As I pondered how to begin this review of Michael Bungay Stanier’s fabulous book “How to Begin”, I recognise the irony.
Of course, his book is specifically about how to start something significant, something that matters.
The book has three broad sections, each of which has three steps, so there are nine things to address in order to start something worthwhile. I think that’s fair, perhaps more than fair, as it addresses the reality that most of the things we start, we don’t start well. The first of these things is to set a worthy goal. To spend time thinking about what is thrilling, important and daunting. It’s about ambition, and describing that ambition that changes you, as well as implying that you will change the world.
The second stage is to commit, yet how often do we find ourselves setting intentions, little more than wishes, rather than any real commitment? He asks us to be clear and confident that this journey is worth taking by naming what will be won, and what will be left behind.
The third stage is about starting the journey. The first part of which, crossing the threshold, is actually about starting.
It describes taking the first step which leads inevitably to taking the second, and the third, and the fourth. It’s about how we make progress. As the author points out, “being too scared to act on the worthy goal isn’t just a loss to you, it’s a loss to us all.”
The book uses a variety of typefaces and font designs to, I think, ease the reader into the structure that he has chosen. It makes it easier to find the things that matter in the text, and to navigate the book as a whole. I found this was important as I navigated my way through it, often seeking to return to earlier sections to refresh my memory, whilst also sometimes jumping forward to see where the text was taking us. Also, included in the text are worked examples from the author’s experience which really help to reinforce the message and embed the practical nature of what he seeks us to do as a result of his work. There’s plenty of diagrams and spaces to work on your own ambitions which, provided you’re happy to write in books that you own, can help to keep you focused on the things that will get you started.
Overall, I found this book something of a curate’s egg, good in parts. It is clearly aimed at those who wish to start something truly significant and to ensure that they go through a structured process to ensure not only that they understand what they are taking on, but that they are prepared to commit to it, knowing from the beginning what they will give up in order to achieve it. For those truly ambitious projects, following this structure will undoubtedly make a difference to the likelihood of success, but for the more mundane and trivial, this is overkill.
All that said, at some point you may not understand the process to go through for the most important projects, or you cannot determine what you should do to start all of the things that you wish to start. For that reason, I think this book is one that every small business owner should, at some point, read. Preferably early in the entrepreneurial journey, because it will help ensure that they focus on the right things at the right time.
You can order a copy of “How to Begin” from a Building Better Business bookshop, here.