Ask These 5 Questions to Avoid Blowing Hot Air

I’ve been revisiting this post by Dave Logan about the banality of business books. He describes many of them as “air sandwiches”—an opener and closer with nothing of substance in between.

“One of my mentors told me to read the first and last chapters of a book,” Logan writes, “because everything in the middle is either stories or takeaways so simple that watching Mr. Rogers is a better use of your time.”

This implies some tough questions to ask about the books we write:

  1. Are my key points original and fresh rather than restatements of conventional wisdom or clichés?
  2. Can I support my key points with evidence that’s more compelling than a few personal anecdotes?
  3. Can I write about my topic in a way that balances clarity with complexity? That is, can I achieve simplicity while avoiding over-simplicity?
  4. Do I truly have a book-length idea—one that actually merits 20,000 to 100,000 words? Or, shall I write a magazine article? Or a blog post?
  5. In short, do I truly have enough content to justify a reader’s investment of time and attention?

I’ll leave you to contemplate this comment from Logan:

Business leaders need a reboot on the ideas that make organizations run. Is your time best spent reading business books, or talking with people with radically different ideas? Put down the business book and go interact with ideas that challenge you, frighten you, or piss you off.

If we can challenge, scare, or anger our readers, perhaps we’ve done our job.