BOOKS: Your career from A to Z

Francis Beckett finds most management literature ruled by gimmicks and celebs.

by Francis Beckett, an author and journalist. His latest book is Clem Attlee (Politicos, 2000)
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Career books are the new flower power. If you're unhappy at work, you can pick up glossy little books, with big type, cute titles, pretty graphics, gobbets of cod wisdom and simplistic formulae for changing your situation. But I have a better idea. Don't read any of them. Instead, if you can find a spare afternoon, do what Richard Templar did. Write one.

Templar tells us he spent years as a finance manager who dreamed of being a writer. Now he's a writer. I'm pleased for him. If you want to write and you're good at it, you should try to make your living at it. It works for me and apparently it works for him.

The 'trap' in his title is the job you don't like. The 'cheese' is your salary. And his message is that you should leave the job you don't like and find a way of doing something you want to do. That's it, really.

Except that he doesn't quite believe even that much, for he warns: 'Sometimes the trap has to be endured, perhaps for the sake of accumulating some savings, or the kids' school fees need paying, and the time isn't right to quit.'

Which leaves me wondering who on earth he thinks he's writing for. A person who thinks his children must be privately educated won't benefit from this book; and if you're like me and happily send your children to the local state schools, you don't need it.

Templar reworks the most overused management cliche of them all: 'Up to now, you may have been thinking outside of the box for your job, but you have to go beyond that and think outside of your thinking outside of the box.' If 'thinking outside the box' ever had any meaning in the first place, he has drained it away.

Nicholas Bate has his own variant on the standard management book gimmick of offering The Five Fs of Finance, The Seven Cs of Competitive Advantage or the Nine Os of Getting Obscenely Rich. In Being the Best, he writes 26 chapters because there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and they run from A for Attention to Z for Zen.

He helpfully suggests that you focus on a different letter every day of the month. Alternatively, you can, apparently, 'choose a letter which appeals and focus on it until you are living and breathing the principle'.

Bate specialises in apocalyptic prose. He tells us: 'Learn the following mantra: it may be all you need to know to ensure that you are consistently successful. Your beliefs create your behaviours which create your results.'

What all this tells us is that your career is now treated in the gimmicky way that many other aspects of business have become used to. I've recently looked at Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way (Capstone, £12.99) and (I'm not making this up) The Leadership of Jesus (Canterbury Press, £12.99.) Adventurers and sportsmen are paraded for nuggets of wisdom on leadership or teambuilding.

Alan Chambers led the first British unsupported walk to the geographical north pole from Canada, and now tells audiences of well-fed executives the business lessons he learned: 'I researched our goal thoroughly. I identified who else had attempted it, what they wish they had done differently, what equipment they used and anything else that I could think of.'

Useful, no doubt, for managers who never thought of researching their goals or checking whether they had the right equipment.

I assume England rugby coach Clive Woodward will soon write a book. In fact, I recently received an e-mail from a motivational speakers' bureau that, apparently, represents Woodward's business manager, telling me their client was 'at the nail-biting final' to 'witness history in the making'.

The world of work occupies a huge proportion of our conscious hours and deserves better than the gimmicky text and irrelevant celebs that much of management literature has become.

I Don't Want Any More Cheese, I Just Want Out of the Trap

Richard Templar

Pearson £9.99

MT price £8.99

Being the Best - The A-Z of Personal Success

Nicholas Bate

Capstone £12.99

MT price £10.99

- All books reviewed on these pages are available from the MT bookshop. Call 08700 702 999 to order. Postage and packing at £1.95 will be added to each order.

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