The revered and the rubbish

Roger Trapp studies a book distilling the thoughts of management gurus

Given the increasingly wide, if overdue, acceptance of the idea that many management books are a waste of paper, selecting the best of them would seem an empty task.

Yet even the most sceptical acknowledge that some books contain more insight than others and that among the duds are some containing worthwhile insights. Accordingly, a volume such as The Ultimate Business Library, from Capstone (pounds 15.99), is a great deal more valuable than it might at first appear.

Not that this volume is just a synthesis of management texts. Besides summaries of key messages in books as varied as Dale Carnegie's 1937 blockbuster How to Win Friends and Influence People and Philip Kotler's seminal 1960s work Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control, there is a commentary by Gary Hamel. Professor Hamel, who divides his time between a visiting professorship at London Business School and international strategic consulting work, is himself co-author of one of the works included in the list. But rather than being a weakness this is in fact a strength in that it enables him to give an insider's view at the same time as commenting on the competition.

Moreover, as anybody who has read his and CK Prahalad's Competing for the Future will know, the quick-talking academic is more gifted than most of his competitors at coming up with the telling phrase. Hence this comment from his complimentary appraisal of Michael Goold, Marcus Alexander & Andrew Campbell's Corporate-Level Strategy: as large, multi-divisional organisations grew, decentralised and diversified, "the corporate center often became little more than a layer of accounting consolidation. In the worst cases a conglomerate was worth less than its break-up value, and the difference between unit strategy and corporate strategy was a stapler."

Although often regarded as something of a young turk, Prof Hamel also has a reverence for some of his elders. Take, for instance, his comment on Peter Drucker, frequently described as "the guru's guru" and one of several authors to have more than one book in the top 50. Pointing out how Mr Drucker's 1969 work The Age of Discontinuity accurately predicted the emergence of the now much-vaunted "knowledge workers", he says: "I'd like to set a challenge for would-be management gurus: try to find something to say that Peter Drucker has not said first, and has not said well."

When it comes to Tom Peters, the man who unquestioningly made the management guru the Hollywood-style industry it has become in the past decade, Prof Hamel reassuringly adopts the line that most commentators have taken. In Search of Excellence, written with Robert Waterman in 1982, is praised for mostly avoiding "the facile and the tautological" while reminding managers that success can come from "doing common things uncommonly well".

However, when it comes to Liberation Management, Mr Peters' introduction to new-age management philosophy of a decade later, he finds himself wishing that "the ratio of insight to data were a bit higher, and that there were a few less case studies and a bit more conceptual structure".

So what is his assessment of his own book? Cannily, he leaves that for the reader to decide. But he sets the scene by writing: "By the 1990s strategy had become discredited. All too often `vision' was ego masquerading as foresight; planning was formulaic, incrementalist and a waste of time in a world of discontinuous change; `strategic' investments were those that lost millions, if not billions of dollars. In practice, strategy development too often started with the past, rather than the future. As strategy professors, CK and I had a simple choice: change jobs or try to reinvent strategy for a new age."

As Stuart Crainer, the management writer who provides the summaries, notes in his preface, there are "drawbacks, prejudices and deficiencies" in any selection and for that reason the book concludes with an appendix of another 50 books that did not make the final list.

There is one problem. The stated intention is to whet readers' appetites and to encourage them to seek out the original books. What is more likely is that readers will stop with The Ultimate Business Library.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine