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  • Published: 16 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9781761042195
  • Imprint: Penguin Life
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $34.99


Timeless business truths for thriving in a world of non-stop change



Business. Read the textbooks and you’re in no doubt that it’s a sensible career of deep dullness. A maze of charts, checklists and uninterest­ing plans ‘going forward’, piled up late into the evening while all your friends are pro streamers, resort reviewers or kombucha sommeliers. Or so their social media feeds tell you, when you take a break from writing your quarterly report on hose nozzle pricing.

The books don’t do it justice. Business is more fun than monkey butlers. If you choose to make it so. Owning a business, that is. Sure, it’s a ton of work, but it’s also the complete design-your-own-reality expe­rience. It’s the only field where people who are not particularly good looking, have no sports or entertainment talent and aren’t as smart as scientists can create their own world where they can do as they please. You can do experiments purely for your own amusement, earn frankly stupid amounts of money, have exciting adventures, engage in decades-long battles of wits with worthy adversaries, and not even have to turn up to a specific place to work each day.

For so many people, the main reason their work life sucks so much is because they’ve never had a great job. And the best way to get a great job is to create one yourself. Reporting to you, rather than letting others set the terms. As an employee, no matter how much you earn, no matter what sort of exalted ‘Vice-President’ you are, you’re still someone else’s bitch for all your working days.

It’s the endless uncertainty that gets you when you’re dancing to someone else’s tune. Particularly if your industry, like mine, has been run over by a convoy of buses in recent times. What if there’s no return to the warm embrace of work like it used to be?

At night, you wonder if all your hard-won skills and experience will end with you on a bicycle, thighs burning uphill in the dark, a venture capitalist’s dinner on your back. When you drift at the mercy of external forces for months, potentially years, with no sense of control, powerlessness can set like a plaster cast. You worry that future office skills will be based on some Fortnite-style platform pitting surviving workers against each other in a mortal productivity battle, and the victors will be heads-down nineteen-year-olds who can’t even string a sentence together.

Where you go from here depends on your ability to see change as your friend. Change isn’t an easy friend to live with. But if you can put up with its tantrums and mood swings, change will help you cut a path through the crowd. You can get to places most others will never reach. Most people would rather suffer and complain than face change. That’s fine, because it means you and I can reap the benefits.

The true greatness of business is that it’s a long game. Models, pop singers and sports stars enjoy the good times early, peak at thirty, and it’s all downhill from there. By age fifty, it’s ‘Do you know who I used to be?’ Every so often you see one of the sports stars of your youth, brutally aged by all that sun exposure, giving speeches to shiraz-soaked financiers, eternally reliving the years when they mattered. Or enter­tainers doused in supermarket hair dye, playing a set of their two hits at a Remember Your Favourite Decade? revival gig. But in business, you spend the whole time getting better and better at it, building on your mistake-infested early years, slowly becoming wilier than a coyote who’s realised he can just catch road runners when they’re asleep.

Screw nostalgia. Spare us your good old days. If your business is working as it should, the best time is now. Business gives you that tingly sensation that something interesting is around the corner. Without that sense of greater things ahead, you’re on a decline that ends with you in a pub up the coast, at a poker machine with your first discount-coupon drink at 11 am.

Business lets you maintain the rage. The adrenaline buzz of being able to do anything once you get your cash flow working. Sure, it’s not for everyone. Plenty of people enjoy being safe in a box so they don’t have to face their personal nightmare of dealing with infinite free-form possibilities. Like those videos of animals released after years of brutal captivity, who take a hesitant look at the lush green world outside before turning back to their cage. They feel calm and secure in there, with its blissful freedom from decisions.

But once you get the hang of freedom, it’s intoxicating. You can do whatever the hell you like without having to justify it to management, shareholders, analysts or anyone else with an opinion they’d like to throw in.

If you start a business, you are performing a very slow magic trick: creating something out of thin air. It’s not like having a job where you take something that already exists, mess with it for a while, then pass it on to the next anonymous custodian. Your own business is a lasting monument to your own evil skills and persistence.

What could be more fun than trying to persuade high-calibre staff to defect in secret meetings in the back of darkened restaurants? All the pantomime tension (‘Did anyone see you come in?’) without any of the legitimate danger police or spies have to deal with. Building rela­tionships with clients you’ve genuinely come to regard as friends, and feeling a surge of parent-style pride when they tell you how great it is to work with your people.

Business is an endless stream of multifaceted amusement, along with the odd burst of searing pain. The pain is part of the fun. Most impor­tantly, when you get into your forties, it’s the only way you can keep your pride. I see people who were bright young executives alongside me and had great careers, yet they now find themselves servants to people a decade or more younger. It’s a deeply unattractive prospect and one you should work to avoid, right fucking now. It leads to scenes like forty-seven-year-old job candidates pretending they’re down with TikTok, because they read it’s the future of marketing. Please, have some dignity, you’re creeping the kids out.

Take charge of your life on your own terms. Or your boss will do it for you one Friday when you had something else planned.

Grab a stapler and hole punch on the way out. You’ll be needing those.

Undisruptable Ian Whitworth

Australia’s most entertaining business blogger, entrepreneur Ian Whitworth, explains how to succeed on your own terms in today’s relentless work world.

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