Approaches to Writing Business Books: Smashing the Paradigm

In a nutshell: The author explains why our current way of thinking or doing something is seriously wrong.

The Smashing the Paradigm business book rips an old model to shreds, but does not offer a new way of understanding a situation. At best, the reader might be given a few suggestions.

Smashing the Paradigm is a bigger, more urgent version of We’ve Got Trouble, but like the latter, it emphasizes the problem rather than the solution.

This approach is put to good use in the New York Times bestselling Outliers: The OutliersStory of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.[1] Gladwell’s thesis is that we totally
misunderstand why certain people become incredibly successful in business, sports, music, academia, and other areas of life.

The long-reigning paradigm holds that success is due to certain personal characteristics. As the author points out, when thinking about very successful people, “We want to know what they’re like—what kind of personalities they have, or how intelligent they are or what kind of lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with. And we assume that it is those personal qualities that explain how that individual reached the top.”

But Gladwell insists that the great successes “are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

There is “something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success,” Gladwell tells us, offering numerous stories of truly successful—and some not-so-successful—people to demonstrate why our understanding of success, and therefore our ability to replicate it, is so unsuccessful.

While the ideas and details in a Smashing the Paradigm book can be fascinating, these books do not make concrete suggestions for change.

Continue reading entries in the “Approaches to Writing Business Books” blog series.

[1] Little, Brown, 2008.