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Why I Read Business Books: The Bourgeois Burglar and Good to Great

June 12th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

While taking down Good to Great for its sloppy description of the purported "Dark Ages," the Bourgeois Burglar writes:

Leaving the abuse of the Dark Ages, a comment on another assumption, namely, that there can be and should be scientific understanding of "what makes companies tick." I suppose that assumption depends on what is meant by "scientific." There is no doubt that Collins and his team did an immense amount of research for his book. But here's a claim: Everything Collins says in his book can be derived from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. His points about ego, friendship, hard work, common sense, character, all of it.Question: Is Collins's understanding of what makes companies tick "deeper" than Aristotle's?

While I might contest Burglar's claim that everything Collins says in his book can be found in the Nicomachean Ethics, I would argue that Collins' understanding of great companies isn't "deeper" than Aristotle's at all. But that doesn't make it worthless.

While Aristotle probably understood as much as Collins, Collins' presentation matters. By providing anecdotes, descriptions of his subject matter and useful analogies ("The Flywheel" has stayed with me, as is the "hedgehog concept"), Collins enables readers to see what he is seeing in a way that abstract analysis doesn't. In other words, the value of Collins' book is that it gives the reader a vision for what Aristotle might look like in the business world.

This contextualizing of deep truths is why I read business books. The contextualizing of deep truths makes them, in some ways, more accessible and understandable. While a steady diet of business books should be avoided, and while most of them are worthless, their contextualization of ethics has helped me focus on particular aspects of my working life, so that I can ultimately bring everything I do under the Lordship of Jesus.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.