The nature of my work has demanded that I read pretty extensively in the genre of business books.
I’m lying. Let me correct my misstatement: The nature of my work has demanded that I skim through hundreds of business books. It’s impossible to actually read a business book, because there’s so little there there.
When I have to read one, I skip to the end of a chapter and pray that the author has included a summary of his or her five main points. That way I don’t have to slog through fake cliche-ridden dialogue or stories of companies that were considered great at the time but wound up either going down in flames or exposed as a truly gruesome place to work. In From Good to Great, Jim Collins celebrated Circuit City, who wound up firing their more senior employees to save money, which alienated their customers and led them to the bankruptcy they so truly deserved.
Serves Collins right for focusing primarily on the financials.
Many business books are full of dumbed-down cliché material repackaged to look cute and fresh, much like the fruit growers who packaged borderline tangerines in a mesh bag and named them Cuties. Books like Who Moved My Cheese? and anything by Ken Blanchard fall into this category. Do the authors believe business people are dumb or what?
There are “scholarly” business books, usually published through the Harvard Business Review or the like, designed to cater to OD consultants and executives. Although written in better English, they too fall short in the substance department. They create jobs for wannabe gurus but little else.
Some business books provide “real-world situations” that people can relate to, then give you boilerplate solutions that won’t change a thing. The 5 Dysfunctions of Team falls into this category. These books are dangerously naive about human beings and generally ignore the fundamental conflicts that exist in any real organization.
As a person who has had some moderate success in actually changing organizations, I can say there are very few books that have helped to shape change. Few are in the genre of business books: Impro by Keith Johnstone, Education for Critical Consciousness by Paolo Freire, The Abilene Paradox by Jerry Harvey and Maverick by Ricardo Semler. For OD, I like Adizes, despite the arrogance. I would also add many of Dickens’ novels to the list because he clearly understood the split-personality reality of making your living inside large organizations.
When you think about all the drama and comedy that occur in the workplace, it’s surprising that the genre has never produced a literary masterpiece. I suppose people are satisfied that The Office and Dilbert have made such efforts unnecessary.