The Future of Management Books

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by: Alexander Osterwalder

There are a lot of good management books out there and I’m looking up to many of the leading authors. I particularly admire thinkers like C.K. Prahalad (Bottom of the Pyramid), Gary Hamel (Future of Management) or Tom Kelley (Ten Faces of Innovation), to mention just some. Yet, even those outstanding personalities have not really changed the genre of management books. It’s high noon to do so.

The management book as it looks today is mainly due to past restrictions regarding printing and media. It is usually written by a limited group of persons or a single thought leader and it is published with a lot of black & white text and few images. This is the norm, though there are obviously great exception (John Kotter’s "Our Iceberg is Melting" or Tom Peters’ "Design Essentials").

Here is my take on how a management book should be crafted and how the result should look like. I try to apply this in my own management book that I am writing together with Professor Yves Pigneur on business model innovation.


The 4 design essentials that the NEW management book should follow:

Visual Thinking & Design:
The majority of management books as we now them today only rely on few visuals. This is mainly due to past restrictions in the printing industry. Authors of management books should use images much more because the visual sense trumps all authors as John Media outlines in his excellent book on brain rules (see rule #10). Images allow the simplification of concepts and they make it possible to convey emotion (e.g. change, urgency, competition). Personally, I believe it is not enough to have some graphs and 2×2 matrixes. We need a compelling visual design to make useful management books. For that purpose our book writing team includes a designer and the participation of XPLANE, the leading company in visualizing business strategy and management.

Co-creation: Management books should be co-created together with the end-user. Though authors usually have a pretty clear idea of what they want to convey in their book, I believe they should still integrate the reader as part of the book creation process. Yves and I are doing this through an online platform (called the Hub) where we share chunks of the book as we write them and then allow people to give feedback on each piece. We are doing this to integrate the valuable experience of our readers, to test ideas and start building a community of practitioners around the topic. In a month over 160 people have paid 24.- $US to be part of this process!

Prototyping: The method we use to co-create is prototyping. We see the book chunks that we share on the Hub as prototypes that we test with the members of the platform. This includes testing the content as well as the form, since in our book both play an essential role. Conveying a message through a more visual presentation must be tested by the end-user, the reader. Does it really work? Do people "get it"? The amount and quality of feedback that we got from our 160+ Hub members on our first book chunk was wonderful. It’s amazing how people get involved.

Applicability: Ultimately, a management book should help a person better manage his work, team or organization. Hence, the easier a management book makes it for the reader to apply the concepts conveyed in the book, the better it is… I think this is still a relatively weak point in the majority of management books – even in those with some of the most powerful concepts. Let me be clear, applicability is about limiting the effort the reader needs to make to translate the concepts conveyed in the book into applying them to his own work setting. In our own book on business model innovation we are aiming at making all we write applicable. As a consequence our book will look more like a manual for business model innovation. It shall include workshop scenarios, use cases and exercises to practices business model thinking.

Well great, now I’ve raised the expectations for our book once again… Join our book chunk project if you want to judge our ability to achieve the above design essentials. For 24.- $US you get some great privileges and the opportunity to participate in the future of management books 😉

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