Book Review: Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

 As part of my involvement in Speakeasy, I had a chance to review Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak.

As the title suggests, in this great little book, August draws upon the wisdom of the Trappist community at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina and blends it with his own insights from working in corporate environments like MTV, as well as two software companies he founded – Raleigh Group International and Elsinore Technologies.

As I started to read the book, I found myself needing to adjust my initial expectations. I was hoping for a book that would really unpack some of the theology behind Trappist practice, as well as apply that wisdom to workplace ethics in a very analytic way. Instead, as the book’s subtitle revels, this book is a much more personal and largely anecdotal account of “one CEO’s quest for meaning and authenticity.” This is one person’s account of discovering and applying spiritual insight into the workplace, instead of a “how to” manual of how it might be done everywhere. Of course, this isn’t to say that the knowledge and wisdom isn’t practical or applicable to other situations; it most certainly is, but the book is more about embracing the conversation of how it might happen instead of dictating “5 Simple Steps to Implementing Trappist Business Practices.”

Turak identifies three core components of Trappist identity – mission, personal transformation and community, and does a great job of identifying how he has developed them in his life, and seen them practices in other businesses and organizations. There were times in the book where I questioned Turak’s examples, such as using the movie The Devil Wears Prada to illustrate the notion of the hero’s journey, it works, I just think it was an odd choice for an illustration. There were also times, when I wished he would go deeper into his analysis, especially in his discussion of Truliant Federal Credit Union and their approach to customer service. But overall, I found this to be a quick read that was personal, relevant, and easy to follow. The last four chapters of the book, in particular, are outstanding in their honesty and inspiration and I’d recommend this book simply for those pages alone.

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of review, my review and recommendation is not in anyway influenced by this. Thanks to Speakeasy, Columbia Business School Publishing and August Turak, for letting me add this wonderful little book to my library].