In my estimate 95% of business books published each year are total crap. Someday, I’ll write up my own theories about this fascinating segment of the book world. In the meantime, blogger "Uncle Saul" has a wonderful critique on why business books suck and how they fail to serve entrepreneurs in particular. Excerpts:
Entrepreneurs Need Tactical Guidance – Obsessing about strategy is a luxury that only Big Dumb Companies ("BDC’s") can afford. Entrepreneurs must define a series of skirmishes, they do not need to devise elaborate battle plans. Entrepreneurs need only develop a basic strategy and craft an evolving and iterative tactical plan which guides them in the general direction dictated by their overall strategy. Although a few books attempt to act as entrepreneurial field guides that offer tactics in specific areas (e.g., selling, marketing, PR, etc.), their usefulness is often limited. Books that highlight tactics are valuable for entrepreneurs whose specific circumstances match those outlined in the text. However, specific tactics are often difficult to translate into markets outside of those described in such books.
Entrepreneurs Have Corporate ADD – A pithy format, offering bite-sized data, serves entrepreneurs well. If you prefer to pour through 400-page academic tomes, you may be a nice person, but you are probably not an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs "Get It" – Consistent with their Corporate ADD, entrepreneurs tend to excel at digesting numerous disparate facts and making quick, gestalt decisions. This inherent impatience causes entrepreneurs to quickly become frustrated with books that repeatedly reinforce their central point through multiple examples, analogies and anecdotes.
Entrepreneurs Are Contrarians – In general, the use of multiple examples is an appropriate means of convincing someone to change their behavior. However, since most entrepreneurs have no allegiance to the status quo, they find books which rely on numerous examples as a means of changing the reader’s behavior to be frustrating and largely irrelevant.
(hat tip: Todd @ 8CR)
In a piece in Forbes on how Amazon could change / dominate book publishing, the author says the publishing industry is "archaic beyond belief, it’s an industry that treats its most important asset–the author–badly."
9 comments on “Why Most Business Books Suck”
I’ve been looking for a clear explanation of that first point on tactics for months. Thanks.
After pouring through a few hundred business books myself, I would recommend 1.
Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive”.
Its a short book (aprox 60 pgs.) but to cut down reading time even further, just focus on chapter 2.
Chapter 2 is on “Time Management” and its full of tactics.
I remember the Chinese General Sun Tzu quote “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. It happens in the publishing world as well.
An added reason why most business books suck is it is written by professional writers (or worse -management consultants spending not more than a few hours watching an enterprise) who also dabbled in entrepreneurship. It may lean heavily on logic and rationality (the damn book has to sell) but will make little commercial sense to a reader having real customers to service or having a business to run. An entrepreneur is infinitely more impulsive, latching on to opportunities as they come.
He lives with endless series of challenges and a book is the last thing on his mind. It’s a rare day when a hugely successful entrepreneur also happens to precipitate great content because reality is often brief and unromantic and is not elastic enough to fill beyond 20 pages in bold print. A writer usually relies on his reflections and fertility of his imagination centered on experience of someone else (an entrepreneur whom he knew), and it loses flavor as it occurs in retrospect.
And as you say, the publisher often prescribes the size and substance on the basis of most recent sales trends projected by analysts which a writer has to cater to. Value to reader or authenticity of content figures nowhere in that list of priorities. So they invariably suck.
The reason why I love blogs by hands on guys.
“Corporate ADD” is a pithy catchphrase, but it’s too cute.
Besides, successful entrepreneurs aren’t deficient in attention, they just better manage how they ‘invest’ it.
And that’s not a ‘disorder’ in my book.
Ben, I currently work in a restaurant owned by a guy who built a large medical company and then built an airline from a small affair into a 500 million dollar monster in a fairly short amount of time. In a rather rare situation, I actually have a chance to listen (he hangs around alot) to a very succesful businessman who actually has all the time in the world and is happy to talk about his exploits. In terms of focus, what would you regard as the most important things I should focus on while talking to someone like this?
Commoner – I would go in with two or three very specific questions, ask them, discuss them, and then build off that. Better to start specific than pie in the sky.
Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.
The publishing industry definitely needs to adapt. I used to read a couple hundred books a year, and now I spend most of my time reading blogs. Not only is it free, but I was amazed at how many high quality blogs exist.
Of the 5% (or less) of books that can be classified as non-sucky, have any thoughts on where one might look to get recommendations and/or reviews of business books that offer practical advice that I can use tomorrow?