After Hours

10 overrated business books (and what to read instead)


The recent BNET feature package on business books offers a great rundown of titles that may be overhyped or underrated. Particularly entertaining is an article that takes a chunk out of such iconic titles as In Search of Excellence and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Along with a pointed sentence or two explaining where these books fall short, the author proposes alternatives for readers looking for something outside mainstream business literature.

I PDFed the article for anyone who wants to download it from the TechRepublic downloads library. It's definitely worth checking out, if only to see whether you agree or disagree with the author's assessment. And you might pick up a promising title or two that you hadn't considered before, such as The Dilbert Principle or How to Lie with Statistics.

Do you think the author is on the money with his list -- or have you found value in the books he dismisses as overrated?

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

20 comments
alex.a
alex.a

People who say "begs the question" usually mean "prompts the question." "Begging the question" is an error of logic that assumes the hypothesis is true in order to prove it. Example: Windows XP is the best of all operating systems. How do you know? Because the installation splash screens say so! And so it is wrong to say, "This begs the question of why other operating systems are so popular." But it is correct to say, "This prompts the question of why other operating systems are so popular."

Bobbymak
Bobbymak

The companies discussed in the Tom Peters book paid careful attention to their employees and customers. There was no "us versus them" attitude. Employees were well-paid and customers were well taken care of. What made People's Express fail, as well as MOST of the other organizationis in "In Search of Excellence" was a combination of financial sheninanigans, ill-conceived expansions poorly executed, and bringing aboard "big picture" consultants who sowed the seeds of those poor expansions, as well as spearheading the violent "CUT EXPENSES TO THE BONE" culture we're still suffering through. Even the big names in the book (IBM, Xerox, Disney) are still suffering from the organizational cancer spread by these 1980's smartass MBA's. The crux of the book i.e. vigilant employee and customer orientation are still successfully practiced by smaller firms that the original heads of the books' examples left to start. The customer-orientation and employee treatment lessons are still valid today. Don't throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.

jonsaint
jonsaint

Remember how Peters' book spawned so many "X-sizing" flavors, all of which took their thesis from the Jack Welch theory of management: "fire 5 % of the rowers and the rest will row until they die" ? Well, LEAN, as practiced by IBM, et. al., (funny how the same stupid companies jump on the next fradulent mantra) is already fostering customer dissatisfaction and employee resignations in excess of the termination targets. I've read in the case of IBM, that LEAN is taken to signify that if your account has met the contractual customer satisfaction target, you're doing too much for them and need to cut back on services until they scream "lawsuit." That's the correct set point for customer satisfaction in the LEAN world. Gosh almighty!

Bobbymak
Bobbymak

YES, LEAN is a disaster. Yes, rightsizing, downsizing, and don't forget that late 90's buzzword "staff rationalization" are all not-so-subtle ways of relabelling the task of cutting staff. BUT, this was NOWHERE in Tom Peters' book. Please review the book, or rent one of Tom Peter's early 1980's videos from your public library. The essense of his philosophy was that the customer is King. AND that you can't treat staff badly and expect them to turn around and treat customers well. If you want to blame anyone for the current organizational climate, blame The GARTNER Group, BAIN, McKinsey, International Data, and the other "big picture" strategic plannign consulting outfits. The companies discussed in the Tom Peters book paid careful attention to their employees and customers. There was no "us versus them" attitude. Employees were well-paid and customers were well taken care of. What made People's Express fail, as well as MOST of the other organizationis in "In Search of Excellence" was a combination of financial sheninanigans, ill-conceived expansions poorly executed, and bringing aboard "big picture" consultants who sowed the seeds of a lot of really destructive strategies. We're still suffering through. SADLY, even the big names mentioned as outstanding customer service leaders in the book (IBM, Xerox, Disney) are still suffering from the organizational cancer -- as you yourself mentioned with LEAN. Blame the smartass MBA's coming out of every single university with NO ATTENTION to organic growth but instead, serve up the glib mantra "CUT EXPENSES TO THE BONE!" The crux of "In Search of Excellence" i.e. vigilant customer orientation and employee partnership are still successfully practiced today. The customer-orientation and employee treatment lessons are still valid today. Don't throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I've got enough experience, sense and stories to put pen to paper on this one.

GoodOh
GoodOh

It's been a few years since I read ISoE but it was also well after the companies involved had had their blow-outs. In amongst some statements and predictions that are funny in hindsight there are some gems left to be collected. However the reader needs to know a lot of theory and history to tell which is which so I wouldn't have it at the top of anyone's reading list. However, ISoE is still worth reading if you have developed enough maturity to judge history with a balanced eye.

kzm1
kzm1

"In Search of Stupidity" by Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman. Just finished it - excellent! Explores WHY all of the tech companies profiled in "In search of Excellence", and others not included in that book, disappeared or went through "painful and wrenching traumas" and offers suggestion on how not to repeat the mistakes previously made by others (IBM, Ashton-Tate, Apple,Novell,etc....)

lmorris
lmorris

This article is total crap !!!

GoodOh
GoodOh

And your posting moved this discussion along how? If I wrote the article and got this response I'd take it as an indication that I had got it right. If people displaying the kind of nuanced judgment that this posting displays like the books I am criticising then I'm probably close to right.

dawgit
dawgit

Like why someone would just summarily make a broad statement on a multi-facited acticle? Normally, it is indictative of one some-one that couldn't comprehend the context. IMHO. -d

doctboo
doctboo

Care to elaborate? The article calls 10 books total crap and 10 others worthwhile. From what I've read, you're the first to disagree with the article, but haven't given any reasons why. Have you experienced something with one or more of the books the article derides that leads you to believe the article is total crap?

dawgit
dawgit

and good tips too. I'm glad to see others are also thinking against the PC cultural grain. Yes those books he mentioned seem to be required in by some in business schools, (little minds IMHO) but I agree with him on most. (if not all) I've either had to read some of those, or I was just courious about some too. Most were a waste of time. I could also coment on why I thought so, but Geoffrey James did a good enough job, so I'll spare everyone on that. Thanks to Jody for bringing it up. There are some good ideas in there, maybe some people will get themselves enlightened. -d

pevasprings
pevasprings

Have to read all 20 of them before I can pass judgement. Nevertheless it's a good start :-)

babydragon701
babydragon701

Thank you so much for the link.....i totally agree with the review.

normhaga
normhaga

Try "The Prince" by Nicolli Machavelli, "The Art of War" by Tzu Sze, and "A Book of Five Rings" by Miamoto Musashi.

devin.rambo
devin.rambo

All you have to do is write a book about how to become rich. Make sure that it includes a lot of meaningless platitudes and humorous anecdotes about "grabbing life by the horns" and "living to the fullest." I have friends who eat these books up and still make the same mistakes over and over again. They went to a conference on "how to make your first million" or some such thing. They came back with some expensive binders full of motivational seminar claptrap and a "Millionaire's License" - some gold-embossed thing that had been done up at Kinko's as some sort of greedhead daily affirmation. Buying the "Millionaire's License" put them $20 further from having that first million. Good thing they had their Rich Dad books to tell them to stop buying useless crap. Lot of good that did them.

SRRY
SRRY

Wise words - and list of 10s. Every body is out to get rich and every body wants to teach the other half. If you are working 24 hrs a day to make more and more cash - it all neutralizes out. And nobody is sick and tired of this futile chase.

SRRY
SRRY

Wise words - and list of 10s. Every body is out to get rich and every body wants to teach the other half. If you are working 24 hrs a day to make more and more cash - it all neutralizes out. And nobody is sick and tired of this futile chase.

SRRY
SRRY

Wise words - and list of 10s. Every body is out to get rich and every body wants to teach the other half. If you are working 24 hrs a day to make more and more cash - it all neutralizes out. And nobody is sick and tired of this futile chase.

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