September 16, 2004
News & Opinion: #2: Examples are too well-known
There is a tension inherent in much of business book literature and I certainly felt it while writing The Medici Effect. It is this: In order to tell a compelling story and provide convincing arguments the examples used must be at once fresh yet also feel relevant. The problem is that those examples that feel relevant are often those that are well-known and written to death about. Since Dell, Southwest Airlines, 3M and so on have done well it is tempting to force-fit ones principles, guidelines, strategies etc. to those companies. Not only can this appear contrived at times (and thus diminsh the veracity of the book's message) it can also kill the readers interest. The problem is that even a causal business book reader will have read about these companies multiple times and will have either A) already formed an opinion about why these companies were successful or B) become a bit tired of seeing the same names pop up all the time. Obstacle B is tough to overcome even if the author is providing a very different way of looking at an old example since the reader has to finish the chapter/section/paragraph to see the authors point. With The Medici Effect the manuscript always seemed tighter and more punchy when the examples used were fresh. People who are known within specific intersections such Marcus Samuelsson (global cooking), Richard Garfield (collectible card games), Deborah Prothrow-Stith (public health and violence-prevention), Howard Berke (serial entrepreneur) but not outside of them always provided the best stories. In cases where I used well-known examples it was imperative that something unique was added. So instead of focusing on how Richard Branson got Virgin off the ground, The Medici Effect tells the story of how musician/composer Mike Oldfield created the path-breaking album Tubular Bells (which was the only album that provided Virgin Records with a profit for the first 4 years). Only you can tell me whether it has worked or not!