Anti-Books vs. Silver Bullets

cover of trhe book The Halo Effect by Phil RosenzweigAnti-Books are books that counter the ever-popular silver-bullet books on popular management. Anti-books don’t present magic formulas. They don’t offer easy solutions to complex and difficult problems. They tell you what you need to know instead of what you want to know. Things like:

  • Creating demand is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort. And it takes some luck.
  • Business is not science. “Rigorous” research in management is an oxymoron. Just because some companies succeeded using a “focused” strategy does not mean a focused strategy leads to success.
  • Good strategies don’t often fail because of poor execution. Phil Rosenzweig (author of The Halo Effect) says, “Whenever someone says, ‘We have the right strategy, we just need to execute better.’ I make sure to take an extra-close look at the strategy.”

If you have read any of the numerous management books by famous professors, business gurus and celebrity CEOs perhaps you’ve been pumped up and excited for a brief time, only to be disappointed when their magic solution didn’t quite translate to your situation.

If you are, like me, something of a skeptic then perhaps the idea of simple, timeless universal formulas for success presented in books like In Search of Excellence, Built To Last, Good to Great, and Blue Ocean Strategy – to name a few – seemed rather simplistic to begin with. That’s why I call them silver bullet books.

Silver bullets hypnotize us with simple anecdotes, pleasant stories, and pretty charts. They’re fluffed up with frameworks and paint-by-number recipes. They impress us with the amount of data collected, the breadth of research, or the simplicity of the solution.

If only it were that easy. Follow this plan. Take these seven steps. Use this model. Toss that fish. Move that cheese. Pivot, pivot, pivot. And surely global dominance will be yours…

It is not that easy. Business has never been easy. Today it is even less so.

Anti-Books do not often achieve the wide acclaim and blogospheric trajectories of silver-bullet books. They force you to examine your own ideas rather than focus on the next shiny object. Shiny objects are the bane of business and, by their nature, silver bullets are very, very shiny.

Do yourself a favor. Get off the silver-bullet bandwagon. It’s too crowded there, anyway. Here are a few anti-books that I like:

  • The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
  • Demand (specifically the chapter on Launch) by Adrian Slywotzky
  • Fooled by Randomness (and Anti-Fragile) by Nassim Taleb
  • What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul