over the establishment; and a telescope to be trained at intervals on nearby high points of the terrain where peelers might be roosting.

(All such precautions, however inspired, are doomed to fail because none of the provide a defense against Detroit’s version of the Trojan horse–the job-jumping stylist, whose cheerful treachery makes it relatively easy for the rival companies to keep tabs on what the competition is up to. No one, of course, is better aware of this than the rivals themselves, but the cloak-and-dagger stuff is thought to pay for itself in publicity value.)

That approach to secrecy will be familiar to people following today’s technology industry.

Above all, as Gates writes in the Journal, Brooks’ stories have a humanity that makes their business lessons accessible and immediate:

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.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.