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The Unwritten Laws of Business

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The bestselling business classic that Raytheon CEO William Swanson made famous. Every once in awhile, there is a book with a message so timeless, so universal, that it transcends generations. The Unwritten Laws of Business is such a book. Originally published over 60 years ago as The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, it has sold over 100,000 copies, despite the fact that it has The bestselling business classic that Raytheon CEO William Swanson made famous. Every once in awhile, there is a book with a message so timeless, so universal, that it transcends generations. The Unwritten Laws of Business is such a book. Originally published over 60 years ago as The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, it has sold over 100,000 copies, despite the fact that it has never been available before to general readers. Fully revised for business readers today, here are but a few of the gems you’ll find in this little-known business classic: If you take care of your present job well, the future will take care of itself. The individual who says nothing is usually credited with having nothing to say. Whenever you are performing someone else’s function, you are probably neglecting your own. Martyrdom only rarely makes heroes, and in the business world, such heroes and martyrs often find themselves unemployed. Refreshingly free of the latest business fads and jargon, this is a book that is wise and insightful, capturing and distilling the timeless truths and principles that underlie management and business the world over. The little book with the big history. In the summer of 2005, Business 2.0 published a cover story on Raytheon CEO William Swanson’s self-published pamphlet, Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management. Lauded by such chief executives as Jack Welch and Warren Buffett, the booklet became a quiet phenomenon. As it turned out, much of Swanson’s book drew from a classic of business literature that has been in print for more than sixty years. Now, in a new edition revised and updated for business readers today, we are reissuing the 1944 classic that inspired a number of Swanson’s “rules”: The Unwritten Laws of Business. Filled with sage advice and written in a spare, engaging style, The Unwritten Laws of Business offers insights on working with others, reporting to a boss, organizing a project, running a meeting, advancing your career, and more. Here’s just a sprinkling of the old-fashioned, yet surprisingly relevant, wisdom you’ll find in these pages: If you have no intention of listening to, considering, and perhaps using, someone’s opinion, don’t ask for it. Count any meeting a failure that does not end up with a definite understanding as to what’s going to be done, who’s going to do it, and when. The common belief that everyone can do anything if they just try hard enough is a formula for inefficiency at best and for complete failure at worst. It is natural enough to “look out for Number One first,” but when you do, your associates will be noticeably disinclined to look out for you. Whether you’re a corporate neophyte or seasoned manager, this charming book reveals everything you need to know about the “unwritten” laws of business.


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The bestselling business classic that Raytheon CEO William Swanson made famous. Every once in awhile, there is a book with a message so timeless, so universal, that it transcends generations. The Unwritten Laws of Business is such a book. Originally published over 60 years ago as The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, it has sold over 100,000 copies, despite the fact that it has The bestselling business classic that Raytheon CEO William Swanson made famous. Every once in awhile, there is a book with a message so timeless, so universal, that it transcends generations. The Unwritten Laws of Business is such a book. Originally published over 60 years ago as The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, it has sold over 100,000 copies, despite the fact that it has never been available before to general readers. Fully revised for business readers today, here are but a few of the gems you’ll find in this little-known business classic: If you take care of your present job well, the future will take care of itself. The individual who says nothing is usually credited with having nothing to say. Whenever you are performing someone else’s function, you are probably neglecting your own. Martyrdom only rarely makes heroes, and in the business world, such heroes and martyrs often find themselves unemployed. Refreshingly free of the latest business fads and jargon, this is a book that is wise and insightful, capturing and distilling the timeless truths and principles that underlie management and business the world over. The little book with the big history. In the summer of 2005, Business 2.0 published a cover story on Raytheon CEO William Swanson’s self-published pamphlet, Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management. Lauded by such chief executives as Jack Welch and Warren Buffett, the booklet became a quiet phenomenon. As it turned out, much of Swanson’s book drew from a classic of business literature that has been in print for more than sixty years. Now, in a new edition revised and updated for business readers today, we are reissuing the 1944 classic that inspired a number of Swanson’s “rules”: The Unwritten Laws of Business. Filled with sage advice and written in a spare, engaging style, The Unwritten Laws of Business offers insights on working with others, reporting to a boss, organizing a project, running a meeting, advancing your career, and more. Here’s just a sprinkling of the old-fashioned, yet surprisingly relevant, wisdom you’ll find in these pages: If you have no intention of listening to, considering, and perhaps using, someone’s opinion, don’t ask for it. Count any meeting a failure that does not end up with a definite understanding as to what’s going to be done, who’s going to do it, and when. The common belief that everyone can do anything if they just try hard enough is a formula for inefficiency at best and for complete failure at worst. It is natural enough to “look out for Number One first,” but when you do, your associates will be noticeably disinclined to look out for you. Whether you’re a corporate neophyte or seasoned manager, this charming book reveals everything you need to know about the “unwritten” laws of business.

30 review for The Unwritten Laws of Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Sherriff

    You can read this in an hour or two, and if you are new to the world of work and especially management, it will be the best couple of hours you could spend reading about work. Reading it now as a self-employed post-company old-fogey, I notice how much of it is concerned with behaving respectfully of the hierarchy and status quo. That's not a bad thing at all if you want a career in a corporate environment, less essential if you want to foster the entrepreneur within. Still, good advice for being You can read this in an hour or two, and if you are new to the world of work and especially management, it will be the best couple of hours you could spend reading about work. Reading it now as a self-employed post-company old-fogey, I notice how much of it is concerned with behaving respectfully of the hierarchy and status quo. That's not a bad thing at all if you want a career in a corporate environment, less essential if you want to foster the entrepreneur within. Still, good advice for being an ethical businessperson and respectful human being. * * * Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter - http://eepurl.com/bFkt0X - highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Raven Sanders

    This book was given to all of the engineers in my department and I could not recommend a professionally-oriented book more to anyone in a technical field. While much of it seems like common sense, it provides good reminders and insights in navigating the workplace. It covers all of the topics not covered explicitly in school and could prove useful to anyone, not just someone early in their career.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vladimir Tarasov

    The World may be a better place if the Holy Bible in hotel rooms will be replaced with this one. Just kidding, however I can recommend it to any newly-baked knowledge worker nowadays. It was also interesting to find a plenty of rules which are close to Agile principles. Common sense can't get outdated.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Vinayak Hegde

    An excellent book on ethics and professional behaviour for engineers. The book is especially useful for engineers who are starting off in their careers or senior engineers who are making the transition into management. Many of the so-called "rules" are not rules per se but guidelines which can stand engineers in good stead. The education system does not train engineers on EQ (emotional quotient) but only in technical skills. This is not enough to succeed in any organisation as many more factors An excellent book on ethics and professional behaviour for engineers. The book is especially useful for engineers who are starting off in their careers or senior engineers who are making the transition into management. Many of the so-called "rules" are not rules per se but guidelines which can stand engineers in good stead. The education system does not train engineers on EQ (emotional quotient) but only in technical skills. This is not enough to succeed in any organisation as many more factors are a play more than just technical competence such as communication skills, handling ambiguity, project management, people management (in all three directions - managing your boss, your peers and your subordinates) and a bias for action. Wise, timeless advice as the book was originally written in 1944 and still is very relevant after several decades. A short read that weighs in at 69 pages. Something to refer to once in a while.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Logan

    I think every engineer in my office (myself included) should review these regularly. They are all things that "everybody knows" but few actually put into practice consistently, yet it is comprised of timeless wisdom that will not only make you a better engineer and person, but a more successful and happy one too. Having compared this with the original, I think the revisions and additions are pretty good and think that in retrospect this is the version I would use going forward.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vojtech

    If you think this 1944 book is only good for electrical and mechanical engineers, think again. The principles and laws described are just as good for software engineers and managers in tech companies. It is pretty short and concise, so I highly recommend it to everyone. My only pain is the 12 USD Amazon pricetag for a book you can breeze through in an hour.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Manzur

    Everything about being an engineer except the engineering itself. Book focuses on the soft skills aspect of the engineering what usually good engineers lack. Nevertheless it's quite old I can't say it's outdated(being a good human being never outdates). Worth reading as it's short and has valuable advices.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Phan Tram

    Old book but not old content, very helpful for fresh graduate. However, the book was written mainly working in corporation, may not really helpful with start-up business owners

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Markell

    Good easy read on how to be a person and an engineer in the work place.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gaelan D'costa

    I am a software developer, I really appreciated this book, and I wish I had been aware of it when I started my career (I am about 10+ years in now) Dunno if I would have listened, but having stumbled around in the dark for a decade, I found its advice on employee and mentor temperament to be really valuable, and the latest editions cut out the stuff that I feel doesn't age well or account for some of the changes in what is considered professionalism in 2010s software development. I am very much a I am a software developer, I really appreciated this book, and I wish I had been aware of it when I started my career (I am about 10+ years in now) Dunno if I would have listened, but having stumbled around in the dark for a decade, I found its advice on employee and mentor temperament to be really valuable, and the latest editions cut out the stuff that I feel doesn't age well or account for some of the changes in what is considered professionalism in 2010s software development. I am very much appreciating its advice on how to be a senior/manager because that is probably something I'm going to have to start thinking about soon at this point in my career. It's a quick read and a clear easy one to digest. It can't really help you if the people around you aren't producing a healthy and productive workplace environment (something like How F*cked is Your Management or The Phoenix Project or The Goal might be able to help there) but if you have a general feeling of comfort that you are in a generally supportive and reasonable environment with _some_ kind of structure, this book will help a lot. It will help a lot in structure-less places too, but the book goes for a slower place than necessarily appropriate for a startup where everyone is expected to show leadership and responsibilities are ill-defined. It would still be good information to have though, even if it has to be adapted to one's situation a bit.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bartlett Morgan

    Great read on being professional and effective Excellent book for the ambitious professional, in any field, serious about the fundamentals of being an effective employee and/ or manager of others. Reading King's manual felt like many of my own subaltern observations from years in the world of work were expertly reduced into pithy, useful statements of principle. I'm equally pleased that this text helped me to identify many of my own shortcomings. I feel far more confident, going forward, about a Great read on being professional and effective Excellent book for the ambitious professional, in any field, serious about the fundamentals of being an effective employee and/ or manager of others. Reading King's manual felt like many of my own subaltern observations from years in the world of work were expertly reduced into pithy, useful statements of principle. I'm equally pleased that this text helped me to identify many of my own shortcomings. I feel far more confident, going forward, about addressing them and, importantly, understanding why it's important to do so. I highly recommend to others. I will certainly be calendaring this text for regular refreshes from time to time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    I appreciate books that aren't longer than they need to be. So many 400 page books would be better at 60 written in clear prose. I suppose there is room for all types but this book fits my preference. Timeless knowledge written clearly. This book is more about being reminded of the importance of stuff you already know. The value comes from the concise clear writing. You can read this in a couple of well used hours.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Criss

    So good. Short, relevant tips. Should buy this and review every year, if not more.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Masatoshi Nishimura

    It might be good read if it is your first time seeing business motivational book. It is short and concise. Otherwise, there is one boring shallow unscientific book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    This was more about presentation than skill

  16. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    Fine.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ayush Agrawal

    It delivers what it promises. The advices are practical and useful in day to day business and interpersonal relationships.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Hunt

    Like talking business and ethics with a grandparent over a coffee. Well worth the short time required to read. Nothing new but some age-old advice and helpful reminders.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Esso

    Interesting because of its age, and useful despite its age.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Juan B

    Nice and quick read, but mostly common sense stuff.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Shaw

    Excellent, concise summary of best practices in the technical workplace. Worth reading again after some time has passed!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    A classic business book from the 40s, this book was originally written for engineers to teach them how to deal with business-types. There are lots of fundamental rules and simple business proverbs. Things like: However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best effort Confirm your instructions and the other persons commitments in writing. Never invade the domain of any other department without the knowledge and consent of the manager in charge. Plan your development wo A classic business book from the 40s, this book was originally written for engineers to teach them how to deal with business-types. There are lots of fundamental rules and simple business proverbs. Things like: However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best effort Confirm your instructions and the other persons commitments in writing. Never invade the domain of any other department without the knowledge and consent of the manager in charge. Plan your development work far enough ahead of production so as to meet schedules without a wild last-minute rush. Each of these rules was followed by a few explanatory paragraphs that gave some advice on following them. Overall, as someone who has been in the business world for many years, this advice was extremely basic. I don't think that I learned anything I didn't already know. On the other hand, when I think back to my early career, there are some lessons in here that I wish I didn't have to learn the hard way. In addition, I can think of at least a few young colleagues of mine that might benefit from a quick read. And it *is* quick. I'm not sure how many pages a print edition would be, but on the Kindle, each page was 1% of the book, which makes it very short indeed. A quick read that probably won't be of benefit to people used to working in the business world, but probably a good read for fresh college grads, and especially for engineers who aren't used to thinking in terms of people instead of technical problems.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shhhhh Ahhhhh

    Good book. Recommend for anyone in even a remotely technical field. Engineer, programmer, help desk, anyone in IT, anyone managing anyone who they ask to regularly employ technical competencies of any sort. Part of me wishes I had had this when I first started my current line of work. Part of me, however, is very glad that I did not. While this book is excellent at setting out ideal procedure, practice, habit, and even consieration along all of the dimensions of effortful action undertaken in a Good book. Recommend for anyone in even a remotely technical field. Engineer, programmer, help desk, anyone in IT, anyone managing anyone who they ask to regularly employ technical competencies of any sort. Part of me wishes I had had this when I first started my current line of work. Part of me, however, is very glad that I did not. While this book is excellent at setting out ideal procedure, practice, habit, and even consieration along all of the dimensions of effortful action undertaken in a technical work space (including social), it does so with the same hopeful naivete that many (too many) engineers and programmers approach business with. These companies don't care about you. Your manager isn't your friend. You may do your best, approach your work honestly and in earnest, and devote yourself entirely to your company (without, as the author describes, making yourself unemployable by others) and when it comes down to it, more subtle social, psychological and power dynamics will end up making the difference, not what you've done for the company (nor even what you've done lately). Pair this with a book that prepares a young technology professional for the rigors of Machiavellian play and you might, MIGHT, have something useful for the vast majority of corporate cases. Otherwise this book is fantastic, which is why I gave it 5 stars. I won't try to summarize or encapsulate my takeaways, as almost everything in this book is something I was already aware of from experience, nor would it be useful for me to do so. It's a very, very short read, so if you're interested, just read it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Martinez

    Short and Concise! I really enjoyed this book, and it would make a great graduation gift for a recent college grad (especially business grad). This book was originally published in the 40's, but very helpful for a new graduate, and very helpful if you are working in industry. (probably not as helpful if you are working in a start-up). I would highly recommend it, as it is a very quick read cover to cover (100 pages) and has some great quotes such as the following through the books: However menial Short and Concise! I really enjoyed this book, and it would make a great graduation gift for a recent college grad (especially business grad). This book was originally published in the 40's, but very helpful for a new graduate, and very helpful if you are working in industry. (probably not as helpful if you are working in a start-up). I would highly recommend it, as it is a very quick read cover to cover (100 pages) and has some great quotes such as the following through the books: However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts. Demonstrate the ability to get things done. If you can't be on time, be early! Practice any presentations, however minor they might seem, beforehand. Do not try to do it all yourself. Promote the personal and professional interests of your employees at all occasions. Beware of what you commit to writing and of who will read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mete Rodoper

    This guide book is written for engineers and engineering managers. As it says in the title, it clearly gives itemized unwritten advises to the engineers and managers in non technical areas. Most of them are very practical and valuable suggestions that are useful throughout the career. Some of these suggestions are about meetings, some of them are about documentation and some of them are about human relationships and forming engineering organizations. It is really a concise book and delivers what This guide book is written for engineers and engineering managers. As it says in the title, it clearly gives itemized unwritten advises to the engineers and managers in non technical areas. Most of them are very practical and valuable suggestions that are useful throughout the career. Some of these suggestions are about meetings, some of them are about documentation and some of them are about human relationships and forming engineering organizations. It is really a concise book and delivers what it promises very effectively. It can be used as a guide and be referred over time periodically to remember the important points of engineering and team work. I wish a book like this have been thought in a seminar or short class in all engineering colleges. This would fill the gap of technical engineering training and work environment successfully.

  26. 4 out of 5

    G. Branden

    A short book that one can read over one's lunch hour--a bit dry for bedtime reading though, which is sometimes all I can make available. Despite the conscious irony of this book's title, whose contents of course serve to negate it, it is written to the point and earnestly. There is nothing here that most practicing professionals don't already "know", or claim to. The sad thing is just how many screw-ups and conflicts, in engineering and management alike, can be traced to failure to adhere to those A short book that one can read over one's lunch hour--a bit dry for bedtime reading though, which is sometimes all I can make available. Despite the conscious irony of this book's title, whose contents of course serve to negate it, it is written to the point and earnestly. There is nothing here that most practicing professionals don't already "know", or claim to. The sad thing is just how many screw-ups and conflicts, in engineering and management alike, can be traced to failure to adhere to those very principles we claim to uphold. Useful for evaluating yourself and your co-workers--including your manager--and may be of particular utility when it comes time to write performance reviews.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul W

    Over sixty-five years ago, in 1944, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers published a pamphlet called The Unwritten Laws of Business which has now been reproduced in this eponymous book. Short and easy to read, the sage advice in this book is timeless: "Do not try and do it all yourself." "Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples' opinions and recommendations." "If carrying out a project, do not wait passively for anyone to make good on delivery promises; go after them and keep relentles Over sixty-five years ago, in 1944, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers published a pamphlet called The Unwritten Laws of Business which has now been reproduced in this eponymous book. Short and easy to read, the sage advice in this book is timeless: "Do not try and do it all yourself." "Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples' opinions and recommendations." "If carrying out a project, do not wait passively for anyone to make good on delivery promises; go after them and keep relentlessly after them." "Avoid the lure of playing it safe" "Avoid the very appearance of vacillating" With a commentary on each of the unwritten rules, the book provides an engaging reminder of good management practices before management books abounded in airport bookshops.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cameron S. Watters

    Useful overall, but be aware of some dated, problematic perspectives 90% of the content is solid; I believe most engineers (those from licensed engineering disciplines and those from unlicensed disciplines, like computer software, which use the “engineer” moniker) will benefit from reading and incorporating much of the perspective into their thinking. That said, the book is clearly written with a privileged audience in mind and presents a more traditional Western, employer-centric view of the empl Useful overall, but be aware of some dated, problematic perspectives 90% of the content is solid; I believe most engineers (those from licensed engineering disciplines and those from unlicensed disciplines, like computer software, which use the “engineer” moniker) will benefit from reading and incorporating much of the perspective into their thinking. That said, the book is clearly written with a privileged audience in mind and presents a more traditional Western, employer-centric view of the employment relationship, so progressive-minded engineers and engineering managers (the second half of the book focuses on engineering managers) will need to filter and/or adapt some bits.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Royston

    An essential read for the fresh graduate, and a good reminder for the rest of us which did not get hold of this book earlier and are forced to realize certain things from experience. As with all of us we will make mistakes at some time in our careers, with this you greatly minimize that possibility by focusing on those small, inconspicuous (and sometimes commonsense to the point of making you seem stupid) things mentioned in this book but nevertheless make a great difference to your performance. An essential read for the fresh graduate, and a good reminder for the rest of us which did not get hold of this book earlier and are forced to realize certain things from experience. As with all of us we will make mistakes at some time in our careers, with this you greatly minimize that possibility by focusing on those small, inconspicuous (and sometimes commonsense to the point of making you seem stupid) things mentioned in this book but nevertheless make a great difference to your performance. A good concise guide of everything you need to know. Make this the first self-help book you read when in comes to job-related matters.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt Burgess

    The Unwritten Laws of Business (2007), W. J. King King presents over sixty tips for keeping your job and never jeopardizing opportunities to be promoted along your career path. Chapters cover relationships, behavior and management. Good advice abounds like promote ideas and be aware of personal appearance. I just wonder if exactly 100 pages of advice like this is worth $15. For some people that answer is yes. For people interested enough in the Personal MBA (PMBA), I doubt this level of advice is The Unwritten Laws of Business (2007), W. J. King King presents over sixty tips for keeping your job and never jeopardizing opportunities to be promoted along your career path. Chapters cover relationships, behavior and management. Good advice abounds like promote ideas and be aware of personal appearance. I just wonder if exactly 100 pages of advice like this is worth $15. For some people that answer is yes. For people interested enough in the Personal MBA (PMBA), I doubt this level of advice is groundbreaking. I wish I had more to say about my experience with The Unwritten Laws of Business.

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