Books – Part 2: “There’s a book coming out…”

apples-vs-orangesI have bought and read a fair few ‘management books’ over the years. Some start off usefully but go on to ‘wind me up’, others are absolute diamonds….and so I had a little think about why this might be.

I realised that, whilst obviously hugely important, the quality of the writer’s prose isn’t the fundamental factor – it comes down to the author’s intent.

In an effort to expand and examine my thinking, I tried to ‘put it down on paper’ – I spewed out a ‘compare and contrast’ table.

…and so, in this post I present a short 2-column table breaking management books into two types (of author, and their intent).

These two types – ‘Guru’ and ‘Educator’ – originate from a wonderful Russell Ackoff quote that I shared some time back.

Here goes:

‘Guru’ book: ‘Educator’ book:
Billed as a ‘new’ idea that “changes everything”! Modestly recognises and builds on what’s already been achieved but, importantly, adding much wisdom.
Claimed by the author(s) as (mainly) their own brilliant discovery. Humble recognition of past giants, and their work.
Narrowly drawn – to solve the supposed problem. Wide, and general – offering self-reflection rather than solutions.
A panacea, presented as if some new world order is coming! Caveats and clarifications, usually relating to systems and people.
Presented within a 2 x2 grid (or other such framework) to show that it is all so simple. Recognition that it is complex and multi-dimensional.
The book merely flogs the same material as in the earlier ‘best-selling Harvard Business Review’ (HBR) article (i.e. the same thing, just massively padded out). There isn’t a separate HBR article and book!

The author’s aim isn’t to top the ‘management books’ hit parade.

Gives advice on how to implement their solution – perhaps with a step by step plan and/or a self-assessment checklist. Provides thoughts on further reading, exploration and self-education.
Includes chapters on carefully curated ‘Case Studies’ of organisations that have (apparently) magically transformed themselves. Warts and all consideration of its applicability and usefulness.
Does not seek out or, worse, ignores problematic counters to the idea. Openly explores criticisms and scenarios that don’t appear to fit.
…the narrow idea expands into some management methodology and becomes a cult (complete with consultants offering their ‘thought leadership’ services)…for a few years…

…until the next book comes out!

…requests further work to move ‘our’ combined thinking further.

…the funny (or sad?) thing is that there is usually much that could be of value within the guru’s idea…but their choice of presentation conceals the kernel from its true long term potential…and can do much harm.


1. I reckon there’s probably a link between the two columns in this post and the three book types in my previous post.

2. Of course the table represents two extreme ends of a spectrum: A given book is likely to tend towards one end…but may not display every ‘quality’ imagined above…blimey – if it DID then it would either be bloody awful or bloody brilliant!

3. A book that, for me, sits in the left hand column (and sits ‘on the surface’ per the last post) is ‘The Balanced Scorecard’…the ink is drying on a post that explains. Watch this space 🙂

6 thoughts on “Books – Part 2: “There’s a book coming out…”

  1. Can’t wait to read your Balanced Scorecard post. I am saddened that people continually fall for this ‘improvement’ measure.

    My wife works somewhere where this has been implemented and the whole lot is a bunch of cheating, lies and misrepresentation.

    Everyone wants ‘green’ so you have an organization where the managers deliberately lie to their selves to convince their selves they are performing!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. balanced scorecard! huzzah! It’s been YEARS thankfully that i’ve heard that.
    My VERY second post was on it, and i couldn’t be bothered offering a reasoned rebuttal, just mainly saying that i wouldn’t pzz on it if it was on fire.
    I’ve grown since then.
    So i’m looking forward to your more reasoned and useful piece than the one i couldn’t be bothered doing.

    I like your side by side comparison above, but it’s odd, i LOVE the guru approach!. I’m a total sucker for 2×2 grids. I know I’m wrong but show me anything that can be summarised on an index card and I’M THERE

    My most favourite current management book, as an aside, is “the stupidity paradox”, about how stupidity runs RIOT through organisations. I highly recommend it.
    there is a good post about it here

    Sample sentence from book “By ignoring the many uncertainties, contradictions and downright illogical claims that are rife at work, people are able to ensure that things run relatively smoothly. We often value convenience over confronting the inconvenient truth.”
    Which is similar to what youre saying about how good management books address this directly.
    Anyway, recommend it, its dead entertaining and informative.


    • I’m currently reading, ‘I Want You To Cheat’ by John Seddon. It’s really interesting to see how his thinking has developed since 1992.

      Even Seddon has a handy 2×2 grid to describe the difference between work we want and work we react to. The grid has a wall in it to help make the point you can’t just document the process for everytime something goes wrong. It suggests looking into why things go wrong rather than absorb the failure into the process…


  3. One characteristic that often applies to both types is that the title is catchy. I’m told that unless they are self-publishing, authors don’t have total control over the book’s title. Publishers choose titles based on their ability to end up near the top in word searches on Amazon.

    And, yes, add my vote to the Can’t Wait to Read About Balanced Scorecard contingent.


  4. Well another profound offering from the squire (in training to be a king?)

    Left hand side books are aplenty and represent a regressive analysis
    Right hand side books are rarities and represent attempts at progressive synthesis

    My latest read that I should have read sometime back
    Locke, R. R., & Spender, J.-C. (2011). Confronting managerialism: How the business elite and their schools threw our lives out of balance. London, United Kingdom: Zed Books.

    Extract p. 32

    The transformed life of one management expert, H. Thomas Johnson, illustrates the practical consequences of this intellectual revolution . . .

    Right hand side books often need to be read more than once

    Latest read book

    Homo Deus by Farari
    Now is this a Right or left side read?


  5. Correction to the author above Farari should be Harari

    Harari, Y. N. (2011). Sapiens: A brief history of mankind. London, United Kingdom: Vintage Books.
    Harari, Y. N. (2016). Homo deus: A brief history of tomorrow. London, United Kingdom: Harvill Secker.

    Hit F instead of H
    FGH and JKL are the only QWERTY keys in alphabetical order

    Remember the Keyboard layout was designed to control the human operator, to stop the levers from the typewriter from jamming which affected efficiency, unjamming keys take time!

    Today we still use the same keyboard layout, even on an iPad!

    Institutions are just that! They are beliefs!
    McCann, L. (2016). ‘Management is the gate’ – but to where? Rethinking Robert McNamara’s ‘career lessons’, Management & Organizational History, 11(2), 166-188. doi:10.1080/17449359.2015.1098547

    Body counts or their equivalent are still alive and well in my world!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s