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The Art of the Deal

19700004Wanting to learn more about our new president, I just finished reading The Art of the Deal.

The book recounts stories of several business projects he had worked on from the 1970s into the mid-1980s, ranging from low-income housing in Ohio to extremely-high-income housing in Manhattan, to renovating hotels, to building casinos, to finishing civic projects on the behalf of the city, to running a major sports team. There is little directly actionable advice for would-be business people in this book, but readers can pick up on the author’s attitude of success. Some takeaway points that I got include:

  • You can get help from someone else to finance a business project. It will be easiest if you can make a strong case for why your project will succeed, and what it will give back to the community, in the form of new jobs, increased sales for other area businesses, increased demand for housing, etc. It is best, then, if your project really will improve the community, and not just be a vehicle for you to do something fun. (Although nothing at all wrong with enjoying it too!)
  • You can get help from someone else to plan and to implement a business project. If you have a general idea for something that you think would be worth doing (see first point), but don’t know how to fully plan it, you should learn from experts in that field, or even better, find an expert that you get along with and have them help you plan it. Likewise, don’t feel compelled to do all of the implementation work yourself; hire the best people you can find to do part or all of the work for you.
  • Why seek the best experts and best implementers? One problem that routinely causes business ventures to fail is going exuberantly past budget and schedule. Working with people who have done similar things in the past, and who have done them well, significantly increases the possibility of completing work on budget and on schedule.
  • Don’t waste money. If you’re building a 1000-room hotel and can, without any structural or safety problems, save $10 on a widget that is used in every room, then you can save $10,000.
  • Don’t waste time. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but cultivate a lifestyle of productivity. Eating lunch at your desk (or as the author suggests, just a can of tomato juice) instead of going out for lunch can easily save a good chunk of time to be devoted to more useful things.

In light of recent current events, I found the last page or so of the book especially poignant:

I’ve spent the first twenty years of my working life building, accumulating, and accomplishing things that many said could not be done. The biggest challenge I see over the next twenty years is to figure out some creative ways to give back some of what I’ve gotten.

I don’t just mean money, although that’s part of it. It’s easy to be generous when you’ve got a lot, and anyone who does, should be. But what I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line. I’ve never been terribly interested in why people give, because their motivation is rarely what it seems to be, and it’s almost never pure altruism. To me, what matters most is the doing, and giving time is far more valuable than just giving money.

In my life, there are two things I’ve found I’m very good at: overcoming obstacles and motivating good people to do their best work. One of the challenges ahead is how to use those skills successfully in the service of others as I’ve done, up to now, on my own behalf.

In the pages of this book, I saw someone extremely motivated to succeed, but not greedy. He seems genuinely interested in the well-being of others, and builds great things not so much for his own personal gain, but to enhance the lives of everyone around him.

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