Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can success books be your model?

In the success literature, more and more we are seeing a examples of sports psychology, new age* platitudes, and biographies of people who successfully climbed corporate ladders. Some of it stretches isolated examples to mean too much. Just look at the self-help section of any Barnes & Noble. 

One thing I don't understand: a lot of the genre claims that money is not important. (Perhaps this is a revulsion against the Michael Korda philosophy of the 1980s.) Some can be summarized as: "Money doesn't matter... find your own definition of success… if you follow these principles the way that Joe Montana did, you will be rich like Warren Buffett."

A particular peeve of mine is writing that uses sports training examples and laudable incidents on the field to teach how to succeed in business. These analogies can be useful, but the connection is very, very thin. Success in business requires far different skills from those required to throw a ball well. It doesn't translate well. For example, football technology has hardly changed in a century. When it has, all competitors have simultaneous access to the same technology. In sports, the playing field is not continually changing shape, surface texture, slope, or softness. Players are not traded between teams mid-game.

"Game Rules" prohibit change. Sports stars don't need the ability to predict how the field shape will suddenly change. And even in sports, the old maxims don't apply. Everyone now works hard, so merely believing in oneself is no longer enough. To consistently win, one needs to want to win more than anyone else wants to win AND also must be extremely gifted. Similarly, in business many are doing their best, so having more heart, trying to "win one for the Gipper" is insufficient. Perhaps sports analogies can only be used for highly regulated industries such as utilities, which are not allowed to compete, but that would not be useful because sports is all about competition. 

Some of the books out there are valuable. We have profiled some of them in this blog. 

* Example: new Age philosophies of "find your path" and "listen to your heart" seem to mean "do whatever you want." Isn't that a return to a hunter-gatherer society? Is that beneficial to society in general? Shouldn't we should be working hard to fulfill human needs, for which humans will compensate us? People won't pay for really bad poetry, so I have opted out of poet as a career option. You heart might lead you to play XBOX all day, but can a revenue model come from that? 

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