The Best Service

I have a small collection of business books here. Each promises to help me start, run or sell a successful business. At some point in my business book buying I realised something important.

The most successful business books are those that are the best at being business books.

Or, put another way

The success of a business book has only a little to do with the quality of information in it.

If we crunched the numbers and measured the success of businesses based on the books that their CEO’s read and purport to act on (adjusting for the popularity of the book), I doubt very much we’d get a list that looked like the business bestseller lists. To write a successful business book you need to make the reader feel good about themselves, feel motivated, and feel powerful.

Sabio wrote today about Dating websites. In my professional experience the same thing is true here. The most successful dating sites are those that are the best at being dating sites. The success of a dating site has very little to do with the quality of matches it produces, or the long term happiness of its clients. To make a successful dating website, you need to make your customers feel good about themselves, and feel loved.

…I almost feel bad approaching the barrel of religious fish holding this shotgun…

But it is certainly true that religions promise enlightenment, spiritual fulfilment, community, counter-cultural release, and a different way of living. But those that are successful are good at being a religion, something that has very little to do with supplying those things.

And I’d say that goes for all kinds of religion. It is easy to see the Joel Osteen brand of evangelical pablum in these terms. But often progressive and liberal brands of religion work in the same way. And, just like business books and dating, you can’t tell by listening to the rhetoric. You have to look, in the words of the Bible, at the fruit.


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6 responses to “The Best Service

  1. TWF

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, and many companies have understood and implemented this principle, selling desires and lifestyles as opposed to actual products. But, as your post implies, they are far behind religions in that regard!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. What kills me is that religious professionals often don’t even know what they are doing — they are tricked by their own products. But that is probably what amplifies the sales — they believe themselves. Self-deception is a valuable skill — for salesmen.

  3. @Ian: “To write a successful business book you need to make the reader feel good about themselves, feel motivated, and feel powerful.”
    -Inspiration goes a long way in creative efforts. I think that’s what many business books are trying to do. They say, “You can do it. Here’s a way to get it. You can do it using this way.” Not a bad things. We’ve recently reorganized the church structure using a few books on the subject. And we’re only as good as we creatively incarnate the structure.

    Or to put it another way: There’s the concept of an technical problem and an adaptive challenge. Examples: A light bulb is burnt out = technical problem. The light bulb is powered by fossil fuel burning energy plant = adaptive challenge. There’s many more layers and issues to adapt to in the second than the first. The problem with many of these books is when they treat business in the technical realm (if you do this, then $$) vs. the adaptive challenge part (which takes a lot of inspiration and gusto to rise to the challenge of a creative response).

    @Sabio: What kills me is atheists who think that being without a religion or belief system somehow frees them of sexism, racism, or self-deception. Whatever amplifies the sales and gets the blood off your hands. Esp. with all the talk of “Christian Privilege” and thinking one is counter-cultural for being unaffiliated. I don’t see atheists organizing to end human trafficking in my area on the level that religious institutions are. Or walking with the poor. Or feeding the hungry. Or doing personal needs. Or building homes through Habitat. Or even talking about approaches to addressing these things without somehow first taking down religious people.

    Give people a common enemy and you’ll give them an identity. Call people salesmen, and ignore your own sales efforts on ‘the better way to live.’

  4. Ian

    @Luke – yes, but most of these books are not honest about how or why they work. They claim to contain information about how to start, run or sell a business, but often their actual advice on those subjects are basically worthless (or at least, you’d get much, much better advice elsewhere). I don’t want to say that motivation is a bad thing, any more than a dating website making you feel attractive is cool. But it is (unintentionally often) dishonest, because those books or sites claim to be something they’re not. Perhaps you don’t mind that, fair enough, but I suspect the duplicity is important, because the business book bestsellers outstrip the honestly motivational books.

  5. It might have worked for the authors who wrote the book, trying to speak of their adaptive challenges and how they faced them… but they treat them like technical problems and that makes it seem like they’re basically worthless. Of course, I’m not thinking of any particular book in mind, are you?

  6. Ian

    Not quite what I was thinking of. The books I’m thinking of (I have a half dozen or so in mind) are popular, but not for the reasons they appear to be popular. That’s all I was saying.

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