Thursday, 10 February 2011

Pop sci vs Pop business - no contest

Most of the time my non-fiction reading is largely around science, but in the last few months I've gone back to reading business books, and I've had a shock.

When I worked in a corporate I was a big fan of business books, but coming back to them with the fresh eyes of a popular science reader and author, most of them are terrible!

The writing can be deadly dull, but this is the least of their problems. Most business books - not all, by any means, but most - seem to have a pageful of useful material scattered through a couple of hundred pages of padding. In some ways this shouldn't come as a surprise to me. A few years ago I was asked to contribute to a series of A4 laminated cards on business topics. The idea was to condense everything you needed to know into a two-sided sheet. I did this one, on time management. These cards really did deliver very well, but the trouble is few people wanted to pay the price of a book to get a sheet of A4 (even if it was laminated). We like to get our money's worth - and bulk says this, even if we discover that it is all padding.

Contrast this with most popular science books, which are absolutely packed with information. One chapter of a typical popular science book would more than cover all the content requirements of a typical business book.

The other problem I had was the business books' use of diagrams. In a popular science book we use a diagram if it's necessary to explain an arcane point that doesn't come across as well in words. In a business book they use diagrams because it's traditional to use diagrams, particularly to illustrate processes, so you get absolutely useless ones like this. But I suppose it does fill up a bit more space.

Overall I was so disappointed. Of course there are noble exceptions of business books that really read well and are a joy to consume, with real detailed help to get something done. But there is so much woffle. So many ways to take 'Seven habits' or 'Ten tips' or whatever and stretch them to fill an entire volume. Back to science, quick!

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