Business Book Challenge: Update

Last week I issued a challenge.  I wrote:

"I have come to the conclusion that most (maybe all) business and strategy books are useless. They over-generalize. They offer little value.  I go in with such high expectations, based on reviews and descriptions, and am almost universally disappointed."

and

"If there are business and strategy books that really are worth reading, I want to build a library of them — and begin to hand them out to people who I work with, work for, and provide advice to.  I know the value that books can provide in helping to shape people's thinking and support their intellectual development.  I just haven't found any business books that provide that kind of value."

Here are some of the responses that I have received so far:

  • Lukas Peyer suggested Strategy Bites Back by Henry Mintzberg, adding "Its full with stories - one to a few pages long - looking at strategy from different and unusual angles. It is funny, thought-provoking and not edifying at all."
  • Steven Devijver suggested two books: "The Responsibility Virus" by Roger Martinand and "A Strategy of Constant Change" (which he wrote, and offers as a free ebook).
  • Roni Turner nominated Passion vs. Pension by Colin Turner.
  • Mike Duley offered that "Flawless Consulting" by Peter Block was "among my "within reach" books that works for taking your team to the next level."
  • Holly Jocoy suggested "The Publicity Handbook" by David Yale and Andrew Carothers — and then added separately, "I think strategy books need to have actual examples that people can "crib" from. Otherwise, book may as well be a coaster 4 cups."

Further, my friend Brad Berens promoted the challenge on his blog, MediaVorous, and on his blog at iMedia Connection (he also created a hashtag on Twitter: #bizstratbooks).  He has received some pretty interesting responses, including this analysis of business and strategy books more broadly by Don E. Schultz of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and Agora, Inc.   Thanks Brad, and Don.

I am very pleased with the response so far — I have about a dozen books on my list (I will post the full list later) and have begun to pursue copies so I can read and review them all myself.  I will begin posting my comments here, and on other blogs and sites where I contribute, soon.  My expectations remain low, but the fact that people would offer suggestions of books that they have personally used, and benefited from, gives me some hope that good business and strategy books do exist.

At the same time, I am surprised that only a handful of authors, publishers, or people in the book industry responded.  Its possible they didn't hear about my challenge.  Its also possible that the authors, publishers, and people in the book industry who deal with business and strategy writing realize that few, if any, of the books they produce are really adding value to the discusison.  As I think about it, maybe I shouldn't be surprised that I haven't heard from book people.

Keep sending your suggestions, comments, and ideas — if you have a must-read book or author, I want to hear about it.  And if you have thoughts or experiences with any of the books on the list so far, let me know.

The challenge goes on.

 

 

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5 Comments

  • Suzi McNicholas

    Hi again and sorry for the multiple posts - full disclosure here - just wanted to include that I know the author and post the amazon link to her book. Thanks so much!

  • Suzi McNicholas

    Brian - I saw your Business Book Challenge earlier in the year and recalled it after recently reading a book that finally offers real answers for those of us who work for a living. This is one that had a really big impact on me. It's called Open Sesame: Why It's All About ACCESS for the New Worker of the 21st Century by Marilyn L. Carpenter. http://www.amazon.com/Open-Ses...

    This book has the right message at the right time - in a sea of business books being written right now about "how to weather the storm" of this recession or "how your business can survive and thrive in a downturn" - finally, a business book written for the WORKER. Those of us who have lost jobs, are just entering the workforce, boomers trying to re-enter, or even those who wish they could make a career change but don't think they can in the current environment.

    After reading your challenge and the comments of others (and having read dozens of "business books" over the years) the one constant for helpful business books for me is the stories. Highlights about Tiki Barber, Liz Murray, some well-known business executives as well as compelling stories about "regular people" drive the point home. It's a really great, really quick read and offers a process to help people stop the struggle with their work lives. I recommend you check this one out. I happen to know the author and if you want me to, I'll get a copy sent to you - it's that good! Also - if you've already posted your compiled list of others worth a read, please point me to them. Thanks!

  • Suzi McNicholas

    Brian - I saw your Business Book Challenge earlier in the year and recalled it after recently reading a book that finally offers real answers for those of us who work for a living. This is one that had a really big impact on me. It's called Open Sesame: Why It's All About ACCESS for the New Worker of the 21st Century by Marilyn L. Carpenter.

    This book has the right message at the right time - in a sea of business books being written right now about "how to weather the storm" of this recession or "how your business can survive and thrive in a downturn" - finally, a business book written for the WORKER. Those of us who have lost jobs, are just entering the workforce, boomers trying to re-enter, or even those who wish they could make a career change but don't think they can in the current environment.

    After reading your challenge and the comments of others (and having read dozens of "business books" over the years) the one constant for helpful business books for me is the stories. Highlights about Tiki Barber, Liz Murray, some well-known business executives as well as compelling stories about "regular people" drive the point home. It's a really great, really quick read and offers a process to help people stop the struggle with their work lives. I recommend you check this one out. And if you've already posted your compiled list of others worth a read, please point me to them. Thanks!

  • Margo Crouppen

    Dear Brian,
    Allow me to introduce myself as Stanford University Press’ Acquisitions Editor in Economics and Organizational Studies (also known as the social science side of Business). At this point, I assume that you’ve heard from other publishing types in response to your Business Book Challenge. I hope it is not too late for me to jump on the bandwagon.

    To contribute to your reading list, here are a few titles to consider (put into context below). Not only do I consider these to be worthwhile reads, but also they have been well received by audiences (barring the one forthcoming title, which has yet to be road tested):

    Mitroff and Silvers, Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely (October 2009)
    Goldman, Transforming Toxic Leaders
    Culbert, Beyond Bullsh*t: Straight-Talk at Work
    Laszlo, Sustainable Value: How the World's Leading Companies Are Doing Well by Doing Good
    Herold and Fedor, Change the Way You Lead Change: Leadership Strategies that REALLY Work
    March, Explorations in Organizations

    That said, let’s get one thing on the table: There are, without a doubt, stacks of hollow business books on the market today. In my experience, many of these books fall flat because they promise solutions in a number of easily followed steps, or because they are built on a single core concept that gets repeated many times over without being built out in a way that is useful to the reader.

    Nevertheless, I would also argue that the Business genre is vast; within it there are more gems than you might imagine. These shining titles may not be the books that pop up immediately when you click on Amazon’s Business and Investing page. But, they are out there…

    As an editor, of course I am best situated to talk about my own book program. Though, I am sure that (at least some of) what I am about to share would hold true for other presses too. Much of SUP’s publishing strategy in business hinges on producing titles that stand at the intersection of research and practice. In this way, we offer readers grounded approaches—not just our authors’ perspectives, based on their individual experiences. Many of the books that I publish aim to be “instrumental” in guiding business practitioners without being “instructional” (see Goldman, Culbert, Laszlo, and Herald). In other words, these books offer a useful toolkit to employ in one’s own business scenario with all of its idiosyncratic twists and turn—as opposed to out-of-the-box solutions to simply plug in. To this end, I have never published a book with a number in the title (6 steps, 7 habits, etc.). I rarely make dinner in 6 steps; I don’t want to advertise to readers that they can affect change in their companies in fewer steps than it takes me to make soup.

    Looking beyond more popular business books, one also finds some truly great scholarship in Business (See March). But, these books take attention; some make your brain hurt (in the best way). This quality may render those books less commercially successful. If one questions why many Business books are little more than “empty calories,” one part of the answer is that a good number of readers shy away from texts that can’t be categorized as “plane reading.” Few presses are in my lucky position. An editor at a non-profit university press can take on riskier ideas and has the freedom to play to market niches. But, commercial houses are often entirely at the mercy of the masses.

    Finally, there are some business books that draw on knowledge beyond the realm of traditional business (See Laszlo and Mitroff). For instance, we are publishing with great success in the area of sustainability, which builds off of the green movement. I have published one book (see March) and have two more in the works that draw on literature and storytelling to speak to management. I could go on… Seeking out books that go beyond the standard business arenas to build their arguments may be an excellent strategy for selecting innovative titles that will challenge and expand your thinking as a reader—avoiding the pitfalls that your challenge laments.

    Together, I believe the types of books that I’ve described above offer at least the inspiration for a worthy library in Business. Thanks for the opportunity to share. I hope that what I have offered here is useful. And, enjoy!

  • tsutrav

    One of the best books any business leader or team leader needs to have read is Amy Shuen's "Web 2.0:A Strategy Guide" (978-0-596-52996-3). It covers all of the business models and revenue streams and network effects out there. Plus, it helps you figure out how to leverage them. So it's not just definitions and academics... it's application and metrics. A fantastic and useful read. I recommend this book to everyone I talk with.
    There are plenty others I could recommend, but this one is currently tops.
    I haven't seen your compiled list yet, I hope you share it soon!

    trav
    headsubhead.com