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1 Comments A Labour of Love

Article written by Boris Bozic on the 26 Jul 2011 in Book Review,Business

This is the best way I know how to describe the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s a labour of love because you have to be committed to reading a book that’s 754 pages long. This is no weekend read or a book that you will devour while on vacation, unless you plan on taking a couple of months off.  That being said, making the commitment to read the entire book is worth the effort.  Team of Rivals provided many business lessons for me, yet the book has nothing to do with business.  Team of Rivals is a biography of Abraham Lincoln, written by an extraordinary author,  Doris Kerns Goodwin.

Ms. Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  She also authored other best sellers, Wait Till Next Year:A Memoir (the Fitzgerald’s and the Kennedy’s), and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Besides being a gifted writer, Ms Goodwin is a very effective public speaker. I had the good fortune of hearing Ms. Goodwin speak at an MBA conference in Boston a few years ago, and she was talking about her newly published book, which happened to be Team of Rivals.  I must confess that I’m somewhat of a political junkie, therefore, the subject matter had instant appeal for me.  But at that time I wasn’t really into biographies, yet after hearing Ms. Goodwin speak I decided it was a must read.  What makes Ms. Goodwin such an extraordinary author is even though I know how the book ends (first President to die of assassination by being shot in the back of the head) her writing style makes you forget about the ending of the book because of her story telling abilities.  She weaves historical facts in a way that you have to remind yourself this isn’t fiction.  The events actually occurred and yet the facts are written in an entertaining way.

Some of the business lessons I learned from reading this book:

The devil is in the detail.  To write an extraordinary book like this requires extensive research, and commitment to getting the facts right.  I later learned that Ms. Goodwin employs a number of researchers, and they are mechanically focused on getting the facts right.  A historian cannot afford to have their facts questioned by critics.  The reasons are obvious, reputation risk and poor book sales. The same applies to business.  A product launch, a compensation model, new hires etc, will fail unless you sweat the details.  An idea is just that.  What makes it work is execution. 

It’s not about geography, it’s about the people.  Lincoln was from Kentucky, not exactly a breeding ground for future presidents.  Yet he accomplished his goal because he was committed to bettering himself, and he preserved after failing so many times to get elected.  From a business standpoint the best don’t necessarily reside in Toronto, Vancouver or other major urban Centers.   In this day and age of technology, and the ability to communicate irrespective of geography, home address is secondary. First and foremost it’s about finding the right people. 

It doesn’t matter if I like you or not.  During Lincoln’s primary campaign,  his opponents (members of his own party) were at the very least condescending, and at the very worst, cruel.  They tried to humiliate him because he wasn’t a blue blood, and he had no pedigree.  They ridiculed him because of his birth place, the backwaters of Kentucky.  They questioned his intellectual capacity.  They even ridiculed him for his physical appearance. Yet after winning the presidency, he asked these individuals to join his cabinet.  He put aside the humiliation, and degradation, he faced because he believed these individuals were the best qualified to serve their nation.  From a business standpoint there are many lessons to be learned.  The ability to put slights (real or perceived) and  differences aside, should come first for the greater good. 

As you can see I’m a huge fan of this book. I enjoyed the story but I also learned a great deal. Did you know that Lincoln was a Republican, and it was the Democrats who wanted no part of freeing the slaves?  Interesting given today’s political discourse and so-called ideological differences. If you buy the book but don’t end up reading it, there’s still some benefits. Carry it around with you or have it displayed on your bookshelf.  People will think you’re really smart.

Until next time



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Colleen Liao Reply

Boris, you really do love this book. This book is on my list of ‘Things To Do in 2011′. Everytime I see this book on my shelf, it says ‘Come on. Do it. Read me. It’ll be fun’. I’ll start to read it during Christmas and hopefully have it done so it’ll stop taunting me.

A lot of business owners and politicians reference this book. Can’t wait!

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    "I work in a world of numbers, process, execution, risk mitigation and all kinds of other sexy stuff. To share my thoughts, opinions and personal tidbits does have some creative appeal for me. It will also push me to do something that I am not totally comfortable with, writing. Get me in front of a room full of people to do a presentation and I'm on. Writing a story that others may actually be interested in reading sounds like a challenge to me. The reality is that I enjoy a good challenge and if it ends up that mom is the only reader of my blog so be it."

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