In the Wall Street Journal, former Ogilvy & Mather CEO Kenneth Roman recently reviewed the new bestseller-to-be from Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths To Work. If the title sounds vaguely familiar, it should be - the new book builds on the same exact script as Mr. Buckingham's earlier book (Now, Discover Your Strengths). As described by Mr. Roman, the new book sounds like a self-improvement handbook, full of tests, drills, plans, surveys and, of course, links back to a special website called Simply Strengths for even more tests and plans. The last paragraph of the review is what got me thinking that things need to change within the business book category:
"Mr. Buckingham seems sincere in his desire to help people. But this is less a book than a business. His own strengths lie in the time-honored methods of many successful self-help entrepreneurs, who turn their thinking into brands that encompass book publishing, speaking engagements, training and development programs - and an online clearinghouse for the entire enterprise..."
Much as the Hollywood blockbuster machine continues to crank out a steady pablum of comic book hero action flicks, teen movies, horror-slasher films (are we up to Saw III already?) and formulaic love stories, the business book publishing machine also cranks out a steady diet of the same types of books, over and over -- and over -- again. (Yeah, yeah, I know there's a long tail of content, but where is it within the business book category?)
Which leads to an inevitable question... What's the last business book that you read that wasn't:
(1) a mega-bestseller (i.e. Good to Great) or a spin-off of a previous bestseller (i.e. Good to Great for Nonprofits);
(2) a breathless survey of cool management practices at cool company X (i.e. Starbucks, Google, Jet Blue);
(3) a "get rich quick" book (anything by Robert Kiyosaki);
(4) a consulting mumbo-jumbo book from a consultant trying to drum up business (these books include lots of really clever acronyms and really clever diagrams, but they're always a bit snooze-inducing);
(5) a list of 7 highly effective whatevers;
(6) a "How I did it" tell-all book from a celebrity CEO like Donald Trump or Carly Fiorina;
(7) a cute "little book" like Who Moved My Cheese? or Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun that can be fully digested in about 30 minutes while hanging upside down in an airport lounge (curiously, these books are always written by a Ph.D.);
(8) The collected writings and/or musings of a management legend like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, or Peter Drucker.
In the worst case scenario, of course, the likes of The Donald and Robert Kiyosaki team up to write a book together! (In the next-worst case scenario, Robert Kiyosaki asks his wife to carry on the family book franchise!)
Every week, I scan the business bestseller lists, and frankly speaking, I don't see much -- ever -- that really interests me. Yeah, I pick up the occasional Jim Cramer mega-bestseller (Boo-yah Skeedaddy!), but to be honest, I don't read much of the bestseller drivel that makes it to the tops of the chart unless I get it for free. (Malcolm Gladwell is an exception - I'm willing to pay full-freight for his books!) If I'm at the Strand, I may buy one of these books for $1 if I spot them on one of those cool outside book carts, but I feel a bit guilty about that. (not guilty about paying $1, but guilty about actually reading one of these books!)
What do you think? How can the business book category become more innovative?
Full disclosure: I'm currently working on a book about innovation called "Endless Innovation" -- I already have the website, the next step is the t-shirt and the DVD!