Business books tend to fall into one of two categories. The first category is “what” books. These books teach you what you need to do, and they are good and useful as far as that goes. The second category is “how” books. The “how” books teach you how to do the “what.”
There are a lot of books about artificial intelligence and machine learning now. The new capabilities they enable are going to shape our future, for good or for ill—or more likely, both. These books are an excellent example of books that teach what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what it means. You don’t see a lot of books about how to use these new capabilities, in part because the technologies are still in their infancy.
I read a lot of “what” books to develop a greater understanding of the world. Books like Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, Scale by Geoffrey West, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer, and The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist.
I also read a lot of “how” books, books that include some framework or methodology that is useful, even if you have to adjust it to your needs. I find that “how” books are beneficial in their practical application of certain principles, and I have always found that a book that gives me access to something that took another person two decades to master is worth a little over $20 and something like six hours of my time.
Principles by Ray Dalio, Getting Things Done by David Allen, Deep Work by Cal Newport, and When by Dan Pink are all “how” books, some of them being more prescriptive than others, but all providing guidance on how you can produce some improved result.
As a writer, I write “how” books. I haven’t found that books on selling are as useful when they provide the “what” without also providing the “how,” which is why I have ended every chapter of all three of my books (Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3) with a little exercise that begins with the words “Do This Now!” When the outcome is more than a better understanding, when it is really a better outcome in some area, I find “how” books tend to be more helpful.
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