Reality Check: What Biz School Can’t Teach

Many long years ago, during the last weeks of a two-year MBA program, I was in a class that ended up discussing what we had and hadn’t learned. Disappointments came up. I was an outsider, I was happy with having spent two years in class learning things (analysis, technique) that were essentially teachable in class.

What we hadn’t learned, most of my classmates seemed to think, was a lot of the nuts and bolts of getting through the day, week, and year of business; we didn’t have a lot of practical "how-to."

What reminds me of that discussion is paging through an early copy of Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Reality Check. It just arrived over the weekend, and I’ve had time to get to know it.  It’s a book that should be on everybody’s shelves, a reference book in a way, 90-some pieces of real-world experience and wisdom on about as many business-related topics, very well packaged and condensed into easily-readable terms.

It’s a book you’ll browse more than read straight through. You’ll want to refer to it often, later on, as a refresher and thought generator on lots of real-world issues that come up randomly, in business and work life. Not just Guy’s view on the world of start-ups and investing and Silicon Valley, which you’d expect — and is there as well, also well organized and well packaged for the book version of random access — but also things such as when you have to speak in front of a group, or getting along with your boss, dealing with lawyers, hiring people, and even (although the actual topic is not what you think) "the art of sucking up."

Coincidence or not, my copy opened up automatically to page 237, which turns out to be "The Art of Blogging," a list of tips beginning with the following:

"Think "book," not "diary." First, a bit of philosophy: Think of your blog as a product. A good analogy is the difference between a diary and a book. When you write a diary, it contains your spontaneous thoughts and feelings. You have no plans for others to read it. By contrast, if you write a book, from day one you should be thinking about spreading the word about it."

This is a great one to illustrate the content in this very large (more than 450 pages) book. Much of it is familiar to me, because I’m a loyal reader of Guy’s blog. So a lot of his better and better-known blog posts, and a lot of the better stuff in some of his other books, is also in this book. For example, his famous "Top 10 Lies of Venture Capitalists" is included, and several "art of" pieces, and the Zen of Business Plans and Zen of Presentations, how to speak like Steve Jobs. A lot of this book appeared first in the blog. However, getting back to the specific example above, a lot of it hasn’t appeared in his blog. That one — the art of blogging — is not from the blog. It felt new to me, and I checked the blog, and couldn’t find it there.

The point, to make that clear, is that this is not just a compilation of earlier work. A lot of this feels new to me, but seems familiar because of Guy’s very original way of presenting new views on previously existing issues. There is a lot of material taken from posts, but there’s also a lot of new material, and all of it is organized right so you can get at it.

There’s also a nice play between "the art of," as in the art of the start; and "the reality of," which is much more the theme of this new book. The 90 chapters are divided into 12 sections, each themed on reality, as in "The Reality of Competing," and "The Reality of Hiring and Firing," and similarly practical basic themes. You get the reality of working, the reality of planning and executing, and, in the last section, a lot of Guy’s best work, "The Reality of Doing Good."

I strongly recommend this new book. You’ll keep it close, and you’ll refer back to it. It’s not what you learned in the classroom. It’s not what you missed, either. It’s something like what you learn by living it if you have the time and opportunity; plus that Kawasaki vision that adds a nice mix of humor, deflation, and, as in the title of the book, reality check. 

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