Home The Case Against Business Books for Entrepreneurs

The Case Against Business Books for Entrepreneurs

As we recently argued, entrepreneurs should write. It’s not simply that the act of writing hones your writing skills. It helps develop better reading and thinking skills as well.

But as serial entrepreneur Rob Walling argues, it may be time for entrepreneurs to stop reading. Well, to stop reading business books, that is.

“Please recommend some good business books for a first-time entrepreneur.” It’s a common question asked on various startup Q&A sites. And while learning from books can be incredibly valuable – particularly if your background is not in business and if this is your first startup venture – Walling contends there are several reasons why you should step away from the non-fiction bookshelves.

The Gladwell Effect

As Walling notes, every entrepreneur has read at least one book by authors Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin. And while these are can be entertaining reads, they aren’t particularly helpful. “The knowledge that you need 10,000 hours to master a subject, that certain trends become viral after the 412th person adopts it, or that you should make your product remarkable, is not going to help you launch. Nor will it save you a single minute during product development, or sell one more copy of your application.” There is no (or very limited) practical, easily implementable advice in these books.

The “Everyone is in the Fortune 500? Effect

If the “feel good” books won’t help, will more conventional business books, those full of case-studies and historical examples, be better? The problem with these books, according to Walling, is that they tend to focus on “how to build great companies” – great Fortune 500 companies. And oftentimes the models they point to really aren’t applicable for small, web-based startups. These books often feel unwieldy, full of examples and theories that are out-of-date. Walling quips, “This information would be helpful if I needed to generate a huge business plan to impress a business-school professor.”

The Information Overload Effect

Walling contends that as we consume more and more information, our ability to actually retain, synthesize and act on that information is decreasing. “For entrepreneurs,” he writes, “reading business books is the new television.”

No Business Books? Now What?

Walling isn’t arguing that entrepreneurs should ditch reading entirely. Rather, he argues that you need to make your reading really focused, rather than simply consuming the generalist business book genre. “Look for resources that provide actionable take-aways to improve your business and that focus on topics that are specifically relevant to your situation. You want laser-focused, just-in-time learning.”

Walling suggests tracking down books that will give you a full return on the time you invest in reading: books on topics like “Web Analytics in an Hour a Day,” “Always Be Testing,” “Web Design for ROI.”

He also suggests moving beyond reading about startups and actually work on your startup. Get cracking. Get coding. Once you get that process underway, you will have a more targeted set of questions that you can research and read about.

Photo credits: Flickr user austinevan

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