I read a lot of business and strategy books. They often introduce me to different ideas or even simple solutions to issues I have while operating companies or trying to optimize my work and life. Some are pure business books, some are management books, some sales books. The subject varies but they all have an element of challenging the accepted path and have some form of advice on how to be better. I have a mixed relationship with this category of books.
On one hand I love the unlikely results, the challenge to accepted concepts and the applicable advice they offer. On the other hand, once I’ve grasped the key concepts, I find the authors tend to drone on and on about their subject. Sales books do this to an extreme. They may offer incredible sales tips, but in order to get those you need to read about how amazing the author is over and over again. I suspect it’s because their main audience, sales professionals, eat up the braggadocio and will only keep reading if they think the author is a sales master.
This style of writing in business books often means I will understand the key concept but will forget most of the interesting and practical advice the book has to offer. For this reason, I decided that for each business book I read I will write a short summary of the key concept as well as my key takeaways from reading it. These notes are geared toward myself and what I can integrate into my life and business. This means that I might overlook even the most interesting advice in the book if it’s already a part of my process, or if it simply wouldn't apply.
I am sharing my notes, nonetheless, for anyone who may have read the book and wants to remember some key points, or simply wants to see some excerpts from the book, or is interested in what I liked about it.
Author: Greg McKeown
Personal Scoring: 7/10
Advice Importance 8/10
Advice Applicability 7/10
Droning on and on: 5/10 (lower is better!)
The book centers around the idea of "less, but better." From the macro decision in life, like career choices, to day-to-day choices on how to spend your time, the author argues that we should do fewer things but do them better. We should not run after every opportunity, nor say yes to every commitment. He argues that the unbridled pursuit of everything makes you a slave to other people’s wishes. You stop focusing and working on what you like most or are best at to pursue whatever opportunity comes knocking, regardless of its suitability or likely outcome. He argues, correctly I think, that you should be fiendishly defending your time and choosing how you want to spend it.
He argues that we now live in world of abundance rather than scarcity, and as such we need to learn how and when to say no. How to pursue only what we really want and ignore the rest. Do only what is best - everything else is distraction. If you don't really like a social event, don’t go just because of “fomo”. If your closet is full of clothes, just keep your favorite things and throw the rest out.
Firstly, McKeown seems to be swimming in opportunities that come knocking on his door. He is obviously successful in his field, and I’m sure he would argue that is because he embodies his ideals of essentialism. However, I reckon that most people do not have to barricade their door and inbox against a relentless onslaught of opportunities. I myself, having been moderately successful, have to be constantly on the lookout for opportunities.
Secondly, most of McKeown’s advice works best if you are self-employed, or a manager, or generally can control your agenda. Some of his advice will straight-up get you fired as an employee. While this point is never explicitly addressed, the book often allude to it: "The employee had been there for so many years he/she had no chance of getting fired," or "Even though she could have gotten fired, actually her manager saw the error of his way and converted to essentialism."
My Key Takeaways
Overall, I am happy to have read "Essentialism." It helped articulate some concepts I was working on and introduced some new ones to me. I will review these notes when I write the handbook of my next company, to make sure I didn’t miss any key concepts that I like. Overall, I would recommend this book mostly to people who feel they are overworked but do not feel they’re making progress, or people who struggle with work/life balance, and feel they never have the time for anything.