Book Review

All Business Books are Bunk — well almost all of them

I used to like business books…but then I read a bunch of ’em.

I recently found a really cool resource — or at least it seemed so at first glance. It is EBSCOHost’s collection of business book summaries. Awesome right? Over 3000 business books distilled down to ~9-11 pages! Now if someone mentioned a book, it would be quick to run and get a general rundown of the content and sound like I was in the know. Well, okay that part is cool…but, what I determined about business books overall was not.

For the most part, most “business” books that aren’t say textbooks, or biographies, etc. typically boil down to the same forms of nonsense:

  1. The author makes some fairly clever claim, and then sites every instance where that claim has proven itself out, and then they uses those examples as “proof” that their claim is the “truth”.
  2. The author takes one topic, that could be adequately conveyed in one chapter, and they let it ooze out repeatedly in minutely different formats throughout. For example, Hernando De Soto’s Mystery of Capital … don’t get me wrong, the general concept covered in the book is incredibly thought-provoking and interesting — but — it’s about 250 pages too long…and the book is only ~290 pages.
  3. The book is a hodge-podgery of business buzzwords, that says very little of substance…but the author will throw in a few of their own phrases/terms to try to be quotable in everyday business parlance.

This is why I feel the vast majority of my future reading will be outside of the business genre. In fact, I’ve given some thought as to why I would ever read a business book in the future.

This is my list of “reasons when it seems worth it to actually read business books” …

(at least so far — please feel free to add your own in the comment section below)

  1. I’m changing jobs and I need to learn new commonly used vocabulary in that field.
  2. One of the leaders in the organization recommends the book — and career advancement is at stake if I don’t read it
  3. I’m going to interview for a job, and I’ve seen a given book on my future interviewer’s bookshelf or in their social media list of favorites.
  4. It discusses some new form of technology that no one knows a lot about yet, (or at least I don’t, and I’m the odd one out.)


Outside of these factors my reading is going to consist of fiction, biographies, history, and other non-business non-fiction.


The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Summary

When I recently took on a marketing role, from a very different function, I started searching for books that discussed the topic. Luckily, during the same time I happened to hear a podcast where someone recommended the book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries & Jack Trout. I found a used version on Amazon for cheap and ordered it immediately. I’m glad I did, and I would recommend to new and established marketing professionals alike. Below is a summary of the book, in the form of notes I took while reading it:

  1. The Law of Leadership – It’s usually better to be first to market than better. The first product is usually perceived as best, and at times becomes the generic term for the space (ex.: Kleenex, Scotch Tape, Goretex, Velcro, Advil).
  2. The Law of Category – If you’re not first to market in a category, create a category within a category to be first in that. For example, if you’re not the first computer, be the first mini computer, or if you’re not the first woman’s magazine be the first mature woman’s magazine.
  3. The Law of the Mind – This was one of the weakest laws, and it directly contradicts the first. It says if you’re not the first in the space, be the first in people’s minds. It says you can’t do this through spending on advertising or marketing, especially if the consumers’ minds are already made up. It does little in the way of explaining how to do this, however.
  4. The Law of Perception – People forms their own “truths” about your product through their own perception. This perception is oftentimes influenced or created all together by others. This is called the “collective” perception and it too is difficult to change once established. An example of this is the perception that the Japanese make better cars.
  5. The Law of Focus – Try to own a word or phrase within your category that explains your product. You cannot attempt to take someone else’s “word” and if everyone is attempting to own the same word it loses all meaning. For example, if everyone is trying to be “quality” it doesn’t mean anything. Examples of owning a word include Volvo=safety; BMW=driving machine
  6. The Law of Exclusivity – Only one company can own a word or phrase (as mentioned in the previous chapter). If someone else tries to own your word, it elevates its perception of importance in consumers’ minds.
  7. The Law of the Ladder – The ladder is an analogy to products’ positions within a market. If you are a second or third in the market it is counter-product to present yourself as “best”.
  8. The Law of Duality – Over the long-term every race ends with two major players. Your goal is to figure out how to be one of the two, or learn to be comfortable in a niche.
  9. The Law of the Opposite – If your goal is to be number 2 (or you realize you’re going to be) it’s important to pick a particular facet upon which to be the exact opposite of the number 1 player. You want the market to be an us vs. them environment. Number 2 players typically gain market share from lower ranked players — not #1. You need to be aggressive in what makes you “opposite.” Promote it aggressively.
  10. The Law of Division – Over time a category will typically split into two or more categories. If you choose to make a major change with your product you should do it with a different name or in a different category to avoid confusion or from watering down what you’ve built. For example, if you were promoting your product as the value brand, you wouldn’t want to release a luxury product under the same brand or name.
  11. The Law of Perspective – Marketing efforts typically take a long time to be felt. Another one of the weaker chapters, with weaker examples.
  12. The Law of Line Extension – The author contends that line extensions don’t work. They dilute the brand, and trying to be all things to all people never works in the long term. Line extensions are typically short-sighted. You cannot effectively be everything to all people with one brand name.
  13. The Law of Sacrifice – When casting your net for potential consumers its important to be targeted in your approach, and not try to be everything to all people (reoccurring theme). This approach catches more customers because you’re not trying to be something you’re not. It’s also important to maintain your strengths messaging over the long-term. Don’t go chasing trends to stay relevant. Be what you are to the customers that chose you for what you do best.
  14. The Law of Attributes – This is very close to the law of the opposite rule. For every attribute that a company claims as their own, there is an opposite position that can be taken. This is the attribute that you should take as your own. This can even be true if it initially seems like a “negative” to be the opposite. For example, Listerine realized they weren’t good tasting like Scope, but they owned this position  anyway. The bad taste meant it worked better.
  15. The Law of Candor – You can afford to admit a negative, and oftentimes you will earn a benefit from your customers for it. For example, Avis owns the fact that they’re #2.
  16. The Law of Singularity -Producing results require large, bold actions that are unexpected by your competitors. Progressing through small, incremental improvements rarely work and can are more easily countered by competitors.
  17. The Law of Unpredictability – You cannot predict the future or the plans of your competitors. Instead it’s important to pick a strategy and stick with it, while be flexible enough to change if absolutely necessary. Create the strategy with finance, and ensure both groups have a long-term focus. It’s important not to chase trends, but instead develop a long-term strategy that’s defensible.
  18. The Law of Success – Success leads to arrogance and the congregation of “yes men.” Both will ultimately lead to failure. Remember what earned you your success and re-calibrate to that course.
  19. The Law of Failure – Failure is to be accepted. Cultures of punishing failure keep people and groups from making bold and decisive actions that are required to succeed and meaningfully move the needle. It’s important that people don’t fear for their jobs, or from making bold, inspired decisions.
  20. The Law of Hype – Don’t chase the hype. Things are rarely as they seem/or as they are reported by the press. Innovators are rarely recognized at the time, but rather fly in under the radar in the present, and are recognized after the fact.
  21. The Law of Acceleration – Success based on trends is okay, success based on fads are dangerous. In times of fads, you’re almost better off dampening perceptions.
  22. The Law of Resources – It’s critical to put resources behind product and brand strategies. A great product with no resources behind it won’t get off the ground. It’s important to fund product messaging appropriately to ensure top-of-mind consideration by consumers and enable you to own a word/phrase (law 5 & 6).


Overall, I really enjoyed The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and would recommend it to anyone considering or currently holding a marketing job. There are a couple redundant rules and the authors certainly cherry-picked examples supporting their rules (i.e., there are many cases of contradictory actions that also led to success.) I was able to overlook these negatives, as I believed I gained a lot from it overall.