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May 02, 2007

What makes a business book great

by Josh Bernoff

Seth Godin says you should buy and read business books. Shockingly enough, I agree.

Yes, they are indeed the cheapest training you can get.

The thing I find interesting is the high degree of variability. There are three axes on which you can evaluate a business book:

1. Ideas. Does it have good ideas? A book without ideas is a catalog. May be good stuff in there, but it's hard to remember.

2. Real-world examples. Godin calls some of these books "overwritten brochures." Yup. It takes real research, which is work, to get examples to back up your ideas. One of my younger colleagues asked me today if the book was already written. If it was just words, sure, we could be done by now. It's the research that takes the time, but makes the book relevant.

3. Readability. Is it enjoyable to read? If not, I can see why people have trouble getting through it -- you should eat your vegetables, but not everybody wants to.

Many books do one or two of these well. Very few do all three. To change the world you need all three -- and changing the world, or at least how people think, is what makes a book catch fire.

The Tipping Point, The Long Tail, The Ultimate Question, and just about anything by Seth Godin are good on all three and they sell like mad. In fact, even if your examples are weak, if your storytelling is strong (and you're good at promoting) you'll do well.

All Charlene and I want is to be this good. A modest ambition.


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I like your three business book evaluation factors.

Ideas give you WHAT you could do differently.

Real-world examples show you WHO has already made it work for them.

Readability MOTIVATES you to get started.

But that still leaves you feeling hungry for more. You also need a fourth factor:

Do-ability shows you HOW you can get started doing it yourself.

It is getting started that is all important, not the idea in itself. Far too many business books do one, two or all of the first three, but then leave the reader clueless as to how to proceed.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

David Wheatley

Having just written a leadership book (50 DOs for Everyday Leadership) we went with practical tips based on experience at the cost of a great story - this makes it more of a usable reference than a fun read. I believe both are of value but trying to do both at the same time can blur the value of either. So read "What Got you here, won't get you there" get the CD version of "Good to Great" and have the 50 DOs as you everyday reference - but maybe I'm biased!

Mark Johnson

A couple more thoughts about what makes a business book good:
1.5) Structure -- it's important for the author of a book to have a created a model that can be applied in different areas. Just laying out good ideas can be confusing and is difficult to apply to a specific situation.
4) Paucity of words -- most business books are just too damn long and can be summarized in a paper or a chapter. If you don't have enough for a book, don't pretend. Or write a short, concise book.

I totally agree about examples. For one, they're great to have in your arsenal at meetings (it's hard to argue with an example of success at GE or MSFT!)

Liz Ellmann

I need business books that not only use US corporations as examples, but also Asian and European success stories. For profit examples as well as non-profit success stories would be helpful for me. With international communities, US-centric success stories don't allow learning from other models of best practice from other cultures.

In addition to what makes a good business book, what makes a good consultant working with a good book? I need a consultant who knows Good to Great and can work with an international staff meeting in Seattle in June. What is good criteria to use in choosing a consultant to work with Jim Collins' material?

John Lin

"Made to Stick" Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die - by Chip & Dan Heath is another great "business" book. It's been recently released earlier this year and is on the BusinessWeek Top 10 best sellers list.

Henrik Blunck

I agree fully with your criteria.

I would however add to the equation that a book has the clear advantage of always being handy. You can lay it down for a day when you have other tasks, or when you're not entirely "on fire" that very day.

When you have signed up for a webinar or a course, you can't just press the "Pause"-button, and wait for inspiration to hit you.

Just my 0.02$ on the matter.

Have a nice sunday. :-)


According to Seth Godin you should buy and read business books. It is absolutely right. Because they can give you good stuff and real-world examples. Here is some other new business book that will be giving information about how to achieve “respected authority” status in your own field.


I like reading books on business and marketing issues, I usually purchase these books at most discounted prices from various stores like Barnes&Noble, Books A million etc at Couponalbum.com...!!


Great insights. Thanks.

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