What’s Wrong with Business Books?

Before buying into business books-du-jour that claim the secret formula to ‘excellence’ and ‘great companies’, take a hard look at their research methods. Both In Search of Excellence and Good to Great have inspired legions of managers everywhere, but are they based on sound evidence and rigorous research?

Bob Sutton, Stanford professor and author of several best-selling books, raises a few good points over on his Work Matters blog, A Well-Crafted Critique of Business “Success” Books and My Ambivalence About Good to Great .

Drake Bennett in The Boston Globe writes a good review of the issues here: Luck, Inc.

It’s easy to be swept away by “evidence” that appears as research data. But if the research consists of interviews that rely on people’s memories of events, beware. That is flawed data because memory is unreliable opinion, not fact. (And that’s not my opinion, that’s based on neuroscientific research! Read about ‘memory morphing’ in The Naked Brain for more on this…)

I have written several articles based on the ideas from some of the most popular business books, for example,  9 Delusions of High Performance is based on the book The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenweig, a book examining the flaws in research in such books as Good to Great.

Sustaining Results: Balancing People, Values and Business is based on Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People.

The most popular and successful business books all claim to be based on research. But only some of it is rigorous, and some of it is anecdotal and makes for fascinating stories. These books have value in their inspirational messages and common sense. But they are not the “final word” when it comes to practicing the fine art of managing and leading well.

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