Five Lessons Highlighted Time and Again in the Best Business Books

I have presented synopses of the best business books every month for over 25 years at the First Friday Book Synopsis. Along with my former colleague Karl Krayer, we have presented synopses of over 600 books.

(And, for over 15 years, I have also presented one synopsis every month of books dealing with issues of social justice at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.  Over 180 such books, and still counting).

There are many themes and lessons that crop up on book after book; reinforcing one another, adding to one’s depth and understanding.  Here are five lessons that I think are worth learning.  They come from too many books to single out; they are repeated time and again, in a multitude of ways.

Lesson #1 – We really do live in a VUCA world; in a VUCA time in this VUCA world. 

VUCA was developed for and by our Army Generals, to describe the different world they face.  It is an acronym, and stands for:

V – Volatility – constant flux…

U – Uncertainty – no one answer is certain to provide THE answer

C – Complexity – there are no simple solutions to the most vexing problems.

A – Ambiguity – we have to act even though there is no absolutely clear way forward.

This reality is true for companies and organizations; and it is true for individuals. It has not abated; it has only accelerated.  The VUCA world is real, and getting more VUCA by the year…month…week.

Lesson #2 – Leaders must treat people as….people. 

There are plenty of ways to describe this reality.  Different books take different approaches.  From servant leadership, to authentic leadership; from Brené Brown to Robert Greenleaf…

I think it boils down to this:  to get the best out of people, treat them as real people.  Do not abuse them; do not ignore them.  Train them well; pay attention to their human needs; treat them as individuals; threat them as…people…

Side note:  as I write this, we read in many sources that mental health is an especially critical concern.  This is human need 101.

Lesson #3 – Toxic workplaces abound, and must be dealt with. 

There is so much failure in the human leadership arena.

This is the result of failure at lesson #2.  There are a few phrases often heard, but “toxic workplace” is the dominant overall description.

Toxic…they make people sick.  Mentally ill; sometimes, other physical illnesses.

As one expert put it, people leave jobs in far greater numbers because the workplaces are toxic than they do for other reasons, such as in search of greater meaning and fulfillment.  Toxic workplaces are…horrific.  And they are all around us.

Leaders simply must be on the lookout for any and every hint that their workplace is one that people want to, even need to, escape.  And then, they need to fix it!

Lesson #4 – Organizations must stay up to date, in technological ways, in systemic ways…in all ways.

Creativity and Innovation are the words we use.  But, somewhere, in a big company or a garage near you, someone is coming out with the next software, system, or artificial intelligence tool that can leave you far behind in the blink of an eye.

This challenge is coming at you faster than ever before.  Decades after we were warned of Future Shock, we now live in it.

The latest breakthroughs coming from artificial intelligence are likely to make yesterday’s pace of change seem like a saunter on a lazy afternoon.  We thought it was fast; and now, well…we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

This is so genuinely threatening.  How you do things now will almost certainly not be how you will do things.  And if you don’t keep up, you can be left panting, bewildered, and…irrelevant.

Lesson #5 – Lifelong learning provides your only path to survival. 

If you are not reading the latest books, paying attention to the latest developments, implementing what you can as fast as you can, then you have…quit learning.  And the moment you quit learning, you will pay the price.

Lifelong learning is not a nice idea; it is not a luxury; it is a survival skill.  Seriously, your professional life, and the health of your company, depends on building an army of lifelong learners.


Lesson #1 – We really do live in a VUCA world; in a VUCA time in this VUCA world.

Lesson #2 – Leaders must treat people as….people.

Lesson #3 – Toxic workplaces abound, and must be dealt with. 

Lesson #4 – Organizations must stay up to date, in technological ways, in systemic ways…in all ways. 

Lesson #5 – Lifelong learning provides your only path to survival.

That’s it.  Those are my five lessons.  If I pondered more, I might come up with a few more lessons.  But I suspect that this presents plenty to think about.

Now…what will you do about these challenges?


And, please check out these “bundles” of synopses, arranged by key categories, for your own self-paced learning, at my companion site,

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