I’m not part of the ardent business book devouring audience. I am not one of those who have a well arranged shelf of all the latest tomes featuring grinning gurus spouting the latest business wisdom. But I do read business books occasionally when the mood strikes, because when you come down to it I’m simply interested in everything out there.
I was a bit surprised when I came across Good Business in the bargain bin of a local book shop. While I hadn’t read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s previous famous work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, I had heard of it and read a basic synopsis at some point. I found his ideas to be quite intriguing. He seemed to be one of those thinkers trying to blur the boundaries between disciplines, which I like, so when I came across Good Business I picked it up.
That was a few months ago and I have been reading the book on and off as a break from other work. I finished it a few days ago and I must say it’s been a pleasant surprise. I’ve come across many books on the subject of business that were too trite or too heavy on the marketing blitz while being light on the content. I am happy to report that Good Business is not one of them.
Unlike many other works in the genre, Good Business is actually a good book, quite separate from what it is about. Rather than be a dry sequence of bullet points illustrated with cute explanatory graphics, this book takes itself seriously while also trying to tell a story and make a deeper point. It truly is a book you can read as a long narrative without worrying too much about the fact that you should be memorising some all-important sequence of numerically arranged facts that will save the world. I always find that this approach is easier to absorb than the pointillisation of knowledge that plagues most business literature.
That’s not to say this book has no “points” and categorisation, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a bit more subtle about it. The concept of Flow is an interesting one, and one which will be very familiar on a practical level to anyone who is in a creative field and anyone who is truly passionate about any activity they are involved in. It refers to that almost transcendental state we dip into when the world around seems to disappear and we are the most involved and focused on the task at hand. The author presents the idea that these Flow experiences are what human beings crave at a deep level, and that providing this experience is one of the pillars of “good business”.
The book goes on from there into the specifics of the state of flow, how it can be achieved, and to the role of the individual, the manager, and the organisation as a whole in encouraging these flow states in its constituent members, because the strongest outcomes result from this. If all this sounds like it could be boring, let me assure you that this is far from the truth. Good Business is not really bland theory but rather a bunch of interviews and anecdotes from people who the author considers to be exemplary or noteworthy business managers, about their experiences and thoughts on what makes and drives a good business. This interplay of anecdote and memoir with theory and philosophy works very well and truly engenders a human empathy with these concepts and experiences. The point is that even after a disjointed, casual reading (like I had), you really get this book.
I would highly recommend Good Business not only to business readers but also anyone interested in general philosophy. Because at the end of the day Good Business is a great study of the human condition, what makes us happy, what makes us do good creative work, and what makes us strong contributors to the greater social ecology. Business just happens to be humanity’s current obsession, and it’s a great framework within which to understand these issues.
Like all the greatest books, this one skates the boundaries of genre and subject matter. It presents a very humanistic view of the world of business, which is refreshing after the abundance of interpretations of The Art of War on the book shelves today being presented as business guides. “Business” is and is going to be an integral part of our affairs for a long time to come. If we are to be stuck with business as the major form of human endeavour in the near and far future, I would be much more comfortable if the paradigm suggested in Good Business were to act as the guiding light for the activities of those involved in business enterprises, rather than ancient war manuals and other undesirables.