Books: Sound lessons, but too many tripwires

This is not a bad book, admits Mark Derry, but he struggled through a text overburdened with quotations and mnemonics.

by Mark Derry, chief executive of Loch Fyne Restaurants
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Building a Better Business

Patrick Dixon

Profile £9.99

MT price £8.99

To order, visit www.mtmagazine.co.uk

Confession time. The Lord of the Rings films just didn't do it for me. And that was disturbing, because I seemed to be in a minority of one. Waves of adulation greeted the tale of hobbits running across the wilds of New Zealand with that blasted piece of jewellery. People praised the vision of the director, the landscapes, the eternal themes embraced by the screenplay, the inspiring insights into the battle between good and evil. All I could think was: 'Not another bloody fight with more damn Orcs!' And all I felt was boredom and a sense of panic that I just didn't geddit.

And that's how I feel about Patrick Dixon's new book, Building a Better Business: The key to future marketing, management and motivation. The author has impressive credentials: chairman of Global Change Ltd, Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School, author of 12 books ... Still, for me, the book didn't start well: I recoiled from a title that promised to solve all ills, and the vaulting self-belief of the preface: 'I believe it could be the most important guide ... that you have ever read'.

Greater minds than mine have heaped praise on this 'intensely practical and inspirational guide on how to make great things happen in your business and personal life' - the CBI chairman, the co-founder of lastminute.com, CEOs of big businesses and professors. So maybe I'm missing something.

Don't get me wrong: Dixon covers useful ground on topics relevant to any business manager. How do you attract and retain good staff? How do you create better teams? How do you build strong, lasting relationships with customers? Improve your leadership? His thesis is that the challenge in all aspects of business is to 'connect with all the passions people have - for themselves, their families, their communities and wider world', and look to 'build a better world'.

But anyone who starts a management book with quotes from Hegel and Disraeli puts me on my guard. In fact, the book often uses six quotes when one would do - and since when was the former First Lady, Betty Ford, a source of infinite wisdom?

There are also a few howlers. Some may be excused by the delay between writing and publication, and even as the author of Futurewise, Dixon couldn't have foreseen Jonathan Bloomer's departure as CEO of Prudential when quoting his words on the importance of developing corporate responsibility programmes. But no-one writing a chapter on 'better motivation' should head the subject with the following: 'I haven't scratched the surface yet of my real purpose for being here'. Harmless enough, you say, except that it's by Michael Jackson.

It's not a bad book. The thesis makes sense from the perspective of today's more circumspect business manager. After all, we're well aware of the excesses and wrongs perpetrated by major corporations at the end of the 20th century in the pursuit of shareholder value.

I liked the focus on seeing that everyone at work 'is in essence a volunteer'. We need something of the volunteer spirit in our businesses if our people are to go that extra mile. Running a restaurant group as I do, such a lesson isn't lost on me. And nor is the concept of sustainability and ethical practice. We've seen the benefits of this approach at Loch Fyne Restaurants: it's good for customers, good for our people, good for the environment and good for our souls.

So no, it's not a bad book. It's just that I'm not convinced it really says anything new. And, worse, I didn't feel it told its story in a clear and simple way. It tripped over itself with an over-abundance of quotes, mnemonics and 'practical' lists, which became tedious and distracted from the main message.

I can't argue with the sentiment of Dixon's book. It's just that it's a chore to read and unremarkable.

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