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OUTSTANDING - This Really Screws Business Books As Usual
on December 9, 2011
This is a must-read for anyone interested in business, entrepreneurship, social issues, the future of capitalism, and the current challenges that face the world today. Despite its playful title, this is a substantive book that advises without preaching, that is idealistic by providing real-world examples, that tells stories about famous people by focusing on their deeds not their fame, that is a highly entertaining read at the same time as dealing with challenging issues.
Branson builds a strong case for the business world's potential to address social, economic, political and environmental issues by creating new business models and new ways of doing business. He does this not by some theoretical or pie-in-the sky fluff, but rather by stories of organizations and businesses that have done it. So his narrative is planted firmly in the real world and that is what is so inspiring and concrete - a departure from the usual nonsense that fills so many business, self-help and do-good tomes that fill the shelves these days.
Despite the underlying gravitas, the book is an easy read. The big picture is built by narrating stories about new organizations, leadership groups and businesses that are combining business and social causes. The cases are mostly related to what has been done in the Virgin Group, but also include stories about people that Branson knows personally, which includes a network of extraordinary breadth. He seems to be able to call virtually any world leader, politician, musician, movie producer or activist to form a team to deal with issues ranging from healthcare to poverty to environmental issues.
Reading a book in an interaction between writer and reader. In reviewing a book, one must consider not merely the book in isolation, but the reader and his/her interests and intentions in reading the book. So let me describe to whom I think this book would be of interest and why:
- Business leaders, to learn from Richard Branson's personal examples how they can change their businesses to achieve both financial and social returns. As suggested above, Branson doesn't present examples that are merely mushy, feel-good CSR projects. There are hard-core cases that Fortune 500 CEOs will find compelling.
- Entrepreneurs, whose minds will explode with ideas about how to create businesses that can succeed in very creative ways that address new customers and new markets with novel business models.
- Students, who are looking to build a meaningful career, a life of purpose, while being practical and focused on making money. The two are not contradictory and you don't have to settle for money OR meaning.
- Social and environmental activists, who will learn that business is not the enemy but an ally for your causes. This will eliminate the one-dimensional thinking about the rich, the 1%, the corporation.
- Political/economic thinkers, who will read about Branson's ability and experience in bringing together world leaders and creating virtual think-tanks and problem-solving organizations that include the likes of Nelson Mandela and Jeff Skoll, whose movies have won Oscars.
- Celebrity-watches and People Magazine readers, who will learn about the serious side of some of the rich and famous in Branson's orbit. In a world where it's now possible to be "famous for being famous", it will be illuminating to learn about the substance behind some of more serious actors and musicians who grace our screens and iPods.
If you enjoyed books like Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat", you would probably enjoy "Screw Business as Usual". This might seem like an unlikely connection, but just as Tom Friedman traveled the world to illustrate how globalization was changing the way people do business, Branson does the same for "social entrepreneurship", for want of a better term.
Finally, if you can't stand Donald Trump, you'll love Richard Branson. Where Trump is all bluster, Branson is all action. Yes, many of Branson's escapades are of the hedonistic thrill-seeking variety, but that's not what this book is about and it's not what Branson is about. Where Trump is all about Trump, Branson is all about the world. Where Trump is all about counting money (yes he does do philanthropy too), Branson is all about making money count for something. My point - while the book does a great PR job for the Virgin brand, Branson's tone is humble and unassuming, so don't get put off by the brash title.