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 Some are famous, others obscure, but all of them are, IMHO, first class turkeys that would have been better left unpublished.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.