The Success Gurus is the fourth book in the Soundview Executive Book Summaries series. The aim of this series is to condense several business books on a particular topic into one volume, sort of like a business book Cliff’s Notes. Previous Soundview books have looked at sales, management, and marketing. The latest installment examines 17 books on success.
Each book is given a 15-page chapter which includes an introduction to the author and the book, a table of contents, a summary of the ideas, and then a brief description of the major points of the book. It is presented with clear headers and outlines so that it is easy to follow and skim through.
There are recurring themes throughout the book. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your values and what inspires you. Follow your passion. Lead by example. Make meaningful connections. Play fair. Be ethical. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn. While the ideas aren’t always as revolutionary or new as the authors present them to be, they are nonetheless great suggestions for anyone looking to be more successful in their career or their life.
Brian Tracy describes how to use goals to achieve success. Geoff Colvin argues that practice and hard work, not innate talent, is what truly makes people successful. Seth Godin writes about how to make yourself an indispensable linchpin at your organization. David Allen offers some ideas on how to manage your work and get things done. John Huntsman makes the case for being ethical at work. J. Barry Griswell and Bob Jennings demonstrate “The Adversity Paradox,” how you can use adversity to become successful. Brian Tracy’s “How the Best Leaders Lead” and James M Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner’s “The Truth About Leadership” offer well-worn advice on leadership.
One of my favorite chapters was on John C. Maxwell’s “The 360-Degree Leader,” which argues that middle managers must make the most with what they have to be successful managers. His argument is that leaders are needed at every level of an organization, even middle management. It is an empowering view of middle management that should inspire everyone to be leaders, no matter what his or her position. Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of the Start” was also fascinating. Kawasaki, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, gives step-by-step advice on how to get a start-up off the ground.
While it is handy to have a succinct synopsis of 17 business books, it exacerbates one of the their main problems: the tendency to reduce complicated problems and approaches to a series of bullet points. The Success Gurus is full of bulleted lists that contain ideas that would be tremendously challenging and complicated to implement in the real world. For example, “Form key alliances to broaden your base,” or “Make Meaning. Create something that makes the world a better place.” Both are very easy to write, but much harder to actually do. Perhaps that is why the publishers of the books summarized allowed them to be included. You’ll need to buy the original book if you are really intrigued by any of the theories. Fifteen pages is great for an introduction to an idea, but simply not enough to dive deep into these theories.
Seeing these 17 business books outlined also lays bare some of their formulas and cliches. Each one promises a new idea to radically change the reader, using mostly a combination of accepted management theory and pop psychology. Many of them use catchwords like “mojo” and “woo” to draw the reader in, and create a system of acronyms to help the reader achieve their goals. The tone in places is equal parts motivational speaker, management professor, and TV infomercial huckster.
Those criticisms aside, The Success Gurus is an excellent resource for those looking for ideas to be more successful at work and in life. It offers a broad overview of contemporary writing on success, all in a format that is easy to read and digest.