Thursday, February 09, 2006

Review: The Big Moo (#7); Book Nerd Reveals What She's Really After

The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable
by The Group of 33, Edited by Seth Godin

(Portfolio, 2005)

I was doing some shelving in the Business and Economics section and this little book caught my eye – it's a weird title, it's a pocket-size package, and Malcolm Gladwell is one of the authors mentioned on the cover as part of "The Group of 33." I read a few pages and decided to borrow it (thank goodness for our store's generous bookseller borrowing policy, without which I would probably spend more than my paycheck on books – and which allows me to learn about the "products" I'm supposed to be selling). It's a little bonbon of a business book, written in page-long, story-oriented segments by different writers (without individual attributions, a policy which Godin explains in his intro). As such, it's a little like reading something like the Bible – even with a common goal (in this case, teaching business people how to "remarkablize" their ventures), this many writers can occasionally sound contradictory. Stick with what you're good at – but innovate wildly! Don't be afraid to fail boldly – but make sure you fail cheaply! The title is a reference to Godin's previous book Purple Cow, and both refer to the necessity of standing out from the crowd, becoming something customers remark upon, i.e. remarkable. (Since I picked it up his book and found it worth talking about, I guess he's succeeded.)

There is some silly business-speak in here of the "think outside the box" variety, that quickly spirals into meaninglessness when you try to think about it too deeply. But it's very easily readable, and for the most part I found the writers articulated and reinforced many of the workplace/marketplace principles I believe in – and that I think independent bookstores are uniquely able to fulfill. Believe in what you're doing, and let your passion show. Hire good people, make their work worth their while, and listen to their ideas, especially those on the front lines. Figure out what your customers like and do more of it (duh). Let your play be creative and productive. Don't skimp. Don't underestimate the potential of the Internet, but don't get caught up in the hype of the next big thing. Care. And several writers made me think about ways these can be enacted and made profitable that I'd never thought of before.

Why am I reading a business book, anyway? Well, as you may have noticed, I want to found and run my own bookstore in Brooklyn, and I want it to be brilliant. I'm not going to be abandoning my post as (what Robert Gray of Fresh Eyes calls) a "frontline bookseller" any time soon. For one (really big) thing, I still have more debt than capital, and I haven't figured out yet how to convince some rich and foolhardy investor to back my crazy venture. And I still have a lot to learn about the business. And I still just love working on the bookstore floor. But I'm constantly thinking about ideas for my future store, bouncing them off the ALP (my future business partner) and my fellow bookstore employees, talking to people in the industry about them, and shaping my long-term plan for a place of literature and community. And every once in a while I get the itch to think like an entrepreneur, and see what kind of business skills and ideas I can pick up for free.

I suspect you'll be hearing a lot more about this dream venture of mine as this blog goes on. I also suspect most of you are not huge business book readers, so I apologize in advance for some book reviews that may be deadly boring to you. But for me it all connects back to the same dream. Books and reading aren't just my entertainment or my passion – they are my vocation. And I just want to keep getting better.