Trash These Books! LOOKING FOR MANAGEMENT WISDOM? YOU WON'T FIND A SHRED OF IT IN THIS CRITIC'S HALL OF SHAME.
(FORTUNE Small Business) – Some business books stink from the moment of conception, like those purporting to extract management wisdom from children's literature or Star Trek episodes (or both). That said, it is no impressive feat to identify a business book that is merely stupid or badly written (see Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson). In my mind, a book can't reach the height of utter awfulness unless it aspires to more from the start. So to separate the bad from the merely tolerable, I've taken three factors into account: quality of ideas, quality of presentation, and impact. Having read these books, I propose a new convention in the publishing trade: Somebody ought to offer the following authors serious money if they promise not to write again.
--Jesus, CEO by Laurie Beth Jones (Hyperion, 1995). This book manages to insult both management skills and Christianity. Its simplistic "takeaways" from the life of Jesus belittle his true meaning. I mean, please: "He was a turnaround specialist" who was "willing to do an End Run." By the way, there's a book for those seeking lessons from Jesus. We like to call it the Bible.
--The Popcorn Report by Faith Popcorn (HarperBusiness, 1991). Think of futurist Faith Popcorn as the antithesis of Peter Drucker. Drucker, the preeminent business thinker, identifies real change and advises leaders how to respond. Popcorn concocts stories about the trends that define our lives by clipping articles from the likes of Elle magazine and Yoga Journal and by watching sitcoms. The result: a book that goes out on some short, thick limbs. Popcorn says that people are choosing to "cocoon" or stay at home--an insight that's been cyclically correct since, um, people lived in caves. She finds a coming craze for better food and for people to appear younger. To up the irritation quotient, Popcorn packages her insights by forming new word-combos such as egonomics and down-aging.
--Iacocca by Lee Iacocca with William Novack (Bantam, 1984). Looking for a thoughtful, instructive memoir in which a major automotive executive brilliantly explains the inner workings of a new industrial organization? Try My Years With General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan. This book, on the other hand, should be called "Iacocci," since it begins and ends with the pronoun I. See Lee launch the Mustang. Watch him save Chrysler. View snapshots of him escorting Sophia Loren. This self-serving campfire story did nobody a favor by launching a new form of business coverage: the CEO as celebrity. Unfortunately, it also paved the way for everyone from "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap to presidential hopeful H. Ross Perot to become household names.
--Dow 36,000 by James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett (Times Books, 1999). Given recent events, the authors should retitle the paperback version Dow 36,000 (Give or Take 26,000). The authors, it seems, did extensive scientific research, thought deeply about their findings, then made it all up.
--Fish! by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen (Hyperion, 2000). This 107-page infomercial for the power of positive thinking tracks the tale of a dispirited worker who takes inspiration from the irreverent employees of Seattle's Pike Fish Market. This parable pounds home obvious points about creating a satisfying work life through a clumsily written, saccharine-sweet story. Bottom line: in the knowledge economy, wisdom doesn't scale--nor does it have scales.
Tom Ehrenfeld's The Startup Garden: How Growing a Business Grows You will be published by McGraw-Hill this year. He hopes people like it.