The question of whether business books are worth it or not derives from the opposition of theoretical and empirical learning curves. Though many would advise taking action in order to learn, the best way is to combine both approaches. This will allow you to gain practical experience and have somewhat of theoretical safety cushion, protecting you from costly mistakes.
I have read quite a few business books and eventually shifted to reading summaries first and published some business book summaries on my agency’s blog. From my experience I can derive certain conclusions:
- eight out of ten books are quite useless (even in a form of a summary);
- business books provide second-hand experience (at best);
- business books often contain hundreds of pages, but generally are brief and can be boiled down to three-five informative pages;
- some business books can become addictive in a bad way (just like motivation and business seminars).
So is it that bad? Should you turn away from business books as a category?
The Overlooked Issue Of Business Books
The poor quality and low applicability of some business books is often blamed on authors, who “just want to have your money”. True, authors want to make money. True, often authors may write shallow books in pursuit of financial gain, despite being experienced successful entrepreneurs themselves. But there is one more important issue you have to consider. Publishers.
Publishers’ goal is sales. A book intended solely for entrepreneurs makes the target audience significantly smaller. Now think of how many of those entrepreneurs are inexperienced and actually need to read (buy) such a book? How many of those actually have time and are not knee-deep in their business routine on a daily basis? Therefore, to make a book profitable publishers either deliver books for a mass reader or — at best — dilute the book to suit both groups, which of course affects the quality of content. Publishers need sales even more than authors. So, who to blame? No one, really. Nothing personal, just business.
Two Out Of Ten Books Are Actually Useful
As I mentioned above, from my experience only about 20% of business books bear the purpose of practical use. However, do not treat that claim as a truism, rather than a relatively objective observation based on my experience as an entrepreneur and business books reader.
I chose ten of some of the most popular business related books on the market to read and review. However, they were not all that good. Most of them were entertaining, nice to read, but not very useful.
There is a number of issues most books have in my opinion. The information in the book may often be irrelevant to your experience, your skill set, or position in life, society or business. Most entrepreneurs are small businesses and the unquestionably unique set of circumstances, decisions and options Bill Gates have had cannot be extrapolated on every person. Another example is “Crossing The Chasm” by G. Moore. The IT is changing at a lightning fast pace and the book was written in the early 90s. It can be relevant still, but only to some degree and it also can be confusing to the modern younger audience due to how outdated it is.
Business books are often repetitive and thus brief. So you need a field manual, but often get a milk-and-water book that feels more like a promo brochure. “Be Obsessed Or Be Average By” by G. Cardone is another example. It is all about passion, inspiration, and dream. It’s all good, but how useful is it? My point is that you have to be careful with passion, and I’ll explain it a bit later. Also, as I mention in the review, there’s a bit too much of author’s ego in the book.
I say that business books are showcases of other people’s success the audience is attracted to, rather than complex case studies providing their readers with sophisticated and practical knowledge. However, there are some exceptions. “Creativity Inc.” by Ed Catmull is one of those books, which provides you with everything — from entertainment and compelling story to valuable explanations, examples, and advice. Catmull presents a take on management in a creative environment, that can be understood, adopted and implemented by any entrepreneur in the creative business.
On Motivation Books, Seminars, Success Stories, And Passion
A lot of business books are full of passion, inspiration, and motivation. First of all, if you need to be motivated, you probably do not have a purpose. Chances that a motivation book or a seminar will help you are slim. Books that motivate you (seminars just the same), ignite the passion. And passion is a very unreliable source of business success. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do!”, — you might object. Yes, but don’t confuse a reason to wake up in the morning being grateful with passion.
Here’s what Scott Adams, the author of “How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big” has to say about passion and I completely agree with him: “Passion generally follows success; it doesn’t cause it.” As Adams also notices, passionate people who fail do not write books. It’s an overwhelming minority of successful passionate people who do that. Passion leading to success is mostly a misconception. It is just that we only see the successful victors, who represent only a small percentage of passionate people.
By the way, here’s one of the blog posts by Addams on the subject of passion: Follow Your Passion.
Learning from the success of others is not very effective. We learn from mistakes. The best way is to learn from the mistakes of others. Avoid success stories, unless you want a captivating read to entertain yourself. These stories often present a narrative of a hero, who succeeded, but little is told about the pitfalls and mistakes. These books inspire you, but provide little to no information on what to do once you encounter an obstacle, how to manage risk, or how to fix certain (often critical) mistakes.
As I see it, you need a purpose. Passion is energy without a container. This energy will vanish rather sooner, than later and you will fail to move on. The purpose is a container you always want to fill and the more you fill it, the more energy you get to proceed.
How Can I Choose A Good Book?
Not much to say about this, but here are some tips:
- Look for more practical books. Some indicators are: plain language, case studies, raw data, valuable lessons.
- Resort to book summaries. There are a lot of them on the Internet and they can help you find books that suit your particular goals and needs. Summaries save your time, money and help you decide. Try also looking for interviews with authors (or their lectures) on YouTube to figure out if the author is credible enough.
- Use services like Google Books if you still have doubts. A lot of books can be found there and partially read in the preview. So you can make up your mind and buy an electronic or a printed version right there.
- Resort to the power of the Internet. Look for information and knowledge available online.
- At last, but not least: ask fellow entrepreneurs, who have their business going well. What books did they read and found helpful? Maybe they can give you a couple of advice, which will prove more useful than any book.
Business books are (or at least supposed to be) answers to your questions. Your questions depend on your purpose (goal/vision). You need to formulate your purpose (what are you going to do and why). This will not only help you find the right answer (book), but also help figure out alternatives. For example, to read 10 books from my review list, you would have to spend over $100 on average (according to Amazon). It certainly depends on what format you choose — digital, audio, paperback or hardcover. My point is that maybe you better use that money to take online courses and get both theoretical and practical experience specifically on the subject that you need.