Stupid management books (from what Andy Pettigrew calls the “Heathrow School of Management”) are irritating. It seems to me that the more moronic the book, the more it sells. And if you think they are irritating as a reader, imagine what they are to serious academics.
Head of this trend has been “Who moved my cheese”, a leadership tale with mice scurrying around, spouting wisdom about being open to new ideas. Now there is a copycat (copyrat?), I suppose because the author was open to new ideas, called “Squirrel, Inc.” by Stephen Denning. The Economist has given this “book” the treatment it deserves:
ONCE upon a time there was a lemming called Stephen. He was a very clever lemming: top rodents would ask for his advice before setting off to lead their fellows on long and difficult journeys. One day, however, Stephen woke up with a start to find that the left-hand side of his brain, the part he used to analyse his fellow rodents’ problems, had gone completely dead. He was reduced to using something that he hardly knew existed: the right-hand side, the part that allows lemmings to do wildly dotty things without rhyme or reason.
And it was then that it came to him in a flash: he would help to save the whole lemming race by writing a book. It would be a short book, but it would look like a long one because it would have lots of blank pages and many quotations in big type. It would be an allegory about animals, because Spencer had done one about mice that had been a huge hit, and George, of course, had transformed the genre into literature with his tales of life down on the farm. […]
The irritating thing, of course, is that books like these are being read by the management meatballs of this world, to quote P.J. O’Rourke. Incidentally, I suspect The Economist’s Global Executive page, which among other things summarizes noteworthy journal articles and books, is a holding pen for stuff that for some reason or other didn’t make it into the magazine. There are nuggets to be found there, as the rodent review shows.
But the question remains: Why do stupid and simplistic management books – books that the thoughtful and well grounded managers I tend to talk to wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot grounded earth excavator – sell so well?