Richard Koch is a former management consultant, entrepreneur, and writer of several books on how to apply the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) in all walks of life. Richard Koch has also used his concepts to make a fortune from several private equity investments made personally. Richard’s investments have included Filofax, Plymouth Gin, the Great Little Trading Company and Betfair. Previously Richard Koch had been a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and later a partner at Bain and Company, before leaving to start management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting with Jim Lawrence and Iain Evans. Please enjoy my interview with Richard Koch.
When someone asks ‘what do you do?’ – how do you answer?
I tell them I write books and I am an investor in venture capital.
I read fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. In regards to fiction, I am reading The Rooster Bar by John Grisham and No Middle Name: The Collected Short Stories by Lee Child. The non-fiction books I’m reading are Leonardo Da Vinci and Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Anti-Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Walt Disney by Neal Gabler and I’m re-reading Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson.
When you think of your childhood, which book comes to mind?
The book that comes to mind is Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne.
What was the first non-fiction book you loved?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A bus conductor, an orchestra conductor or a millionaire.
What would your school-aged self, think of the present day you?
They would be pleased that I have a good suntan and very surprised that I do a lot of sports.
If you could gift yourself a book just as you left education, what would it be?
I’d gift myself Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl.
Does your reading have a routine?
I read for researching my books during the day, sitting in gentle sunlight in my garden, on top of my fish pond, or on the roof. I read fiction (and non-fiction unrelated to my writing) in the evenings, also outside if there is enough light and warmth, otherwise on the sofa and later in bed.
Talk us through your research process when you’re writing a new book.
The hardest thing is deciding what to write next (I have written about 25 books). My books fall into 3 categories – those where little research is necessary, as I write about something I know and have experienced; those where I know a lot but need to supplement that; and those which are in an area largely new to me.
I start by reading everything I can lay my hands on that is relevant and in a book. Often I go straight to my own library and pull out half a dozen or more books that might help. Then I buy anything that sounds useful or is recommended by friends who know my new topic. Then I go to the web – but overwhelmingly I find books the best source. Sometimes I do interviews with people who know the subject or whose experience is relevant – often people I know or can reach via one or two degrees of separation.
Which book has had the single biggest impact on your career?
My own book, The 80/20 Principle, because it sold over a million copies and has been translated into more than 35 languages! It opened doors for me and enabled me to write on new subjects. Many of my books – and most of my investing – are related to the ideas on strategy consulting pioneered by Bruce Henderson of The Boston Consulting Group. But I learned these first hand by working at BCG, not from books. I can, however, recommend Perspectives on Strategy from the Boston Consulting Group, edited by Carl Stern and George Stalk.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring writer?
Don’t write anything until you are 40. Don’t write anything unless you have a burning need to communicate something (in non-fiction) or you have one or more characters (when writing fiction) that the world needs to learn about.
I can get excited by either. Ideas absolutely fascinate me. Books that are fiction but write about ideas too are either dreadful or double-heaven. In the latter category, I put Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, much of Enid Blyton, 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, the novels of Iris Murdoch, and perhaps perversely, much of Alexander McCall Smith’s oeuvre, especially the Scotland Street books. I wish I liked Ayn Rand, but I find her books too dense and too long, as well as a shade too obviously polemical. I wish Bertrand Russell had tried his hand at novels. I like spy novels, partly because they are of ideological interest, whether intentionally or not.
Why do you think reading is important?
It’s vital if you want to think well or write well. It stimulates the imagination like nothing else because less is more – the reader has to do some of the work. It lets you live a thousand lives. It can put you into the head of another person while spending relatively little time with them. There is no other way to do this, except via having a number of meals and nights together, which requires a vastly greater commitment than simply picking up a book. Hence you can get inside more minds by reading, and it’s a lot cheaper too.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
My shortlist would be:
The English and their History by Robert Tombs,
Coming Apart by Charles Murray,
Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson,
Zero to One by Peter Thiel,
Chronicles by Bob Dylan,
The Midnight Line by Lee Child.
And the winner is … The English and their History by Robert Tombs.
Do you prefer real books or digital?
I love my Kindle for travelling but otherwise, I’ll have real books, please. I’ve given up buying non-fiction for the Kindle because I find flipping backwards and forwards and writing in the books essential. I know you’re supposed to be able to do that with a Kindle but it’s so much slower and more hassle for me.
Name a book you think everyone would benefit from reading.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. This is a novel, a book about ideas and technology, and a business instruction manual all wrapped up in one great, extremely well-written book. A masterpiece. Also, for the message, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck – the best self-help book ever, by a mile, with the sole exception of Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl.
If you were to write an autobiography, what would it be called?
The Sunshine of my Life.