WeÂ all like to be inspired.
Thatâ€™s a universal truth, we all like to hear, see and engage in things that allow us to experience a paradigm shift or encourage a change in our thinking. It gives us a certain degree of motivation, and it can mean the difference between giving up on what we want to do and persevering.
But thereâ€™s an industry of inspiration. An industry that thrives on badly written and often vapid truisms that just arenâ€™t useful. An industry of books.
There are some great books on business out there. And the good ones are easy to recognize. Theyâ€™re well written, well thought out and highly practical.
If youâ€™ve ever read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, youâ€™ll know thatâ€™s the benchmark. Same goes for “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” by Ben Horowitz. When you read books like that, thereâ€™s enough hard learning and clear, actionable techniques to guide any dedicated business through validation and product development.
The bad ones are a whole other breed. Spend a good 10 minutes browsing the business or management sections of any larger book store and youâ€™ll uncover tomes of knowledge that are priced around $50 and will never help you grow a business.
Theyâ€™re full of crap. Theyâ€™re overblown, over-hyped, and full of useless anecdotes that have very little to do with real advice and actionable lessons. Theyâ€™re the literature equivalent of cheap stock photos full of old dudes in suits.
I categorize most of these books as Cheese Relocation Management Spell Books. They use all kinds of analogies that are intended to make executives spend a bucket-load of money on consultants and seminars. And they have about as much hard data and insight as a fictional wizardâ€™s spell books.
When you read them, you find old school corporate “synergy” speak dressed up in innovationâ€™s clothing. Give up on them, and give up on them early. Hereâ€™s how to spot them:
Analogies and metaphors instead of case studies and data
Great books will cover, in detail, the real-life business cases that the authorâ€™s management, economic, or start-up theories are based on.
The bad books will try and use imaginative and wise-sounding stories or analogies to laboriously illustrate their points. Itâ€™s complicated, vague, and sounds incredibly wise whilst not giving any direction worth a dime.
Name-dropping instead of citing results or research
If every management consultant whoâ€™s ever written a book was truly contracted by Microsoft, weâ€™d have to wonder if Redmond has stopped hiring people internally. Look, Iâ€™m not calling anyone out here, but it shouldnâ€™t matter in the first place.
If an author wants to convince me of his or herÂ credentials, he or she isÂ going to have to do more than show me a resume. The authorÂ needs to either demonstrate that he or she is anÂ expert in the field or show me the results of his or herÂ work.
Carly Fiorina, Iâ€™m looking at youâ€Š â€”â€Š being CEO of HP counts for nada when the results of your work are publicly available. If you ever write a book, donâ€™t expect me to read it.
Management-speak instead of plain language
Synergy is not a thing, people. Itâ€™s just not. It means nothing and it says nothing. Unfortunately, itâ€™s just one of a hundred words or phrases that sound super business-y but donâ€™t really express a point or help to explain important concepts.
When the business book youâ€™re reading relies on these words either for filler or because the writer doesnâ€™t know how to express him- or herselfÂ without spouting crap, youâ€™re wasting your time.
Fool-proof formulas or “silver bullets” instead of real lessons
Thereâ€™s no shortcut in life or business. Thereâ€™s no easy path to success, and if a book is trying to sell you one, or is trying to teach you the formula to Googleâ€™s rise, youâ€™d have a more productive afternoon tearing it up than reading it.
Jon Westenberg is a start-up inspired entrepreneur, comedian, writer, critic.