Here is an article written by Geoffrey James for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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Most business books are mediocre; some are even useful. However, there are a few business books that are so idiotic in concept that it’s incredible that they got published. And there are also a few business books that got popular by encouraging toxic corporate and management behaviors.
This post contains my personal list of the worst business books I have ever seen or read. Some are famous, others obscure, but all of them are, IMHO, first class turkeys that would have been better left unpublished.
[All ten were on The New York Times bestseller list. Here are his first five. To read the complete article with his comments, click here.]
#10: Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for the Business Revolution (1993)
James Champy and Michael Hammer
The reengineering concept caught on like wildfire and when the dust settled, analysts and researchers concluded that few, if any, of the so-called reengineering efforts had a beneficial effect on the corporations that attempted them. Meanwhile, reengineering immediately became weasel-speak for downsizing, giving it respectability as a corporate strategy. Even today, companies use the term “reengineering” to justify eviscerating companies in order to jack up the stock price, while producing little or no lasting value
#9: Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership (1996)
Laurie Beth Jones
The real-life Jesus espoused a communal lifestyle with no private ownership of property. For over a thousand years, Christianity forbade the lending of money at interest, which is the soul of the business world. Since there’s no real meeting point between actual Christianity and the business world, all this book did was confirm the notion — already common among the ranks of top management — that the CEO should be treated like a god.
#8: The Fifth Generation: Artificial Intelligence and Japan’s Computer Challenge to the World (1983)
Edward A. Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck
This now-obscure text described how the Japanese government was investing hundreds of millions of dollars to create machines that could think and encouraged the U.S. to do the same. Japan’s AI investment turned out to be a monumental failure that consumed several billion dollars, channeling much of Japan’s high tech community into a technological dead end. Similar amounts of money invested in the United States (mostly in the form of private equity) similarly went down the toilet. Almost 30 years later, and strong AI (i.e. machines that emulate human intelligence) is no closer than it was back then.
#7: Radical E: From GE to Enron Lessons on How to Rule the Web (2001)
Joel Kurtzman and Glenn Rifkin
The authors must have excreted square pieces of adobe when Enron imploded a few months after they published this high tech manifesto. However, it wouldn’t have mattered much, since the book was full of recycled dot-com bromides and strategies that mostly didn’t pan out as the Internet outpaced the ability of most named companies to take advantages of the trends.
#6: Countdown Y2K: Business Survival Planning for the Year 2000 (1998)
Peter De Jager and Richard Bergeon
The Y2K turnover generated a slew of books, but this one was responsible for much of the Y2K overspending inside thousands of business. While Y2K bugs did exist, they were never a major threat requiring “survival”, as evidenced by the complete lack of the worldwide disasters that the authors predicted. In the end, companies wasted tens of billions of dollars on unneeded hardware and software upgrades, creating a dip in computer purchasing in the following years. That, combined with the crash of the dot-coms, helped propel the economy into a recession.
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Geoffrey James has sold and written hundreds of features, articles and columns for national publications including Wired, Men’s Health, Business 2.0, SellingPower, Brand World, Computer Gaming World, CIO, The New York Times and (of course) BNET. He is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite (translated into seven languages and selected by four book clubs), and The Tao of Programming (widely quoted on the Web as a “canonical book of computer humor”.) He was also co-host of Funny Business, a program on New England’s largest all-talk radio station and has given seminars and keynotes at numerous corporations.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
Obviously, that is a question that each person who is thinking about earning an M.B.A. degree must answer. For some, the total cost is prohibitive. For others, their current position and (probable) career opportunities do not require it and the ROI is problematic, at best. For still others, there are family obligations that preclude any additional ones.
Here are some considerations:
1. Become a part-time student, enrolling in business courses (e.g. at a local community or junior college) to fill gaps in one’s formal education. Marketing, for example, or strategic planning.
2. Become a part-time student, enrolling in business courses offered by a university that awards the M.B.A. degree. Here in Dallas, there are lots of options that include University of Dallas, SMU, UTD, UTA, and the University of North Texas.
3. Become a part-time student, enrolling in business courses offered by alternative universities such as Amber and Phoenix.
4. Explore e-learning options available online. Check out this Web site:
5. Before enrolling in any courses, check out a few of the books suggested for Further Reading. All are available in a paperbound edition. Note: Do not be deterred by the titles. They really are very well-written.
Several years ago I conducted a morning workshop for senior managers of a major corporation whose headquarters is in Las Colinas. A woman came up to me afterward, thanked me for the workshop, and then said she needed some advice. She was in her mid-40s. Her husband and grown-up children had been urging her to enroll, part-time, in an M.B.A. program at the University of Dallas and her employer would pay most of the costs. “Here’s my dilemma. I’ll be 52 when I earn the degree.” Here’s my response: “When you are 52, would you rather have the degree or not have the M.B.A.?” She called me recently to tell me she had just received the degree.
To paraphrase Henry Ford, “whether you think the M.B.A. degree is worth it or not worth it, you’re probably right.”
For Further Reading:
The Ten-Day MBA (Third Edition): A Step-By-Step Guide To Mastering the Skills Taught In America’s Top Business Schools
Steven A. Silbiger
What the Best MBAs Know: How to Apply the Greatest Ideas Taught in the Best Business Schools
Complete MBA for Dummies
Dr. Kathleen Allen Ph.D. and Peter Economy
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MBA Basics (Second Edition)
MBA In A Day: What You Would Learn At Top-Tier Business Schools (If You Only Had The Time!)
MBA in a Box: Practical Ideas from the Best Brains in Business
Joel Kurtzman, Glenn Rifkin, and Victoria Griffith
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob