In a post from last week, Amy Campbell lists the results of her unofficial survey of legal marketers' favorite books their profession. The list contains the usual suspects -- David Maister, et al. -- and got me thinking about the whole topic of books.
I have my own list of favorite books. However, there are also a lot of books that I think are vastly overrated. And, there are some amazing books that are completely ignored, and that simply sink beneath the surface without a ripple.
The overrated books frequently suffer from what I call the "One Big Idea" symdrome. In this scenario, someone writes a book that basically boils down to one concept. Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point is a perfect example. It's got one idea in it. Granted, it's a really interesting idea, and not unimportant, but it doesn't really help me that much with my work. However, the marketers' Campbell surveyed listed it as their number one business book. This is nuts.
What's going on here is a kind of positioning. The book has an idea that captures people's imaginations, and Gladwell shrewdly has marketed the daylights out of it. He has a blog, does a lot of speaking and lecturing (like at the Legal Marketing Association annual conference) and has built a nice business around his ideas. That is admirable. But is it the basis for making his book the single most important resource for legal marketers? No. No way.
So what books do I prefer/recommend? Well, my favorites tend to have a couple of traits. First, they are NOT about legal marketing. Let's face it folks, the best strategists and marketers in the history of commerce are not in legal marketing. Except, maybe, for David Maister. They're writing about business in general. And rather than having One Big Idea, they tend to have done an enormous amount of research, or have a lot of experience, and they use that as the basis for their writing.
As an example, one of my favorites is Mahan Khalsa's book Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play. This is a book about business development for consulting firms. It doesn't have One Big Idea. What it does have is a detailed, fairly hard-nosed analysis of the entire process of discussing a project with a prospect, with a particular emphasis on the discussion of price. Khalsa breaks it down into components, and is relentless about the idea that the consultant needs to keep checking with the client, all the way along the process, to insure that he doesn't misunderstand what the client wants or needs.
It's a terrific book, primarly because it's so specific and factual. Khalsa has obviously been there and done that, and it shows.