Beach reads for business folk

Summer is in the air. People in the northern hemisphere are starting to discuss holiday plans and making some bold wardrobe choices. Recommendations for beach reads are coming out left, right and centre. The oddest of such lists are those aimed at the relaxed executive.

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Each summer JPMorgan Chase’s wealth managers release a reading list. Their recommendations for 2022 include a book by a bunch of McKinsey consultants on ceo excellence and a comprehensive guide to non-fungible tokens. You can almost smell the sun-tan lotion. This year’s reading list is also available to explore in the metaverse, because nothing says the azure waters of the Mediterranean like choosing an avatar.

In its pick of summer business books, the Financial Times has chosen titles that range from hybrid work to the pitfalls of strategy. hr Exchange Network, a news site, encourages its readers to lounge on the beach with a copy of the “Essential hr Handbook”—and appears not to be joking. It is only a matter of time before The Economist does something similar.

People should read whatever they want. The books on the list may well be useful: no mosquito would survive contact with the “Essential hr Handbook”. But anything that contains the words “blockchain” or “McKinsey” is missing the point. Plenty of people spend the majority of their waking hours either working or thinking about work. The idea of a summer read is that it should provide an escape from the office, not yet another way to think about it.

In an ideal world people would pack several P.G. Wodehouses and switch off entirely. But publishers could also do their bit and release titles that really are meant to be beach reads on business. These books would be aimed at the off-duty person behind the Zoom screen. They would contain precisely no tips on productivity gains and extol inactivity over frenzy. Instead of showing you “how you too can model yourself on the very best”, as the book on successful chief executives allegedly will, summer titles should give you permission to fall asleep in a pool of your own dribble. Here, then, are a few suggestions to get the industry thinking.

In 2005 two insead professors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, wrote a book called “Blue Ocean Strategy”, which divided marketplaces into uncontested areas (the “blue ocean”) and those infested by predatory competitors (the “red ocean”). But what if you don’t really fancy getting in the water at all? “Yellow Sand Strategy” makes the case that sometimes the best thing to do is remain entirely inactive and hope that nothing bad happens. (“Yellow Ocean Strategy” is a different book entirely, for executives who do things so incompetently that no one gives them any extra work.)

The United States Marine Corps has a practice of having senior officers serve up meals to junior members of the unit as a way of cementing bonds. That habit lay behind the title of a management bestseller published by Simon Sinek called “Leaders Eat Last”. On holiday, though, you don’t have to build morale or worry about your team. Read “Leaders Eat Three Club Sandwiches In a Row and Need to Have a Short Lie-Down”, and feel better about yourself.

In “The Innovator’s Dilemma” Clayton Christensen describes how leaders of established firms often fail to take advantage of new technologies and risk letting scrappy startups turn into formidable rivals as a result. But the summer break is no time to be thinking about disruption of any kind. Instead, turn your mind to more prosaic problems. “The Procrastinator’s Dilemma” looks at the difficult choice people face between letting work pile up until it really has to be done or letting work pile up until it really, really has to be done.

The closer you look, the more you realise that underachievers and rank amateurs are badly served by business publishers. There is a market for laziness: the success of “The 4-Hour Work Week”, by Tim Ferriss, was no accident. With just a few tweaks here and there, many entries in the back catalogue of business bestsellers become ripe for the beach. From “Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People” to “Start with Why Should I” and “What Colour is Your Sun Lounger?”, the possibilities are endless.

These are not the sort of titles anyone wants to be seen reading at work or posting about on LinkedIn. There are no bragging rights associated with them. But the beach is a place to unwind. If ever there is a time for reading lists to indulge the unmotivated and celebrate indolence, the summer is it.

Read more from Bartleby, our columnist on management and work:
Why managers deserve more understanding (Jul 25th)
Work, the wasted years (Jun 16th)
Corporate jets: emblem of greed or a boon to business? (Jun 9th)

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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Beach reads for business folk”

From the July 2nd 2022 edition

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