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Book Review: Schtick to Business

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Peter McGraw and Shane Mauss joined up to write Schtick to Business, a pop-science-pop-culture look at the ways comedians can force business people to see things with fresh eyes. While most books should be blog posts, this one felt about right.

McGraw, and it’s mostly McGraw’s voice, focuses on the idea that business is mostly hunting, then harvesting. Businesses exist to find areas of need (hunt) and then serve customers over those needs (harvest). Business owners are collar-shirt-wearing truffle hunters.

Typically, and where comedians excel, is in the hunting part. It’s finding the Zero to One ideas that make the difficult act of business slightly easier. McGraw writes that you won’t be funnier after reading the book, but “I want you to think funny. That is, I want you to start thinking differently.”

When we say that people aren’t creative, we’re saying that we err towards confirmation bias, myopia, and narrow thinking. We will always do education a certain way because that’s the way we do eduction. Well, until something happens (see: a quarantine education).

Part-of-the-reason creativity is missing is career risk. McGraw’s solution to this is shitstorming. It’s brainstorming, but inverted. Instead of coming up with good ideas, a group comes up with bad ones. This isn’t necessarily a waste of time because sometimes bad ideas can lead to good ideas. Sometimes changing one part of a bad idea, is a great idea.

For example, how does an investment advisor in a medium-size town get more clients? Her weaknesses include lack of resources in staffing, lack of high-income-residents, lack of marketing resources, lack of continuing education opportunities, and so on.

However, those same drawbacks can be advantages. Chuck Akre likes being in a small town with one stoplight. Investors want LPs that stick with them. Inverting the question leads us to avenues of advantage. Jokes are a kind of inversion.

“My mom has learned everything from Martha Stewart, about cooking, and cleaning, and withholding affection.” Nikki Glaser

Comedians see the world differently and it’s why we’ve looked at so many of them; Judd Apatow, Jenna Fischer, and Penn Jillette for example.

Once a comedian hunts down a new idea they need to harvest it and McGraw gives tools and tips for that but it’s mostly just boils down to ‘work really hard and maybe get lucky.’ That’s business.

Words mean competition. Once there is a category like ‘theme-park-vacation’ or ‘miles-per-gallon’ every Tom, Dick, and Sally can compete on that feature. Making it salient means consumer will compare on it—even if it doesn’t really matter to their decision making.

When stand up stand-up comedians work on their set; writing observations, testing jokes, and refining material they are hunting innovation. They are looking for something new. It’s creative.

Then, for a very brief time, for a very fortunate few, they get to harvest and share their ‘set’. Comedy, Luisa Diez told McGraw on his podcast, is the fastest art form. Comedians are inspired, share, then a joke expire. Comedy is the fruit fly of the hunt to harvest dichotomy.

Business owners have a longer cadence, but they can learn from comedians. Some will be inspired from McGraw’s book. Most will laugh. I did.

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