10 Overrated Business Books (and What to Read Instead)
1. The Innovator's Dilemma2. In Search of Excellence3. Solution Selling4. The Long Tail5. The Singularity is Near6. Reengineering the Corporation7. Jack Welch & the G.E. Way8. Atlas Shrugged9. The Wealth of Nations10. First, Break All the Rules
Some business books become classics not because they're insightful but because they reinforce conventional business wisdom. Here's my list of overrated classics along with my suggestions about what's a more useful read.--Geoffrey James
What was intended to be a theory of why companies succeed or fail has now become a catch-all buzzword ("disruptive innovation") that can be stretched to justify any business strategy whatsoever.
Read this instead: "The Soft Edge," because it explains why innovation, to be sustainable, must be tempered with altruism.
Apparently the search needed to go on for a little longer, because the vast majority of the "excellent" firms highlighted in this book performed miserably in the years after the book's publication.
Read this instead: "The Dilbert Principle," because it's the world's most accurate description what goes on inside large corporations.
Even though the "scripted questioning" methods in this book comprise the bulk of every sales training course, according to one of the co-authors, these scripts never worked and have actually made salespeople less effective.
Read this instead: "What Great Salespeople Do," because it explains why effective selling is mostly story-swapping.
The Internet was supposed to have a positive impact on the culture business (music, books, periodicals, video) by the creation of niche markets. What's happened instead is that only mega-hits make any money.
Read this instead: "Free Ride," because it explains how government failure to enforce copyright law has enabled parasites (including big companies like Google) to make money on stolen intellectual property.
Every five years for the past 30 years, somebody predicts that machines will be as smart as humans "within 20 years." However, all of today's AI applications use the techniques invented 30 years ago and there's no sign of any breakthrough.
Read this instead: "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," because the chapter on Alchemy tells you everything you need to know about how myth can drive science.
The entire premise--that a company is a machine--is ridiculous because you can't repair, much less "reengineer," a machine while it's actually running. The term "reengineering" became weasel talk for "layoffs," thereby putting a veneer of strategy over the reality of management failure.
Read this instead: "Nickel and Dimed," because it illustrates what the working world in the U.S. is like after decades of "reengineering."
This apotheosis of the "heroic CEO" genre fails to point out that GE is an entirely unique organization and Jack Welch was an idiosyncratic leader. While GE's success under Welch is interesting, what worked for him probably won't work for you.
Read this instead: " Crazy Bosses," because these are the people you're actually likely to encounter in the real world of corporate life.
This preachy sanctimonious screed against social responsibility has been hijacked by the .1 percent (and the wannabe .1 percent) to justify a return to laissez faire capitalism along with the deconstruction of the social safety net.
Read this instead: "The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible," because it describes exactly what the U.S. was really like when laissez faire ruled the roost.
The sum total of what most people know about this book is the concept that the "invisible hand" of economics can solve any and all problems more efficiently than any human agency.
Read this instead: "The Wealth of Nations," because if you actually read it, you realize that the "invisible hand" was mentioned in passing and that the author actually supported labor unions and government action against monopolies.
The definitive guide to becoming the kind of jackass boss who drives the smart employees away while encouraging the toadies and the fellow jackasses to remain.
Read this instead: "The No Asshole Rule," because it explains how to create a workplace where people actually enjoy their work.