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BK Magazine Articles & Musings
Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
There's nothing that is really new in business and management books any more, and now, even the "new ways of looking at old ideas" approach is nearing the end of its run. I have had more experience working with business and management books than any other type — so much so that it starts to grate on me a bit. The themes and ideas start to flow into one another while other trends and “hot topics” just start to annoy me.
So, I’m annoyed, and so I present the antidote to our current business-book obsession, the seven books that actually need to be written:
1. You Are Not a Leader: The Delusional Culture of Leadership Development. Business books make people believe that anyone has the potential to be a leader, but that’s a myth. You can’t change who you are, and you can’t become what you’re not, and no end of coaching and consulting can change that. When was the last time you actually heard of some crappy executive who suddenly became a company savior after reading a book? Most people aren’t good leaders but somehow we want to believe that we all have strengths that can make us top management material – much in the same way all parents think their children are brilliant and every mother is certain that her boy in jail is innocent.
2. Best Practices, Worst Ideas: Why Learning from Other Companies Is Stupid. Someone stumbles around trying to make a strong glue but instead invents something that can’t even hold paper together. But then someone else creates Post-Its from that glue and then the company wants to pretend their “culture of innovation” gave birth to such products. What rubbish. All the best creations from the microwave oven to life-saving vaccines came about because of mistakes or people just randomly doing something that just happened to work (after doing sixty other things that didn’t work at all). Suddenly, these isolated episodes are considered “case studies” that prove that simply replicating what someone else did decades ago in an entirely different company that made entirely different products and had entirely different departmental structures and practices can work right here and now for you.
3. Failure Really Isn’t an Option: The Reality of Corporate Cultures that Encourage Experimentation. Every company wants you to know that they like people who experiment and try new things. They apparently want you to fail and try again – what they like to call “failing forward.” And yes, you can do that if you are the boss or are sleeping with the boss or in that upper echelon of executives who don’t even know their assistants’ names. But try being anyone from a working grunt to a mid-level manager and you’ll see just how excited your superiors will be when you fail. Repeatedly.
4. Kindly Get Lost: What Millennials Think About Being “Managed” Boomers are obsessed with cataloging and inventory (the fact that they are proud of using words like “inventory” when talking about business skills proves this), and they really want to understand the younger generation. But instead of recognizing each person as an individual, they decide to just stereotype them all by rendering an entire generation of millions with a pat set of qualities that could just as well apply to border collies (“they need structure and discipline but they value their freedom – and they need to have time to play”).
5. Holier Than Thou: Why No One Cares About Your Corporate Ethics. Most companies that value themselves as conscientious and ethical are run by the type of people who share two common traits:
a. They made their fortunes in old-school corporations that operated like plantations and now that they never have to worry about money again, they want to tell everyone else how money isn’t important.
b. They were the flag-weaving freaks of the love generation who basically bought the hippie credo of fighting against “the man” – at least until they realized that they were out of drugs, the music sucked, and they were broke. Then they decided to become “the man.”
In short, they’re hypocrites in Birkenstocks whose property and investments should be redistributed to all those in need in keeping with their whole “up with people” ethos.
6. The Myth of Win-Win: Why No One Wins When We All Try To. Business literature is always trying to promote the idea of win-win scenarios where everyone comes out ahead, but why not call it what it really is? The accurate term is settle-settle, because I can’t get what I want without you giving in, and you’re not going to, and you can’t get what you want because I don’t want to give in. So let’s settle on something that makes neither one of us happy but at least gives us some satisfaction that the other party is as unhappy about the outcome as we are.
7. Snake Oil: Appropriating Science to Support Half-Baked Management Theories. Not a single book comes out these days that isn’t supported by some form of science or concepts from nature. The problem is that these books aren’t written by scientists but rather by management types trying to lend some validity to their own theories. If there’s any scientific fact that can be thrashed to bits and then misquoted and thoroughly taken out of context for the purposes of proving some lame point, it has been done. Many mammals survive only as a pack and so we should all view ourselves as members of a team and not an individual? Sounds good, but what about the bit where the pack will sacrifice the weakest for the survival of the whole? Yeah, Bob in sales is a bit slow because of that disability of his, so let’s feed him to the gators at the watering hole next time so they stop coming after us, yes?