Under my byline

‘I will teach you to be rich’

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 20 May 2009

Self-help books in the business slowdown

It’s time to make money — for those who dispense advice, that is. The recession has left a few people without jobs, and many more uneasy about theirs. The smarter ones are thinking long-term, beyond this current slump: they want to know how to make themselves indispensable, and to enhance their work skills in case they do have to move on. The most adventurous are thinking beyond jobs altogether, to becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.

Not everybody has the confidence to take that bold step, and few indeed can afford to go back to B-school. So into the breach step the retail advice-providers, the army of authors and publishers of how-to business books. They appear almost indecently unruffled by the downturn.

“Now it’s human-oriented,” says Sugata Ghosh, head of commissioning at Sage Publications, about the business books market. This means fewer handbooks on corporate social responsibility, business process outsourcing, or such arcana as e-finance. People realise, he says, that “What got you here today is not going to get you there tomorrow. You continuously need to reinvent yourself.”

So, while Robin Sharma’s boom-time The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a self-help fable about a man who had everything and gave it up for the sake of his soul (good thing too, because pirated copies sold brilliantly at traffic lights), still benefits from instant recall, new and forthcoming releases tell a different story.

Take Jaico, which sells large numbers of affordable business books. Here’s how they describe a new title: “The 60 Second Self-Starter is a simple, effective, hands-on guide that you can use to dismantle obstacles that are barriers to productivity. The tips… keep your energy level high and your frustration level low.” Here’s another: “Theory of Constraints sermonises that the goal is making money at present, and for the future. Here, ‘future’ is as important as ‘present’.”

That sounds optimistic as well as useful. “People want a feelgood factor,” agrees Krishan Chopra, chief editor and publisher of HarperCollins, “a hope for better times.” One of his new releases is endearingly titled The Fine Print of Life: How Panna Lal Found Happiness, Wisdom and Mishri Devi; the book, written by a “highly successful life skills facilitator”, promises to bring “our childhood back, showing us how to live life in the here and now. With wonder and curiosity. Energy and enthusiasm.” The world looks brighter already. Perhaps this book will help you cope with job trouble — or else it will make you a nicer colleague.

Managers will need something steelier — like Tata McGraw-Hill’s super-timely Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times, by star author Ram Charan. “This is not a time to reflect,” says the puff prose. “It is a time to act, decide, and energize your people with urgency.” Some managers may, however, quail at Charan’s challenge: “This is your moment. Are you up to the task?”

For sheer chutzpah, you can’t beat this Hachette title: I Will Teach You to Be Rich: No Guilt. No Excuses. No B.S. Just a 6-Week Program that Works. It’s by Ramit Sethi, an Indian-American who invested his first college scholarship cheque (and took a hit). For the thrifty and the entrepreneurial, this may be just the thing. There’s a website to go with it, too, so you can join the community.

Speaking of virtual communities, Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me: What Online Social Networking Means for You and Your Business (also Hachette), by Penny and Thomas Power, should come in handy in the era of Facebook and Twitter.

To learn how to influence people directly, there’s Penguin’s 7 Secrets of Influence by Elaina Zucker, who “outlines how this essential ‘portable power’ can be learned, practiced, and mastered to serve whenever and wherever we are”. If that sounds slightly creepy, and you would prefer to follow someone’s example to improve yourself instead, Penguin has a book by Subroto Bagchi of MindTree (his last one, Go Kiss the World, was a hit) forthcoming, called simply The Professional.

“We’re publishing and buying the same books we were looking at last year,” says Heather Adams, who heads Penguin’s business list. But, like other publishers, they are positioning some books — self-improvement, entrepreneurship, innovation, change management — along with more India-specific content, to attract readers in the current market. You only have to glance at the new releases in India and worldwide to see that the hubris is toned down: it’s all about making the most of the circumstances.

The truth is, no time is a perfect time. Even when the GDP soars, corporate workers need to retrain, update skills, turn unfavourable situations to their advantage and draw lessons from admirable success stories. If Thomas Abraham, CEO of Hachette, says, “I don’t believe there’s any particular movement towards readership picking up these books” at this time, he’s only underlining this basic fact — work life has always been a little precarious. Good for the publishers.


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