Hustlers and Gurus – 2 self-help books on business

Self-help books on business are often contradictions in terms. They're the equivalent of playing The Beatles: Rock Band on a games console - in your head, you're on the rooftop of Apple Records in Savile Row, playing Get Back to hundreds of people, whereas in reality you're a friendless adult, alone in a living room, frantically pressing coloured buttons.

Books on self-improvement are easy targets. And so they should be. In their own little way, they make the world that much harder a place to live in, a bit like Simon Cowell.

Think of the company bosses who have zero social skills. They struggle with networking. They hide in their office. Many immerse themselves in self-help books, creating the illusion of progressiveness and decisiveness by recounting phrases to staff like: ‘If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to get it.’

It’s reminiscent of a well-meaning headmistress at my secondary school who tried to inspire the gathered teenagers in the assembly hall by announcing that ‘this is the nearest state school to the Houses of Parliament’. The closest equivalent for our age group was the private and rather different Westminster School. Whereas the likes of Christopher Wren had studied there, we had the ‘comedian’ Gary Wilmot as a forebear (he performed Norman Wisdom impressions in the 1980s).

Possibly one of the strangest self-help books to land on my desk is the recently published The 50th Law by Robert Greene and the ex-crack dealing rapper, 50 Cent (known as Fiddy). The aim, as far as I can gather, is to tell Fiddy’s colourful life story and espouse a treatise on the need for us to evolve into post-Nietzschean supermen. Or as Fiddy and Greene like to put it, hustler kings. I don’t really know what a “hustler king” is in the world of business, large or small – perhaps the CEO equivalent of Richard Littlejohn or Rush Limbaugh on crack.

According to the book, we need to understand that ‘we are all afraid – of offending people, of stirring up conflict, of standing out from the crowd, of taking bold action’. Clearly 50 Cent and Greene haven’t used the tube in rush hour on a wet Wednesday morning.

Well written though the book may be, it smacks of that strutting nihilism that sounds profound until spoken aloud. It’s similar to reading the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and then telling your mates that ‘hell is other people’, when really it’s just you that’s hellishly boring.

An equally surprising tome to arrive here at was The Leader’s Way by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and management consultant Laurens van den Muyzenberg. The book aims to enlighten readers about ‘business, Buddhism and happiness in an interconnected world’.

In it, we’re asked to think in ‘the right way’, and this entails having a calm, collected and concentrated mind. ‘If your mind is influenced by anger, jealousy, fear, or lack of self-confidence, you become disturbed and inefficient; you cannot see reality and your mind is no longer calm, collected and concentrated.’

As I understand it, the ideal that His Holiness is asking us to aspire to is a hustler king in reverse – imagine a lobotomised Littlejohn or Limbaugh, if you will.

The sheer ubiquity of these books suggests there is a craving for guidance and inspiration, not just among entrepreneurs but people in general. It’s clear that self-help books have a role to play and can be instructive; they just need to be handled with care. You don’t want to be that boss who finds woolly phrases and faux-motivational speeches easier than speaking to staff and customers in a direct, hands-on manner.

As Fiddy would say: ‘If we are afraid of death, we are afraid of life.’

See also: Six business books every start-up entrepreneur should read

Adam Wayland

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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