Michael Gerber has cobbled together another book. On its back cover, his publisher has regurgitated the identical blurbs, verbatim, that were used on the back of Gerber's last book "Awakening the Entrepreneur Within." Sneaky, isn't it? Or dishonest? Blurbs have become burps.
But we must not judge the book by its back cover. Unfortunately, what's between the covers is bogus, boring, and outright bizarre. And the quality of writing hovers somewhere between Pompous and Dick & Jane.
BOGUS: At the outset, Gerber introduces the term "free market system" and, as he puts it, its "comings and goings." You may expect some explanations about a more or less enlightened version of capitalism; but no. A free market system according to Gerber's political philosophy is distinguished by the deplorable fact that "people are the problem," while in other systems "it does not matter what they (sc. the people) want." And what do they want? Gerber's one-word answer, repeated many times, is "MORE." More of everything. From whom? From business. And business is, so we are told, "an always frustrating, but sometimes enlightening, game, a game I call how do you provide an answer to a question that you know has no answer?" This may already put a reader's brain in a knot. Is it Zen? But let's read on. Most of these "games" are lost, because businesses fail at an alarming rate. True enough - but why? Here's Gerber's answer: "The weather changes. A new company moves in across the street. People stop having babies. Somebody comes up with a better idea ..." Wow! Better than having babies? On to the main part of the book.
BORING: We come to the systematic chapters, the meat, where in previous books the technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur appeared; where the seven essential disciplines for building a world-class company were explained; where entrepreneurs were urged to work "on" their company, not merely "in" it. You may even remember the quartet "innovation, quantification, orchestration, and documentation." This was not genius, but pretty good stuff. Forget all this. The main actors now are the "influencers": the employees, the customers, the suppliers, the investors. That's fine; but it's boring; everybody knows that. Yes, says Gerber, but these influencers are the target and beneficiaries of the "MORE" output that the game, a.k.a. the business, has to create. And to do that, there has to be in the business a "Position of One," an incredible vim and vigor, a "locus of energy," which must be "Like a star. Like the sun. Like the eye of a storm. That is the Position of One." Say what? Next come five capabilities: (1) concentration, (2) discrimination, (3) organization, (4) innovation, (5) communication. Also old hat: Same as focus, differentiation, etc. Gerber mentions Apple as an illustration for (1,2,4), and Starbucks for (3). Meager examples (the book doesn't give many). But to exemplify communication, he has this gem: "All of the great leaders in history have been great communicators. Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill. John F. Kennedy. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ronald Reagan. Some you may admire, some you may not. And then there's Adolf Hitler. Not a force for right action. Certainly not on anyone's list of most admired, but an effective communicator nonetheless." What does Hitler have to do with creating a thriving business? We are approaching the realm of the Weird here, entering the domain of the Bizarre.
BIZARRE: Shortly after Gerber mentions, yet again, his old "great business" heroes Walt Disney and Ray Kroc, he lashes out, unaccountably, at the people behind Cheez Balls, Ritz Crackers, and Jell-O as having "no inherent value", no "dignity", and then insults a marketer he calls Murray ("you know who you are!") as the worst person on earth, simply because "Murray believes in himself and what he does," "Murray sits in a big fat chair at the heart of American business" and more, activities one would have thought a marketer (just like Gerber himself) would be expected to do and enjoy. But no; Murray gets tongue-whipped for a whole page. Until suddenly, Gerber stops and without transition muses: "These words won't let me go. Attention, concentration, Intention, discrimination,..." and more of this. Why this motley of jumbled words again? "These words are values; these values are words. They are at the heart of the subject at hand." Zen? You may feel lost too. But it gets even more grotesque. In Chapter 9, from p. 168 to p.183, Gerber suddenly erupts in a rant, reciting a report of his deep depression, his abject scorn for the world, even for gurus like himself, who are all asleep and, at the same time, "full of themselves" (p. 170). He confesses in ragged sentences his disappointments about how stupid kids are who don't know where electricity comes from (p. 175), bemoans that pets are systematically abandoned - in conclusion: "We are a walking disgrace" (p. 176). Then, in a freaky turn, a staccato of "No excuses, No defenses ..." and the voice softens until on p. 181 we are at "The wish to touch something quieter, finer, deeper ...", and there's a final whimper about the quality of life, about having a conscience, about creating a better world - and it's over!
WRITING: Gerber has always been an inspiring speaker, at least to his fans, but a dull and clumsy writer. His made-up stories, beginning with "Sarah" in the "E-Myth" book, then "Manny Espinosa" in "Awakening" and here with "John Anderson" and "Merle", are tedious and smarmy. Gerber doesn't have the rhetorical skills, stylistic tools, or vocabulary to express in writing when he wants to stress a fact or thought, become more emphatic, surprise the reader, or - least of all - display some wit, humor, or modesty. Instead, when he gets warm, he repeats the same thing over and over again, in breathless variations, but without rhythm or word music that may enchant and take the reader with him. And when he gets all emotional or "poetic", he resorts to the style of Dick and Jane: ""If you don't believe me, see the car! See the garage! See John Anderson!"
CODA: Towards the end of the book, on p. 168, where the rant begins, there is a rare sentence of self-contemplation: "Although I obviously am not an optimist, neither am I a pessimist. Nor would I call myself a realist; I am too far gone for that."