Most "How to" business books are forgettable. You buy them at the airport, try to read them during the flight, get bored and annoyed, and leave them when the plane has landed in the seat pocket in front of you, together with the in-flight magazine and the puke bag.
This unfortunate new how-to business book by Michael Gerber is especially vain and self-important, repetitive and shallow, hokey and badly written, and without a shred of humor or irony to temper the often messiah-like pronouncement. But it is also revealing.
Vain and self-important: The book begins with 13 ½ pages of praise for the genius of Michael Gerber, mostly by other gurus, and in large part for an earlier book, "E-Myth Revisited." Chapter headings are embellished with eclectic quotes from famous people, who would presumably cringe at the thought of being recruited for this commercial enterprise: You'll find John Lennon and Richard Wagner, e.e. cummings and Ernest Hemmingway, Paul Klee and even James Joyce. Speaking of putting perfume on a pig! On page 4 in the weird opening chapter allegedly reporting a conversation between the 69 year old Michael and his Mom, who's in her nineties, Mom has this to add to the first 13 ½ pages of fake testimony: "You are a remarkable man, Michael ...; even if I weren't your mother, you are a remarkable man." As Michael confesses to feeling foolish and afraid and without a purpose, she calms him down the way a mother will console even the runt of her litter: "You are one of the most imaginative people I know." And then: "I feel your pain. I do."
Repetitive and shallow: Up to page 126, the book is nothing but a historical rehash of the method guiding Gerber's company E-Myth Worldwide. It retells the shopworn story of how he, already forty years old, turned his life of a so-so salesman (among other trials-and-errors) into a career of a ... successful salesman. He had found the ideal product to sell: Himself. And that's what he retells on the next one-hundred pages: About the 10 Pillars of a successful small business, the 7 Centers of Management Attention, and the mantra that the "system is the solution." In fairness it must be said that decades ago, with the book "E-Myth - Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" and its updated sequel "E-Myth Revisited," Gerber had a well-deserved bestseller. Starting from the observation that most companies are started by specialists, whom Gerber calls technicians, he diagnosed that the high failure rate of about 80% was due to the fact that technicians only work "within the business, not on the business." Their drive to start a business is nothing but an "entrepreneurial seizure." The remedy, according to Gerber, is to "systematize" the business, to create turnkey processes that are as repeatable as the routines in franchises such as McDonald's. There is something to this. The "entrepreneurial seizure" phrase is eminently marketable, and doesn't it sound right? Yes, superficially. But, while being a specialist does not guarantee business success, most companies start with people who know their domain, have specific skills, broad expertise and deep knowledge. And surveys have shown that it is lack of planning, lack of management skills, and lack of sufficient start-up financing, among other things, that trip up small businesses. No scientific (or otherwise) survey has ever pinpointed Gerber's diagnosis as a root cause for business failure. And, after all, in the 30 years of Gerber's E-Myth methodology, the failure rate for small businesses has not measurably dropped.
Hokey and badly written: What's the "Dreaming Room" where the "Awakening" takes place? Listen to this paradox dressed as wisdom: The book promotes "Dreaming Rooms" where Gerber as the guru wants to "inspire people to dream by awakening the entrepreneur." So what's a great dream? "A great Dream (capital D) is a great idea for a business that blows people's minds." Well, o.k., that is very confused blustery language, but tell me more. The "more" finally appears on page 130. And the "more" will cost you $5,000. That's what a ticket to the Dreaming Room costs. Now the cat's out. What do you get for five big ones? (1) You get 2 ½ "intense, creative days" with the "Chief Dreamer, Michael E. Gerber." (2) You get unspecified help forming your own Dreaming Room. (3) You get unspecified help from the global network of fellow dreamers. (4) You can re-enter the Gerber Dreaming Room, but only if you bring a new dream-candidate carrying $5,000. So that's it: He's selling himself again. "Call us. Enroll today. Come dream with me."
Humor: Towards the end, Gerber turns it up. What he offers is a "sacred moment." He poses a rhetorical question: "Is this spiritual work? Yes and no ..." He philosophizes: "We are what we think ... `I am', said the one. I am, I say to you ..." This is all a funny (or ridiculous) mix of "The Secret" and Deepak Chopra.
Revealing: The McDonald's success of selling billions of burgers, all interchangeably bad for you, in thousands of franchises staffed with minimal pay novice workers, is in fact the source of the idea Gerber implemented in his own business consulting company E-Myth. Modeled after the burger giant, he has created a turnkey consulting system "so we could hire novices, turn them into experts, and deliver our services ... at no more than the cost of a minimal wage employee." (Page 65). And that is indeed what E-Myth does. Inexperienced people, paid around $40,000 a year, memorize the system (10 Pillars, 7 Centers, etc.), and, for a few thousand dollars, repeat it back to you - on the phone! They won't see your company, they are not hands-on, they don't know you or anybody, anything about your company. The Dreaming Room is just another trap for the same "system," now embroidered with spiritual mush and the promise that closing your eyes will make you see the truth. Beware, small business man and woman. In times of danger - and small businesses are often in danger, like fast moving cars - it is better to keep your eyes wide open and your minds sharp. (Disclaimer: I am a business consultant working with start-ups and mid-size businesses in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. I have seen Gerber in action. He is a terrific salesman. But he is not a saint and not a genius. He wants your money. That comes with the territory.)