Why Business Books Tend to Suck

by F.

You don’t have to read many of them to conclude that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies to business books: 90% of them suck—maybe more. Why do they suck? Not sure. Perhaps because, generally, no one reads them. They get bought but sit on a desk somewhere, more as a signal than an information delivery device.

Now a professor at IMD it Switzerland is calling bullshit on his profession, something I always find entertaining. In a forthcoming book, Philip Rosenzweig

argues that many of the most popular business books, and much of the media’s running commentary on the ups and downs of business life, are ill-founded, misleading and often plain wrong. He has a few easy targets to aim at….

The problem, as Prof Rosenzweig sees it, is a lack of rigour and intelligence when it comes to the dodgy judgments made by journalists and pundits alike. We get the chronology wrong, dazzled by the so-called “halo effect”.

“So many of the things that we – managers, journalists, professors and consultants – commonly think contribute to company performance are often attributions based on performance,” the professor writes.

This means that we tend to mislead ourselves with our choice of examples and case studies, drawing the wrong conclusions from an already faulty sample. We give in to the temptation to tell a simple, powerful story about a company rather than admitting that success is more difficult to analyse and harder to achieve than business blockbusters usually make out.

This is a bit of a “duh,” and the biases which Rosenzweig mentions are the usual ones—misattributing causation, failing to see a hidden cause, the “halo effect.” Still, I hope this book shakes things up in business publishing, at least a little, and maybe make customers demand better products.

The book comes out in February in the US.