Shifting Sands: What if the Business Books Don’t Feel Like Answers Anymore?

Note: consider this a reflective piece on where things are at the moment… With a little diagnosis, and not much solution.

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“The wise man built his house upon the rock…” – Matthew 7

I had real trouble learning in graduate school.

Long ago, after earning two degrees in Theology, I entered a PhD program in Communication:  Rhetoric and Public Address.  The assignments were many; and many pages long.  Many, many pages long!

But, my problem was not the number of pages.  It was that I was utterly ignorant.  My education in Theology did very little good as I tackled the centuries worth of wisdom in Rhetoric.  I was lost; I was overwhelmed.  I was dispirited.

I asked one of my professors – a very smart, world-renowned academician in the field – to help me out.  I told him I was reading and simply not understanding.  He told me to simply keep reading.  He told me it took people new to the field about six months to begin to grasp the vocabulary, the mindset, the thought processes, required to understand the field.

And, you know what?  He was right.  I simply kept reading, and slowly, then more rapidly, I began to grasp and understand.  I became…conversant, and understanding.

In 1998, I launched a new career in reading, preparing, and presenting synopses of business books.  I have now read so, so many business books.  Leadership; strategy; teams; productivity; technology… the list of different aspects of business is a long one, and growing. And, I do feel like I have a pretty decent grasp of the field.

But something seems to be happening right now that I can’t quite explain.  I am feeling like I am floundering again.  It’s not that I don’t grasp.  It is something else; something I don’t yet understand.

Oh, sure, there have always been far more books than I could read and present. The number of business books published each year is massive.  So, this is not just an “I can’t keep up with all the books” issue.

But things feel different.  Things feel so…unsettled.

Here’s what Chris Anderson said, in his latest book Infectious Generosity:

We’re in a moment when people are really worried… Right now, our collective future seems dangerously fragile, given the ugliness of much of modern culture.

I think that people are writing books, trying to fit old solutions to never-seen-before problems.  I think people want the old solutions to still work (I’m talking pretty recent, but now-old, solutions).  I think I am reading some books – some good books – that I respond to this way:  “OK, I agree.  I like what the author is saying. But, I’m not sure it is going to make that much of a difference.”

I’ve read, and presented synopses of, books that talk about this unsettledness.  The Fourth Turning is Here by Neil Howe is one.  And Adrift by Scott Galloway.  And pieces of Slouching Towards Utopia by J. Bradford De Long is another.

Neil Howe wrote this:  Only when the next season arrives will we be able to grasp the full significance of what we are experiencing now.

I suspect that this is correct.

I will keep reading; and learning, and sharing what I learn.  But, I feel like our foundations are a little shaky; maybe a lot shaky.  A touch more sand, and a little less rock these days.

I hope we find a way forward!

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