The Value of Business Books?

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

A recent piece by Dave Logan in “Tribal Leadership” made a compelling argument about why most business books are ‘bad for you’ – and while I am not sure that many are actually dangerous, I do agree with his premise that most offer painfully simple advice OR read like stories about ‘hero-figures’ that can mislead the reader into thinking that an individual’s personality is what leads to business success.  To quote Logan:

“Most business books use stories to cover over their complete lack of insight. This week, I read a galley of a book that I hope will never come out.  After some catchy anecdotes about hero CEOs, it advised, among other things, that leaders figure out what’s really important, then do those things. It went way out on a limb by saying that great leaders are remarkable at forming relationships.  And (are you sitting down?) the best leaders are honest when a strategy isn’t working.

Are you kidding me? How about we add that true leaders can dress themselves, use full sentences, and bathe before work.

Business success isn’t a checklist, and that’s the implied message from many business books: do these things and you’ll be the hero. Business success is a dance: with the market, employees, investors, customers, landlords, and creditors — not to mention spouses and kids.

Business leaders need a reboot on the ideas that make organizations run. Is your time best spent reading business books, or talking with people with radically different ideas? Put down the business book and go interact with ideas that challenge you, frighten you, or piss you off.”

He then went on to suggest some useful non-business books that aspiring leaders should actually invest time in reading, such as the Odyssey and Atlas Shrugged.  While these are certainly classics that are thought-provoking, I would add Stewardship by Peter Block, Flowby Csikszentmihalyi, and Predictably Irrationalby Dan Ariely to a recommended reading list for thoughtful business leaders.  Would love to hear about other books that have pushed your thinking and excited your imagination.


3 thoughts on “The Value of Business Books?”

  1. Thanks for those additional reading suggestions – am always looking for good titles to load onto the Kindle!

  2. I agree about Peter Block, his books are classics – also no-nonsense and pragmatic. My favorite business books are the family business stories and biographies. One of the best is Thomas Watson, Jr’s story of being the successor to his father, founder of IBM, told with agonizing honesty in “Father, Son & Co.” Also Katharine Graham’s autobiography of assuming leadership at the Washington Post (“Personal History”) and the in-depth story of succession at The New York Times (“The Trust” by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones) are both great reads, if somewhat long.

  3. Stephanie, I loved this. I would include Getting Naked and Just Enough Anxiety.
    Also, I was recently talking to someone who pointed out that the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is a lesson that can be applied in the here and now. I thought that was very interesting and quite true!

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