The author of many a business book is a huckster. That is not meant as a smear, necessarily. The art of cajoling a customer to think a certain way is as old as the U.S. of A. The days of quacks and nostrums and snake oil have long passed, but the replacements rely on the seller adopting the same ruses. Persuasion remains a mixture of conviction and logic twisted to make the sale.

What all business writers have in common is that they read other business books. An editor in the field will see the same terms used over and over. Part of the reason is the desire to speak the reader’s language. Partly, the author desires to ensure the reader’s comfort by referencing well-known business authors (“how do you go from good to great?”) The main cause, though, is laziness, an idea spouted off the top of the head and channeled through a funnel larded with buzz words.

Caution needs to be observed for several reasons. The first is that, in trying to get over on the reader, an author can be carried away by the hectoring style. The keys get pounded, and short paragraph after short paragraph burst forth. The words “we” or “you” become the subject of every sentence. Come on, you know I’m right! is the gist of this style. What may be left out of such a torrent is any substance. The author gets so carried away, they forget to build the backing behind the assertion. The reader’s eyes glaze over, because we have read this sort of stuff so many times.

That ties in with the second danger: repetition. When conversing on a topic, there are only so many variants when you are writing material that is not grounded by specifics. This method of making grand claims is similar to the bullshitting you did on college papers when you had to stretch one page of substance to the required five pages. But guess what? Readers are not being paid to read it; they put the book in the webbing of a plane seat, never to be retrieved again.

Making general points, even in a sloganeering way, is fine for a first draft. You do need to set down the general parameters you want to explore. You are being sabotaged by your own ego, however, if you think that is good enough. If you read Good to Great, you know it is crammed full of statistics. That’s why it’s a great book, not because Jim Collins can deliver a good line of cant.

Exercise: During your review, mark all the places in the manuscript where you make a sweeping statement without following with an interesting fact. That’s your job in the second draft: hunting and gathering an passel of material that no other business book has. The latest stats by the Department of Labor suffices as just one example. See if you can do better than the empty college paper written as a callow youth.

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”
—Edward R. Murrow

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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