17th May 2016
I love reading books about real-life experiences.
Whether it’s my macabre interest in criminology through to self-help paperbacks, biographies and autobiographies I love a good read.
However my latest business-topic hardback took me way out of my comfort zone, but in a masochistically enjoyable way I (sort-of) enjoyed it.
‘Business for Punks’ is written by the co-founder of one of Scotland’s growing success stories –Brewdog.
James Watt doesn’t pull his punches, challenges traditional business model thinking, spits in the eye of the status quo and quite frankly doesn’t give a damn!
The back cover of the book says it all “Don’t waste your time on bullshit business plans. Forget Sales. Ignore advice. Put everything on the line for what you believe in.”
Even as I type this blog I’m torn between admiration, jealousy and annoyance.
Admiration because as you read the book, you’ll discover the resilience of James and his business partner (and best friend) Martin Dickie as they worked ridiculous hours, slept on their brewery floor, selling on average ten cases of beer a week when they needed seventy to break even and openly admit that people in the north-east of Scotland (where Brewdog was born) HATED their beers – and you know what? They absolutely refused to change.
There are dozens of stories like that in the book.
Jealousy because I wish, even at their age, I’d had the business balls to follow this ethos.
However I need to remind myself that we are living in a different age.
When I talk with students and clients we discuss the media and communication landscape in the late eighties and early nineties when we had only three TV channels, just over a hundred commercial radio stations, no internet, very few mobile phones and we still sent faxes.
James writes brilliantly about creating fans and not customers which is a concept I whole-heartedly agree with, however it’s much easier to do now with digital media rather than traditional media (to which I owe so much) twenty years ago.
It’s also abundantly clear that company culture (right alongside the Brewdog product) is absolutely everything to James and Martin. Once again, even in our enlightened business environment in 2016, it’s amazing how many companies just don’t get this.
Now, to annoyance.
While I embrace the majority of this brilliant book, including poking Russian Premier Vladimir Putin with a long marketing stick, or getting people to hate you (yes ‘hate’) or even the chapter about avoiding committee rule, there are elements with which I felt uneasy.
James gives advice in the book ‘to be a selfish bastard and ignore advice’.
I think that’s the wrong advice.
I believe there’s a lot of professionals with years and years of experience who have something to share. The trick is filtering what is relevant to you and what isn’t.
The best bit of advice I ever received was my boss saying to me, “Tell people what you want – they’re not mind-readers!” after giving me a bollocking for not applying for my first Managing Director role (luckily I got it after this life lesson).
I regularly reiterate this advice to people who are interested as I not only agree with it but fully believe in it. If you don’t ask – you don’t get!
James writes, ’I realize I would not have a career as a ‘motivational speaker’. Not too sad though. They are all just worthless mercenary shamans anyway. We should burn them like witches.’
Now I wouldn’t class myself as a ‘motivational speaker’ either but love to share my experiences, good or bad with people who want to hear and learn from them.
We also need to be mindful that not every fledgling business or potential business person has the mind-set of James and Martin and that not everyone can work without a business plan or is willing to drive (and park) a tank outside the Bank of England or indeed believes that being reasonable is for ambitionless wimps.
But at the risk of giving some advice, do yourself a favour and buy this book.
Buy this book if you are thinking of starting a business – it will inspire you (or deter you).
Buy this book if you are in business – In some areas of your organisation it will make you think differently.
Buy this book if you are a mercenary shaman – it will annoy you.
Nice one James Watt, thanks for making me think again. I hope we get to meet one day, however if we do please don’t burn me like a witch!