The Bard Press Essays
Week 6 – March 10, 2021
There is one trend I talk about more with authors than any other:
The books we read for business are not really about business anymore.
Consider these classic titles:
- The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard
- In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman
- MegaTrends by John Nasbitt
- Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson
- Influence by Robert Cialdini
- The Goal by Eli Goldratt and Jeff Cox
- Competitive Advantage by Michael Porter
- The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
- Out of the Crisis by Edward Deming
- Leading Change by John Kotter
All these books represent the class of business books that were published in the 1980’s. The first three titles on the list were all published in 1982 and kicked off a new trend of accessible mainstream business books. A new and growing class of middle managers needed a way to learn about topics that mattered to the businesses they work for that didn’t requires textbooks or an MBA.
Forty years later, we are still impacted by those insights into small business, marketing, strategy, operations and change management. The mental models these books created exist now in job titles, commonly used vocabulary and a host of other framing about how we think the business world works.
Now consider this list:
- StrengthsFinders 2.0 by Gallup
- Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
- Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
- Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- Quiet by Susan Cain
- Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
- The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
These are the high impact books of the last ten years. These books represent a pool of advice wholly different from their late 20th century predecessors. They center around the individual with emphasis on meaning, power, motivation, and self-awareness.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is a good example for this shifted emphasis. The book was published in 2010 and it advocated for a new set of work practices. The book questioned everything the 20th century organizational business book extolled. The value of growth, planning, work ethic, and meetings are all reframed. Good is the enemy of great says Jim Collins; good is good enough says these authors. “Hire managers of one,” they say.
For me, the popularity of these books is based in work, in the general sense of the word—”an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” We have more responsibility than ever for our own output and our own success. Our slash careers having us freelancing, moonlighting, organizing, or leading in formal and informal settings.
For the last several years, readers have told me they choose books that can have an impact across multiple aspects of their lives. They are trying to be more efficient with that time. The advice of productivity experts supports a spiritual practice. Deep research from social work informs their creativity and parenting. Entrepreneurship impacts corporate R&D and community crowdfunding. These books give us an opportunity to be more effective in areas of our life inside and outside of the office.
There will always be books about business, but observing this shift in the books we read tells us how work has changed and the growing desire we all have to improve the work we do.
For authors, this means thinking hard about the framing for your book and it can be hard to generalize, but consider these things. The focus turns towards the individual. The topics emphasize mindsets, interactions, roles and personas. These shifts allow the new learnings to be applied in a wider range of situations that the reader might find themselves in. The new self-help might be helping readers become more self-aware.