"How to Read a Business Best-Seller" really touches a nerve for those of us who write business books. Being both an investment banker and an author, I find that the question of conflict of interest is ever present. But I decided that eliminating all traces of conflict took some of the personality, spirit, and individual insight from a manuscript. I now identify every company where a conflict is possible, specifying personal involvement and financial relationships.
The author replies: Mr. Smith's analogy between business consultants who write management books and physicians who publish research findings is false. Medical research is subject to the discipline of scientific method and to rigorous peer review, all in advance of publication. These procedures usually serve pretty well to protect the medical community, including patients, from the quackery of cooked data. Alas, no such institutional safeguards operate in the management book trade. It must rely on humble reviewers to protect the consumer.
Mr. Smith's remarks are well taken in one respect, however: there's often no better way to find out how businesses really work than to ply the consultant's trade. Thus the conflicts of interest I wrote about pose a clear moral choice for consultant-writers: to face the conflict or not to face it. Mr. Kuhn's book, To Flourish Among Giants: Creative Management for Mid-sized Firms, does in fact face it. One can only hope his forthrightness is rewarded in the marketplace.
Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.