Book Review: The Art of Being Unreasonable by Eli Broad

The Art of Being Unreasonable by Eli Broad was a featured book in The Economist about a month ago. The description seemed intigueging enough, so after finishing the magazine I bought the book right away from Amazon. An easy read, it took me less than a week to go through it after work.

After reading it, I’m convinced that the guy paid for being featured in The Economist (yes, that can be done). That said, the book was not that bad at all. In fact, the first half of the book I would seriously recommend to any entrepreneur looking for some inspiration. The second half of the book is quite useless for the reader: one self-promotion chapter after another. He describes in detail how he gave money to yet another public gallery or museum, all of them named after him, strangely enough. 🙂

Although clearly a self promotion book, it does contain some good thoughts and hints. Here are my notes:

  • My careers required me to be quite unreasonable – to have outsized ambition, discipline, energy, and focus and to have the confidence to ignore people who said I couldn’t do it.
  • The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.
  • In love and in business, if you know what you want, you have to go for it.
  • I thought about my skills and my personality and whether they would be a good fit for the field. I read industry magazines that I got at the library. Meticulous research, as you will see, became a key to my success in all four of my careers. I studied other homebuilders, who struck me as too inefficient and not focused enough on the best available financing. They could build a house blindfolded, but they didn’t pay enough attention to their finances. A keen eye for numbers would be my competitive advantage.
  • Research – and using what you learn from it to analyze every situation – is what separates being unreasonable from being irrational.
  • George Bernhard Shaw: “Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” One of the things you’ll discover when you ask “Why not?” is that life is richer when you live it among the dreamers.
  • Conventional wisdom strangles innovation.
  • I carefully studied every step that went into putting up a home, and by scrutinizing every expense and eliminating all the nonessentials, I came up with a no-frills house that could be constructed on an accelerated schedule. Less time with guys standing around on the job site and no wasted materials created instant advantages for our company.
  • Conventional wisdom abhors innovation. It’s never a good time to change – far better to return to your company’s fundamentals, or to focus on the next quarter’s revenue, or just to continue doing what you do best.
  • Kaufman and Broad and SunAmerica both prospered beyond all expectation because I was unreasonable enough to ask fundamental questions about unexamined assumptions. We came up with ways to reimagine our businesses. A real estate company became a manufacturer and a life insurer became a bank. Both became Fortune 50 companies. That’s the value of unconventional insight.
  • If you spend all your time looking for shortcuts instead of doing what you have to do, you may never reach your goal. But do your homework and put in the necessary effort, and you’ll reap the rewards. It will pay off in unexpected ways.
  • Not everyone can be an original thinker, but everyone can be a rational one. Innovation doesn’t always mean creating something from thin air that needs a patent or a copyright. It just means always looking for ways to improve, sharpen, and evolve what you do – whether it’s refining a product, keeping up with new technologies in your line of work, or reaching new customers in new ways, all based on the lessons of the first mover. As I often say, let someone else go first and get the arrows in their back.
  • I never stay anywhere – parties, museums, meetings – longer than 3 hours. That’s my personal limit. In my view, there aren’t many things that need to last more than 3 hours.
  • Know what you have to do, which is less than you think.
  • Being unreasonable will help you set priorities. Keep them constantly in mind. Doing that will make a stray chat with a colleague who habitually interrupts you seem a lot less necessary, no matter how much you convince yourself that you’re just being a team player or trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
  • I never interrupt what I’m doing for the intrusion of some other task. If you’re in a meeting with me, you have my full attention – and you’d better use it well.
  • Bright and young is a winning combination, I always bet on youth over experience for experience’s sake.
  • The problem with age isn’t age – it’s that every accomplishment can become an invitation to self-satisfaction and complacency.
  • When interest rates are really low, you should pay as little down as possible. I know this sounds risky, especially considering the recent housing crash. But it works as long as you invest money that would have gone into a down payment in a solid mutual fund that appreciates at a higher rate than the mortgage interest you’re paying. You’re interested the value of your dollar by using someone else’s money.
  • Focus on Value because your customers will.
  • Market like a mayor player, but don’t spend like one.
  • Accept that volatility happens. There’s no formula for avoiding it, and there’s no way to predict it. The only thing to do is maintain the long view of your investments and make sure your investment advisor is doing the same.
  • If you decide to sell, do it and don’t look back. Think of yourself as somebody with an eye on the future and a mind educated by the past.
  • Whenever you’re going into a negotiation, recognize how badly you want something and what you’re willing to do to get it – even pay a premium, a price higher than what others might pay or think it’s worth. But make that calculation before you are in the heat of negotiation. Then be disciplined. Never let emotion or exhaustion or anything else lure you beyond that limit.
  • I’ll back hunger over pedigree any time.
  • Knowing when to quit is tricky, but if you are certain something is not going to work, you have to cut your losses immediately. Trying to avoid an inevitable loss isn’t persistance – it’s desperation. Sometimes you have to accept a loss so you can put all your energies, time, and money into the next project.
  • Your best motivator always is an unreasonably high goal.
  • The best way to mentor is to challenge people and then to set an example by letting them see you in action.
  • When you challenge people to dig deep and do more and better than even they imagined they could, it creates a particular bond.
  • Show me a person with an unblemished track record and I’ll show you a person who has dramatically underachieved.
  • If you don’t reach your goal, or achieve only part of it, there’s no shame. That’s what’s great about an unreasonable goal – even when you miss it, you’ll probably get farther than you ever thought possible. If you fail, just figure out why, learn your lessons, and move on to the next thing.
  • And if you succeed, I recommend doing exactly the same thing: move on. Nothing breeds complacency quite like a string of successes. In that sense, success and failure can be equally dangerous – one can immobilize you with self-satisfaction and the other can paralyze you with fear. Think of them both as preparation for the next unreasonable challenge and use what you’ve learned to tackle it.
  • Competition pushes people, companies, and organizations to higher levels of achievement. I was always driven to be the best, to be the first among our competitors. We competed in the arenas of stock price, market share, and reputation. But the other guy didn’t set the higher bar. We set it ourselves.
  • I’m never uninterested in other people’s ideas or contributions, but frankly I am relatively indifferent to their opinion of me.
  • Although there are entrepreneurs who succeed by charm, the rest of us do it by hard work, innovation, and sticking to the mission we’ve set for ourselves.
  • Being so solitary at a young age shaped me into the man I am today. I learned to think and make decisions independently long before most people do. I never had to seek anyone’s approval, so I didn’t develop the habit of wanting it. I learned to be comfortable with silence. I acquired the attitudes that many people would later find unreasonable – a thick skin and a laser focus.
  • If you’re entrepreneur, you have to value the rush you get from the building, not the paycheck – otherwise, the work is just too hard and the sacrifices too great.
  • Who you spend your life with – much more so than how you choose to spend it – is the most important decision you can make. Do it right. That’s the best advice I can give you.
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