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Ah, the majestic herds sweeping across the plains, moving as a single organism, flowing in energetic patterns. But look closely, the old are falling behind, the young are jealously guarded, the whole is hyper-aware of predators lurking in the tall grass. Something changes, a thousand ears prick to the sky in alert observation, sixth and even seventh senses tingling. In a flash, one of the herd is taken down – another turn in the feeding cycle of life in the wild. Nature, red in tooth and claw. The herd slows, safe in the knowledge that the threat is diminished for a while, and returns to feeding.

Business literature has a lot to answer for, doesn’t it?

In Search of Excellence, if you’re not Built to Last, you’ve no hope of going from Good to Great. If you’re not Doing What Matters then you’ll be left behind in the race From the Ground Up to The Future of Management.

Oh, how we love our snappy titles.

And animal metaphors.

And the preoccupation with numbers

[we suspect that first-hand executive experience with 12-step programs might have something to do with it]

and lists.

Here’s a selection from an Amazon.com search for Jack Welch books:

  • 4 E’s of leadership
  • 74 of the toughest questions in Business Today
  • 29 Leadership secrets
  • 250 Terms, Concepts, Strategies & Initiatives
  • 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful way…

And Drucker’s up to it as well:

  • The 5 most important questions…
  • 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for…
  • The best 60 years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management

That last one’s a stretch – as is ‘Managing Oneself’ – but we thought that to be able to choose the best 60 years of Drucker’s output is a statement in itself.

[Did Drucker have a worst 60 years? Where’s the book about that?]

All right.

It’s a known fact that humans can learn through mimicry and that visualization can aid performance. What do we learn from, for example, Good to Great? We learn that a CEO with a clear and specific vision coupled to organizational nous can achieve the focus to bring that vision to life. Cool. Case studies, metrics, comparator groups. All support that central learning. Cool.

Except.

Looking at exceptions and believing you can make them the rule is… erm… odd.

In 2007, over 31 million business entities were required to file tax returns, including 22 million self-employed individuals. How many of those business entities fall into the ‘Great’ category? How many are, at best, average? How many should be out of business by now?

How many have a CEO with a clear and specific vision coupled to the organizational nous to achieve the focus to bring that vision to life?

You see, we learn from business books that the unique individual makes no difference, that everything is planned and planful, that there is a 60/29/12/7/5/3/1 step program that can solve all the challenges a company faces. Or in other words, we’re all the same and looking and acting like someone else is a best practice

[spit]

to success.

Business books are written for the herd. They add to the illusion of hunky-doryness

[if it worked for Jack Welch, it’s good enough for me… dammit!]

and sustain the culture of averageness.

Here are the business books we would pay to read:

  • “Make It Up As You Go Along: How to ignore what they tell you is ‘best for you'”
  • “I Don’t Know: Admitting the obvious and making it work for you”
  • “Things Go Wrong, Deal With It”
  • “Just Keep Going: Delivering strategy when all about you scream change!”

Of course, that’s not the story that’s ever told in this hunky-dory world, so we doubt we’ll see them in print soon.

[unless BadConsultant ever gets around to writing them]

Business books sell predictability. They trade in the illusion of certainty. Certainty doesn’t exist, chaos does – so here’s one parting thought.

The next time someone plays the ‘reference game’ – you know it, trying to one-up each other with the ‘have you read…<insert obscure title here>’ question – look them square in the eye and ask the following:

What problem are you avoiding right now? Why are you choosing not to deal with it? Why are you willing to substitute reading someone else’s experience for growing experience of your own?

then sit back and enjoy the discussion.

Be well,

BC


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