Do not eat aspirin

    There was such a man in the world - Stephen Covey. Once he decided to write a book about personal effectiveness. Now everyone knows this book, it is called The Seven Skills of Highly Effective People. It is considered a classic, constantly reprinted in all conceivable countries of the world, over the years of its existence several tens of millions of copies have been sold. Stephen Covey himself understood such personal effectiveness so much that several presidents did not fail to take advantage of his personal consultations, including USA.

    The book is good, voluminous and inspiring. The lessons and principles set forth in it are often found in later authors of books and courses. Links, however, are forgotten to make, but oh well.

    But I do not want to talk about the book, but about the unexpected discovery that Stephen Covey made when he wrote it. He called this phenomenon "social aspirin."


    According to the author, he shoveled a mountain of literature on the topic of success in about 200 years. It is unlikely that any of us will have the strength and motivation to repeat his feat in order to confirm, refute or improve the conclusions of Covey, so I suggest taking his word for it. I think that now he himself would not have been able to turn such a trick, because over the past decades there have been published so many success books that no life is enough to read them.

    So, Covey discovered the fundamental difference between old and new books. “New,” he called books published over the past 50 years. Given that the book “Seven Skills of Highly Effective People” was published in 1989, it can be assumed that Covey called almost all books of the 20th century on the topic of success “new”.

    Accordingly, the "old" - books published earlier. The difference was that the authors of old books tried to understand the essence, reasons, principles on which success is built. And having understood the principles, develop based on them specific methods, recommendations and practices.

    The authors of the new books immediately gave recommendations, practices, tricks and tricks. Do this and you will succeed. Why there will be success is not important. Not a fact, of course, that the authors understood the reason for the success.

    These are the tricks Covey called "social aspirin," or "social plaster." No need to think, to understand the reasons, to work on their elimination - stuck and went.

    What are the old books?

    Here I have little to say, as understanding of the benefits of old books has come recently. Now I am replenishing the library, solemnly moving to the archive even the few, but present on the shelves of aspirin books.

    First of all, this is a description of the life of great people created by themselves, witnesses of their deeds or subsequent historians. Secondly, in fact, books written long ago on the subject of success, management, and, in general, “how to live.”

    True, it is worth considering the difference in the areas of application of knowledge. Previously, there was no business in the form as it is now. Most books and biographies relate either to public administration, or to waging war, or to self-development, or to some kind of feudal economy, like the samurai.

    Who else?

    I read Stephen Covey's book a few years ago. The paragraph about old and new books attracted my attention, but did not catch my soul much. Well, cool, I thought, old books are better. Well, yes, you can learn from the ancient guys. Just what and why? After all, they solved completely different tasks.

    But recently, just a couple of weeks ago, I started reading The Sovereign Niccolo Machiavelli. The book is considered controversial, it has a lot of criticism, but the genre is interesting. Machiavelli himself was a politician, and wrote a book as a set of rules for the seizure, retention and expansion of state power, almost in the form of a textbook for autocrats. However, one very important detail caught my attention - in each chapter the author does not appeal to himself or his experience, but to history.

    Literally, he analyzes and analyzes the rule of the ancient kings, up to Alexander the Great, Darius and the like, lays out their failures and successes on the shelves, systematizes and briefly, succinctly summarizes this or that approach. And he repeats several times - in history there are already all the lessons, it is necessary to study and draw conclusions.

    So, now two respected people - Stephen Covey and Niccolo Machiavelli - say that you need to study history and old books in order to understand something in this life and achieve success.
    Reflecting on this, I remembered all the old books that I had read and realized that they professed the same principles.

    For example, "Hagakure" and several other collections written in samurai times. Starting to read this book, many immediately angrily slam it and put it back on the shelf with the wording “there will be some kind of hell to teach me life.” Do not repeat this mistake, take into account the essence of the book: this is the message of the old samurai to the young, and not by some abstract, but quite specific - from his own clan.

    It’s just that a man lived, like Yamamoto Tsunetomo, in some kind of samurai clan, went about his business, chopped his head, fought, ran the farm, served his daimyo, and in his old age - which, incidentally, happened to the samurai infrequently - decided to summarize his life experience for the younger generation of his clan. He sat down and wrote down the rules, instructions on how to lead a real samurai life.

    But the most important thing - he added a bunch of examples, both from his own and from someone else's life. Again offered to learn from history.

    What to learn?

    Yes, and what should they learn from them? Hagakure, for example, talks a lot about how to chop heads. It seems that not a very useful skill in our time?

    Immediately stop the field of application of knowledge, so as not to get into your personal life. Let it be work and success in it.

    Everyone's work is different, but there is one thing in common - people. We all work with people. Even a person sitting alone at a weather station in the snow of the Arctic, is faced with people. Someone sent him there, someone contacts him periodically, someone comes to replace him, and when he returns home, the person will again encounter people.

    Everything that you produce at work is bought (or not bought) by people. People pay you salary. You lead people. Tasks set by you people. You are driven out of work by people. You hire people. Your business is moved forward and people go bankrupt. You can seize power only with the help of people. Only people can strip you of power.

    Well, you are also a person.

    If you connect success and money, then I will add another common truth: only people have money. And only people can take money. Money is always someone’s, even if it is in the state treasury. No matter how large the corporation you work for or which you are trying to sell your product for, it has owners.

    Abstractions familiar to us, such as “markets”, their “capacities”, “sectors” and “regions”, of course, are needed for work, but do not forget that people always stand behind them. Bringing a product to the "market", you bring it "to the people." When you make an offer to a corporation, you are turning to specific people.

    By publishing a blog post or an article on a thematic site, you are reaching out to people. These people there are called "audience", "community" or "visitors", but they are all the same people.
    I think that people, as an entity, are more important for success than technique and technology. Of course, knowledge and understanding of people is not a sufficient condition for success, but necessary - for sure.

    I myself, how many years I have lived in the world, cannot fully accept this fact, because of this I constantly step on the rake. After all, as a programmer, it seems to me that the success of my software or service depends almost entirely on its quality. For a product to be sold, it just needs to be cool, fast, convenient and of high quality!

    But no. A quality product, of course, finds success - but not where I wanted to. Other programmers like it. But they have no money. Well, not at all - not at my product, because they do not need it.

    People have money, but I did not think about it when developing, concentrating on the product. The logical result is that people buy not the highest quality, but something that meets their needs. Those who thought about people when developing.

    And where does the old book?

    If we accept the hypothesis that success depends on people, then you have to agree with one more thing - people do not change.

    The environment, lifestyle, clothing, preferences are changing, but people are not. Now all people buy the Internet and means of access to it, and before they bought books and newspapers. Chewing tobacco and candles were bought before books and newspapers. Even earlier - clay pots, swords and axes. Etc.

    A man remains a man - with arms, legs, head and consciousness. The products that he buys are changing, but the approaches to creating and selling them are not. The technique of communication between people is changing, but management approaches are not, just the information comes faster.

    To summarize the subtotal. People are essentially unchanged. Success is mainly associated with people. Only people have money.

    What are the old books written about? About people, of course.

    Of course, there are old books about electricity, space and animal husbandry, but we are not talking about them. Only those written about people and their management.

    Old books were not even written about years, but about centuries-old experience in dealing with people. Compare with aspirin books, which, if based on experience, are short and usually personal or very narrow - for example, a company or team.

    I must say right away - I do not urge to completely throw out modern books. Pills are also needed if the head already hurts. But, it seems, it is more interesting to understand and make sure that the head does not hurt at all.

    The difference between old and new books

    In the last article, I talked a lot about the fact that modern books are a product, with all the ensuing consequences, such as short deadlines, not very high quality (due to timing requirements and “market comprehensibility”) and a lot of water (to collect the right amount of A.L.).

    Now a little focus on old books. I'll start with a simple one - the size of the book. Now publishers have requirements, minimum and maximum, and going beyond them almost guarantees a refusal to publish, if the author is not already heard. The old books didn’t have such restrictions - take a look at the same “Sovereign” Machiavelli, who would now go by the category of “instruction manual”, but due to its volume it turned out to be short, capacious and without water. Or a reverse example - Otto von Bismarck's memoirs with which you can chop nuts - there is no water there either.

    The second is the purpose of the book. Now books are written for consumers, and earlier - for very specific people. I gave examples above. The Hagakure contained instructions for a particular clan. "Sovereign" was addressed to a particular dynasty, albeit with a plan for autocrats around the world. Rashid ad-Din wrote a work about the empire of Genghis Khan to present it to his ruler.

    The purpose of the book, as well as the requirements for volume, play a very important role in its final quality. It is one thing to write a book for one person or a group of his followers, and quite another for an “audience”. The audience must be convinced, motivated, entertained so that they don’t give up reading, attracted, that they buy a book at all, take care of the simplicity and clarity of presentation, so as not to get confused. In general, make the product attractive and easily digestible.

    So the books are forced to fill up with a huge amount of water. Old books had no such problem.

    Then the term itself is “book”. In many cases, it simply did not exist as it is now. For us, a book is a product released in a certain circulation and lying on shelves. In those days, it could well have been a bunch of parchment that existed in a single copy.

    The bottom line is the text. But the text is not a book. The text is not for sale, it must be packaged as a product. Packaging is a book, presenting certain requirements for this text. Similarly, program code is not a product. To sell the code, you need to pack it and bring it to the market, adding a bunch of kit and dependencies. Writing a text and writing a book are very different things. There is even a difference between a text and an article on the Internet.

    So, before they didn’t write any books. These were works, notes, memoirs, instructions, tablets, biliks, treatises. Which later turned into books - but not by the addition of water, but by various marketing tricks, such as the publication of collections.

    I also note the difference in the authors. Now books are written by all and sundry. I figured out how to treat pain in the left heel that occurs at a temperature of 12 degrees Celsius, if you are in the subtropical zone and stand with your head to the north - that's all, you can write a book about it, and there will be a reader.

    Old books were written by completely different people. Sitting down at the pen, they were already experts in their field, with many years of experience and proven talents. They, elementary, had money for paper and ink, and most importantly - a trained reader.

    Now there are also such books. For example, “From the third world to the first. History of Singapore 1965 - 2000 ”Lee Kuan Y. Man, as they say, lifted the country from the bottom to the very tops, and wrote a book about it. Personally, I have no doubt that this book is worth reading.

    Working depth

    The topics related to people management and self-development in the old books worked out much deeper, for completely natural reasons.

    What does a modern manager know about people? Firstly, he sees them 8 hours a day. Secondly, he knows very little about their personal life. Thirdly, its possibilities in relations with people are strictly limited by law. Fourth, people are constantly changing, not giving the opportunity to know themselves.

    Compare a modern manager, for example, with a daimyo of an ancient Japanese province. He is served by a clan with dynasties of samurai. He knows almost everything about each of his subordinates. He saw many samurai when they were still walking under the table. Knows their fathers and grandfathers, with a full list of merit and failure.

    He knows how subordinates manifest themselves in almost all forms. One copes well with the household, but fights poorly. Another can not command the army, but copes with a small reconnaissance detachment. The third is a wonderful negotiator. A fourth man beats his wife every day, although he behaves decently in the service. The fifth is so fanatical that guards the suzerain's chambers every night, even if he does not ask about it.

    Daimyo has the opportunity to observe people, experiment on them, draw conclusions and improve mastery of management throughout life - both them and his own. He doesn’t need to test the hypothesis “what will happen if one subordinate every day, for twenty years, only praise, and the other - only scold,” or “how will the effectiveness of the service change if I execute the worst every five years?”

    Now such methods are not available, and managers have to be content with a very limited scope. That is why, perhaps, research spirit is so rare among them - most of them just try to stay afloat.

    Reality of tasks

    Now managers solve mainly virtual tasks, as in a computer simulator. Raise sales, reduce costs, increase efficiency, improve business process, etc. - All these tasks cannot be compared with what Genghis Khan, Bismarck or Machiavelli did.

    The ancient children had large-scale, complex tasks, and most importantly - real ones. With a real threat, including his own life.

    Capture Europe, subjugate China, create a state, annex a million square kilometers to the empire, create an invincible army of a million people, build a fleet, push a couple of states against their foreheads, etc.

    Even in our refined business world, this difference can be understood. It’s one thing when you are simply given the task. Sit down, do it slowly. If the fate of the project phase depends on this task, you will show more zeal. If the whole project depends on this task, you will sit for days and nights. If the fate of the company hangs in the balance - you will forget your family, friends, food and sleep for a while. With every turn of this spiral, attitudes change.

    Stop chewing snot, talk a lot, analyze and choose - just take and do, with the greatest efficiency and full dedication. But be that as it may, you still understand that if it doesn’t work out, then nothing bad will happen in general. Maximum - lose your job or business. You can always start over.

    And imagine what was the motivation of the ruler of the state, near the borders of which the empire of Genghis Khan grew? Or the one to whom Genghis Khan has already come to visit? Or the tsar, who understood that without change his state and power would come to an end? Or the tyrant who has conquered half the world, and now thinks how to hold power there?

    In our life, we also face real challenges, but, as a rule, not at work, but in our personal lives. For example, someone in the family got sick. Or there was a fire. Or you return at night, drunk, through an unfamiliar area lying on the outskirts of the city. There are many examples, but the essence is the same - these are real tasks that need to be addressed, and immediately. There is no time to argue, you cannot retreat, the responsibility is entirely on you.

    At work, such tasks are extremely rare, so we do not know how to solve them. And the ancients, as a rule, only solved such problems - if I may say so, at their work. Because of this forced necessity, they learned to solve these problems.

    Of course, I do not urge you to learn to protect the office from the raids of the barbarians. It's about approaches. Solving a real problem is almost always more effective, or at least more productive. It remains to take approaches to solving real problems, and shift them to virtual ones.

    I will give one example - the merciless Russian scrum.

    Merciless Russian Scrum

    What is a scrum - everyone knows. This is a widespread methodology for solving virtual business problems. Now it has become a product, and is selling well.

    If you believe Jeff Sutherland, the author of the book about Scrum, the methodology is based, among other things, on the real tasks that he solved as a pilot in a military reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam. In those days, without realizing it, he used some kind of edge - watch, think, act on the basis of circumstances. His own life depended on solving this problem.

    And there is such a wonderful book as "Russian Management Model" by Prokhorov. I also relate it to the old ones, although it was written not so long ago, because the history of Russian government over several centuries is considered there, and no prescriptions with pills are given.

    So, in the book several chapters are devoted to how Russian managers throughout their history used the same approaches as scrum to solve quite real problems.

    One example given in the book is the evacuation of factories at the beginning of World War II. It began in the classics of management - meetings, events, responsible, dates, reporting, etc. Of course, everything immediately drowned in bureaucratic procedures, and the plants stood still, and every day they became smaller and smaller - the Germans moved very quickly.

    They applied what can be called a scrum. They abolished the entire bureaucracy, gave the local teams full autonomy, the broadest possible powers, right up to the execution of those who resist, gave all the resources available on the ground to the disposal. And most importantly - they made the task extremely real for managers. You understand how motivated then.

    And all, evacuated, transported and launched in an extremely short time. Sometimes, a huge plant was dismantled and taken out in a day. They understood everything on the spot, didn’t coordinate anything with anyone.

    The author of the book introduced several notations to explain success in this particular example, and in general when solving such problems by Russian people. For example, the mobilization and redistribution of resources. The Russian man is not able to work stably and for a long time at high speeds, but if mobilized for a while, he is able to produce crazy results.

    And then came Jeff Sutherland, worked in a virtual, docked environment of several commercial projects, got a similar result, called it all scrum, packaged it like a product, and sells it.

    At the same time, not even coming close to the efficiency that is shown in the book of Prokhorov. Although, many tricks - one to one. But you, after all, most likely did not read the Russian Management Model, and you think that scrum is a framework applicable in some areas, invented by some Americans, outlined in a small training manual scrum guide, and its effectiveness is not really confirmed?

    If you remove the packaging from scrum, then you will just have a set of principles that have been known for a long time, and successfully - much more successfully than now - were applied many years ago. Including - in our country, which, it would seem, has not released a single book on management, which has become a bestseller.

    Of course, this is not just about scrum. In the old books, if you try a little, you can find almost everything that is now called management. Only there it will be more interesting, because the tasks were real, not toy, as now.


    I do not know how to convey my thoughts in the text, so it might seem to you that I urge you to read only old books. This is not true.

    I suggest reading not only new books. Any knowledge will become richer in your head if you learn about it from different sources, look at the practice of its application in different contexts, on the example of different tasks and even in different eras.

    Acquaintance with some approach to management or self-development may well begin with a modern, watery, entertaining and well-packaged book. The main thing is not to be limited to one source.

    I learned about the same scam by accident, from someone I knew. I read the wikipedia article, I liked it, but it wasn’t hooked enough to use. I read Sutherland's book, and the tipping point came - I began to introduce it, before I read it to the end. Then he went to the sources indicated by the author himself - TPS and Japanese quality management. Reached the scrum guide.

    But the most interesting thing happened later. Reading old books, I found a scar there too. Not in its pure form, without fetishes in the form of boards and stickers. There were similar principles, and examples of solving problems based on these principles. Having passed this path, you understand what the scrum is based on, why it works - moreover, at the level of each component, what is necessary in it and what can be safely thrown out.

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