Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Business Books -- The Allure of BS

I was looking at Amazon's Daily Kindle Deal and found a book from Seth Godin.  If you don't know Seth Godin, Seth is a marketing guy who writes all sorts of short, fun, books for business about selling, image, and the "new" economy.   His books look good and have ideas that are easily digestible  

But are they any good?  Who knows.

I remember reading several business books years ago.   I was telling my dad about the strategies professed within and how awesome they were.    My dad looked at me with a sort of amusement that said, "silly kid, if only you knew."  

After 16 years of a "real job", I now understand the look my dad gave me.   Business books are essentially self-help books for corporations.   The books that have "systems" that promise to help companies reinvent themselves, attract new customers, move themselves into a new realm, are not unlike the ones that tell individuals how to win friends and influence people.   Then there are other books that repackage centuries old advice as new material, essentially selling you common sense.  

There is nothing inherently bad about all of this, except the fact that for companies, the true answer to success or  failure is seldom changing to meet the model of a book.  And many companies that embrace a certain book or set of books as the answer to their problems seem to embrace a particular book and its ideals only as long as necessary, and sometimes not even for the time it takes to promote it.

I remember a particular instance when my own company embraced a business book years ago.  They rolled out the strategy within the book in a series of meetings.  I read the book and was shocked to see that in a company wide meeting to discuss the book, the message had been skewed to essentially ignore the main point of the book and ultimately go against what it said.  When I questioned a trainer who had helped develop the program to present the strategy, I was told "well, the book was a jumping off point, we put our own spin on it."

If you're going to spin something to the point of ignoring its central thesis, why bother at all?

The problem with business books is the same as self help books.  Ultimately one strategy never works for a company any better than it does an individual.  Companies, like people, are messy enterprises.  Some succeed for obvious reasons.  Others seem to succeed in spite of themselves.   Ultimately, if you get too bogged down in trying to embrace the strategies of business books instead of simply figuring out what techniques and strategies work for you or your company, you're going to wind up chasing easy answers that simply don't exist.

So I still occasionally peek at business books, just like I do self-help books, hoping for a bit of something new or something old said better that I can apply to my own life.    But just like the self-help books, I don't see any one of them as being the answer to all that ails me.  

Oh, and here's that book from Seth Godin that spurred this thought:

Monday, August 29, 2011

College Dreams

When I was younger I used to have a dream about a house that was a bit like a light house, in that it was circular and tall.  You'd have to climb all the way up to the top and then climb down into it.  

Never understood that one.

Now I have a different dream.   I'm back in college.  I assume it is Boston University, but each time I'm in a building or dorm that is not familiar to me at all. I sometimes find a person I know,  but I'm always alone, and typically feeling like I've missed a class.

Last night was no different.   I was in my dorm room, where I left my stuff, went to the bathroom, came back, and found out that I was suddenly on a different floor, I thought, but I wasn't sure what locker I had, what my room number was, or where my keys are.

The dreams are disturbing in that they keep happening and I have no idea what they mean.  Does it refer to my need to go back to school?  The feeling of being lost?  My inability to challenge myself?   Missing those days?  Not missing those days?   Being ill prepared?  

Maybe one day I'll find out.  Do they hide clues somewhere in your dreams?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twit Fits

I once was addicted to facebook.   I’m not proud of it, it just happened.   I’d spend hours chatting up old friends, trying to build up my list to reach some magical mystical number of 500 friends.   But then I realized the magic was gone.   There are only so many stories of people visiting their uncle in Iowa that you can click “like” on before you need something harder.    So I turned to Twitter.  

Twitter seems pretty stupid at first.   You have 140 characters to say anything to the world.  140 characters isn’t enough to document a sneeze.   How can you work with that.   And I had like 14 followers, and most of them were friends who joined and quickly abandoned it.  

Seven months ago I started looking at the “Trends” on Twitter, a list of topics that are currently showing up in Twitter.   I noticed Zac Efron, Taye Diggs, and Huckleberry Finn (which had just been released in a censored edition) were all trending at the same time.   Suddenly I had this brain fart:   

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Day of School Tomorrow

Tomorrow my daughter starts fourth grade after two false starts.  Mother nature decided to give the kids two days off by knocking down trees and out power, phones, and Internet.   And you can't have school unless kids have access to Facebook.

My daughter asked me tonight to read her a story.   I knew it was a stalling tactic designed to squeeze a few more minutes out before bedtime, but I agreed.   Ever since she was little I'd been reading or making up stories for her.  There was no greater pleasure than making up a ridiculous story in which one stuffed animal would beat the snot out another or telling a good poop joke to have my daughter rolling with laughter.