Monday, 3 October 2011

Are Business Books Worth Reading?

There are 1.9 million business books currently on sale on sites like Amazon and thousands are published each year. If you try to choose a few books that really give you value, there are countless Internet articles that give you their 100 Most Influential Business Books lists. How can you know if reading business books in general brings any value before you could decide which particular book is worth reading? Think carefully:
  • Is it really worth reading business books?
  • Do business books make you smart or skilful?
  • Do they bring business success?

Different Kinds of Business Books

A bookshop classifies business books according to their topics or themes they address. But looking at business books another way gives us another classification.
  • Ego-trip books – CEOs or other important people inflate their egos with ”inside” stories of How I did it? or How great am I for having achieved so much success etc.
  • Cure everything formulas – Consultants and other smart Alecs promote their ideas, products or services for solving every problem known to business. They also claim to solve unknown problems.
  • Settling Score Tirades – Have-beens, would-have-beens, never-have-beens with unquenched desire for power, recognition and success write these ”business” books to vent their hurt feelings and hurt their ”enemies” with revealing titles like Never before revealed secrets of America’s greatest tycoon or This is how Corporations Really Cheat etc. 
  • Get Rich Instantly – This is a huge zillion-dollar business. Most of the writers use a lot of effort to convince readers how they have decided to share these never before revealed secrets with the readers out of pure agape or selfless love. Some of them have similar authors joining forces to promote and recommend each other. This guarantees great benefits to them in the form of increased sales.

Photo source

Who Reads Business Books?

To read business books, you need to be intelligent and literate, patient with a reading habit and have lots of time. Wouldn’t such a person be better off doing what s/he knows best rather than reading other people’s ideas, suggestions and experience? Why don't the writers have ultra successful businesses?

Are all business books meant for the smart and business savvy folks? No. There are, of course books for dummiesIn spite of the name, books in these series are usually professionally written with serious matter served in an easy style. Being a real dummy doesn’t help at all in this respect. Besides, who defines what is a dummy. Aren’t we all dummies every now and then!

Some lists of The Most Influential Business Books of All Times have books like
  • The Capital by Karl Marx
  • Balanced Scorecard by Robert Kaplan
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Nature of Managerial Work by Henry Minzberg
  • The General Theory of Employment by John Maynard Keynes
  • The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
These are wonderful, extremely serious books with great ideas, which are not the easiest stuff to understand. One may know the individual words, read coherently entire sentences but still fail to get the real meaning. Take Karl Marx for example. A significant portion of the entire humanity living under communism, a never ending army of theoreticians spending their entire academic careers on public funding have failed to grasp his message entirely, in trying reach an agreement on main issues with others not to mention applying what Marx probably meant.

Is it only men in dark suits who read business books? Women also read business books as much as men. The reading list of smart women at the top of their fields can be very educative. Here's a typical women's list of favourite business books:

  • Principle Centred Leadership by Stephen R. Covey
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Reowrk by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
  • Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women
  • The Four Hoour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
  • The E Myth by Michael Gerber
  • Your Million Dollar Dream by Tamara Monosoff
  • Creating Money by Sanaya Roman  Diana Packer
  • The 10 Laws of Enduring Success by Maria Bartiromo

Do people who should read these business books ever read them? Yes, many do in spite of the fact that getting new ideas means unlearning old ideas. Many busy people are quite capable of achieving such mind shifts. This is precisely what Stephen Covey says in his best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is the seventh habit: Sharpen the Saw.

How Should We Judge Which Business Books to Read?

Most of the people who buy and read all the business, self-improvement and get-rich-instantly books hardly ever get the results they wish. So, does reading books help? This is what Faber in Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 has to tell us about the importance of books. 3 things we can get from books:
  1. Quality of information
  2. Leisure time to digest what you read
  3. The right to carry out actions based on what you have learnt
If any organisation or society lacks any of these three, that society is on a downward spiral. How then to judge the authors who write business books? We can get some help from Faber again: The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

Socrates, who probably never wrote anything, asks in Platos’ Pheadrus the question 
Then what is the nature of good writing and bad?” 
and answers it by 
It’s not speaking or writing well that’s shameful; what’s really shameful is to engage in either of them shamefully or badly”.
One test of a good writer is:
  • The writer has something to say
  • The writer knows really what s/he is saying
  • What is written actually speaks to you, touches you or moves you
  • You have changed after reading

The best tool for evaluating a writer is given by Ernest Hemingway. 
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector”.
Think - does the author of the book you are about to buy have it? Looking at it from a writer’s point of view, Sholem Asch, the Polish born American writer also said it pertly: 
Writing is a lot easier if you have something to say”.
Some Examples of Great Business Books

Some business books have been extremely influential. They have become iconic classics. One way to get about finding the value of a business book is to ask from people who you consider to be successful in business.

To help you out, here is a nano list of great business books:
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C.K.Prahlad
  • Reengineering the Corporation – A Manifesto for Business Revolution by Michael Hammer, James Champy
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
  • The Effective Executive or any book by Peter Drucker
  • My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan

Why are you Going to DO After Reading a Business Book?

After reading a book about cooking or gardening you try to cook or improve your garden. So, what action does a business book prompt you to? Are you going to:
  • Try out the new idea
  • Discuss with business colleagues
  • Begin implementing an idea because the writer so forcefully argued for it
  • Decide that it is a great idea but nah it won't work for me 

For really busy people who have no time to read but need to get the gist of a book even if to say that they have read it, here's help. A business book summary service.

Enjoy your business book!


ASWANI said...

Very interesting and thoughtful. Honestly, I don't like reading business books. Mostly fond of inspirational writings or anything related to management practices. Your post certainly made me think and I agree to what you have concluded finally, it is always better to go with own ideas than to keep running behind these books. Though reading of books of any type is still appreciated..!

Anonymous said...

Volvo C30 Turbocharger

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.