Almost every day, I see a headline from a digital publication telling me what books I should read if I want to be "successful."
Too many of these lists tout themselves, and are likewise treated, as some sort of newfound key to a promised land. In my experience, a good book will have a few lessons; a special few will be profound.
I say this as someone who refers to these lists often. Full disclosure, I've written one myself. I'm also someone who pushes myself to read voraciously. In fact, I make it a point of reading a book every week. Not just because I like reading but I believe you need to have good regular input to be able to have a strong output.
Some of these recommended books might give you a warm feeling but they're likely not as helpful. So allow me to burst your bubble by giving a hard pass on four books you were probably told you must read:
1. The 4-Hour Work-Week by Tim Ferriss
Consider just Tim Ferriss' podcast. He records about 3-4 hours of content weekly. As his peers report--and is painfully obvious in his real-life behavior--the man is most likely working at least 40 hours, just like you and me.
Yes, I know the point is not literally about the four hours. If there's one valuable lesson hidden under the self-aggrandizing in his book, it's redefining "work." He considers it strictly as the kind of work we do reluctantly, or "busywork." Everything else--even if it's some form of billable, output-generating activity--passion projects are not "work." For Tim Ferriss, that might be his podcast or writing his next "4-Hour" book.
Sure, I'm all for "work smart." But if that's appealing to you as an excuse out of "working hard," then I have bad news. Especially if you're young or an entrepreneur, that's just not possible. Work smart and hard. Think about it this way: skip Ferriss' talk and just watch his walk. Invest in your passion the way he invests in his: himself.
2. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point introduces perspectives on deconstructing how fads become fads. It's interesting enough, but it's not a methodology--there's nothing really actionable about the core ideas of this book. It would probably be more appropriate to view this as a layman's peek into social anthropology rather than a business lesson.
Gladwell dresses up his core ideas nicely with interesting stories and cool-sounding social-science theories. But for entrepreneurs, leaders and marketers, the best strategy is never about breaking through the "viral" formula. Fads leave as quickly as they come. Success is found in being attentive to trends.
3. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
The experience of reading Sinek's book is like ordering a screwdriver online, paying for shipping, and then receiving it in an unnecessarily big and redundant amount of packaging. Sure, the tool is useful, but you wonder if you paid more for packaging than the product.
Sinek's idea of running a purpose-centric business is a good idea but he communicates it well enough in his TED Talk. The book is over 250 pages and $13. The video is free and under 20 minutes.
Generally, I advocate reading and learning as much as you can, whenever you can. But it seems like the publisher convinced Sinek that a business book has to look credibly long and the editor was told to shut up. Honestly, this book, like many of its ilk, is guilty of the same sort of shoddy padding.
4. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Let's be honest--and this is coming from someone who works in marketing--there are no "laws" in marketing. Immutable? That's bogus. For the sake of irony, I'll offer my own "immutable law": no set of rules or laws can ever do the marketing for you.
Admittedly, Ries and Trout offer some good lessons, but these are "rules of thumb" at best. We live in a time and work in an industry that is changing so fast, the idea of "laws" will only inhibit.
As a creative industry, we are frankly more like the circus than something so professionalized and driven by precedent like... well, law. But, like the circus, marketing takes skill, effort, talent, and collaboration to pull off the right way.
Marketing is all the stuff we make up to create value for businesses and brands by creating value for customers. Marketing is a creative "what-if" business, thriving on originality and invention--not blind adherence to laws.
The point isn't to urge you to literally avoid these books but to read carefully and critically. We're only fooling ourselves if we believe a book will give us the answers. It should lead to better and more questions.