September 17, 2004
News & Opinion: #3: They are often dry
Business book authors face some tensions in trying to keep the pages engaging. Oftentimes, the book has to be simultaneously intriguing yet clear, easy-to-read yet deal with sophisticated topics. These tensions can leave any author struggling with how to present their ideas, particularly if they have a lot of time constraints. I certainly felt this tension and had to work hard to relieve it. It just seems a lot easier if one could just translate a PowerPoint presentation into the arguments and flow of the book. But, unless you are Tom Peters (who actually uses his PowerPoint slides as the book), that can lead you down the wrong path. The text becomes too dry as the pages fill up with endless strategies, bullet points, lists and the retelling of examples without the requisite human touches. Now, ever since Who Moved My Cheese hit the best-seller lists there has been a plethora of books that have stepped into the intersection of a fable and business advice. This is done either to allow the author to vividly make certain points or to inspire the reader to do something specific. The fable-structure is certainly not as dry as a translation of PowerPoint slides, but it is quite limiting in how we can present ideas along with requisite proof, theory etc. But maybe it is time we try out some other intersections. How about business advice unraveling like a murder mystery? While writing The Medici Effect I got some early feedback. It suggested that although the ideas presented were fascinating and unique, the chapters were too long. After thinking about it for some time I realized that every chapter had two components to them (a discussion of an idea, and then how you can apply this idea). I first decided to chop each chapters in two and then worked hard to make all the chapters interdependent. Specifically I wanted each chapter to hook into the next one, unraveling the underlying theory and its implications at a page-turning pace rather than through summaries and bullet points. Turns out that my peer reviewers liked this a lot because it made it easier for them to see how the ideas and concepts in the book related and supported to each other. The truth was that I got this idea from having read The Da Vinci Code- a book chock-full with short chapters and page-turning cliff-hangers. Despite what praise or misgivings one may have about that book, it has become clear that the way Dan Brown (the books author) structures the text is part of its success. He certainly has the sales numbers to prove it. You can learn more about my upcoming book The Medici Effect at www.themedicieffect.com.