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.

Footnotes:

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 🙂

Books – Part 1: The typical book store

how-to-read-a-bookHave you ever thought about the types of ‘management books’ out there?

I wrote a post a bit back on three ‘depths of transformation’:

  • ‘On the surface’;
  • ‘Under the skin’; and
  • ‘In the DNA’.

If you walked into the ‘management’ section of a large book shop, examined the selection on offer and then categorised them according to depth of transformation…

…I guess1 that you’d find books in something like the following 100:10:1 ratio:


100 ‘On the surface’ self-help style books filled with loads of methods and tools. The book shop shelves buckle under the weight of these – they are very easily written…by almost anyone! (I’m looking at half a dozen such books on my own shelf right now).

Many (most? …all?) ‘Lean Six Sigma’ books sit here.


10 ‘Under the skin’ books on principles. Much harder to write because they need a very sound basis from which to build…but they don’t really tackle the management system and, importantly, how (and how not) to intervene2.

‘Lean Thinking’ by Womack and Jones is, to me, a classic example.

‘The Goal’ by Goldratt probably sits about here too.


‘In the DNA’ book on management’s thinking and behaviours. This is where the true value resides. These are the gems, where the management system is truly opened up for what it is.

Here’s a random list of (what I consider to be) some3 classic ‘In the DNA’ books4:

– Deming: ‘The New Economics’

– ‘Ackoff’s Best: His classic writings on management’

– Seddon: ‘Freedom from Command and Control’

– Rother: ‘Toyota Kata’; and

– Womack: ‘Gemba Walks’ – a retrospective look at the ‘Lean’ thing in a humble attempt to move from ‘Under the skin’ to ‘In the DNA’.

What ‘In the DNA’ books do you have on your shelf?

Footnotes:

1. Guessing: I realise that I am falling foul of my own criticism – that of expressing an opinion, rather than dealing with facts…and I suppose that I could carry out the exercise in question…but, in this instance, I’m okay with a playful guess 🙂

2. How to intervene: Sure, these book ‘tell you what to do’…but that’s different to making successful interventions!

For the avoidance of doubt, I think that ‘Lean Thinking’ and ‘The Goal’ are both useful books…but (as with most ‘under the skin’ type books) they are so easily abused by management stuck in their ‘command and control’ comfort bubble, mapping what they read onto their current world views (rather than changing them).

3. In the DNA books: I’ve limited my list to a handful. Also, most of the authors I’ve chosen have written more than one book that I see as fitting into this category.

4. Peter Scholtes: I’d note that ‘The Leaders Handbook’ is an interesting mix of all three depths…but most definitely based within the DNA.