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7 Vastly Overrated Business Books

Geoffrey James

Here is an article written by Geoffrey James for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Most business books are awful, some are mediocre and a (very) few are truly useful.   And then there are business books that aren’t exactly dreadful, but have reputations that have been bloated way out of proportion.

You see them on corporate shelves everywhere and they’re cited at meetings, conferences and seminars, but when you dig a little deeper, and think about their contents, you’re forced to wonder WTF the fuss is all about.

This post identifies some highly popular business books which, in my view, are absurdly overrated.  I’m sure there are many true believers out there who will disagree, but I can’t help but wonder whether somebody hasn’t been drinking some Kool-aid by the gallon.

[Here are the first two. To read the complete article, please click here.]

This book espouses the popular viewpoint that management is mostly a matter of common sense: specific goals, specific praising and and specific reprimands (as a comment below succinctly puts it.)

However, when people think common sense are sufficient for a particular task, they tend not to pay much attention to it, assuming that common sense alone will get them through.  In fact, management is a collection of highly-specialized skills including applied psychology, coaching, business acumen, and system analysis, not to mention an increasing amount of knowledge of computer technology, law and even international relations.

There is no panacea for good management, and it’s certainly not going to be contained in a book that essentially treats management as being easy-peasy.  The belief in common sense as a panacea is always the result of mental laziness. It’s wrongly assumed that a person with “common sense” will make good decisions, while people with real expertise will act like impractical egg-heads. That’s BS.

The result of the “management is just common sense” movement has been nothing less than a rampant epidemic of bad management.  What happens inside most companies (especially at the middle management level) is that the same problems keep coming up month after month, year after year, because managers are relying upon “common sense” to fix them.  It just doesn’t work.

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Back in the day, leaders waited until some kind of independent biographer decided that their accomplishments were worthy of being immortalized in a book.  Today, however, business leaders seem obligated to write self-congratulatory paeans that give new meaning to the word “vomitable.”

What’s even more annoying about this book (and indeed the entire genre) is that it reflects the diseased notion of the “heroic CEO” who singlehandedly causes a company to be successful.  Funny, but I thought that good managers were supposed to give credit to the team, not plaster their face on a book.

The kind of thinking reflected in this book is exactly what results in obscene pay packages for CEOs.  Indeed, Jack Welch was no welcher when it came to awarding himself a panoply of perks. Meanwhile, his vaunted business strategies consisted primarily of downsizing and outsourcing, regardless of the impact that it had on society at large. As for his legacy, he’s left a company where the senior management is evidently proud that the firm, due to lobbying and influence-peddling, didn’t pay any taxes.

It’s amazing to me that anybody takes this kind of self-interested hype seriously, but there’s no lack of imitators.  One wonders when business readers will finally conclude that enough is enough…

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Geoffrey James has sold and written hundreds of features, articles and columns for national publications including Wired, Men’s Health, Business 2.0, SellingPower, Brand World, Computer Gaming World, CIO, The New York Times and (of course) BNET. He is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite (translated into seven languages and selected by four book clubs), and The Tao of Programming (widely quoted on the Web as a “canonical book of computer humor”.) He was also co-host of Funny Business, a program on New England’s largest all-talk radio station and has given seminars and keynotes at numerous corporations, including Rackspace, Gartner, Lucent and Houston Industries.


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