When a book is this bad the reader wants to know why. Not why it was published, because if you’d like to have a book published it’s not terribly hard to do, but why books like these are written in the first place.
The answer to why “Finding the Soul of Big Business” is barely readable and why it was written in this case happen to be the same — the author has a genuine passion about the material. What’s unfortunate is this passion prevents the work from being focused.
Author Paula Marshall, who is also the CEO of The Bama Companies, Inc. is a Deming disciple and a true believer. William Edwards Deming could easily and rightly be named the Buddha of the modern corporate movement. His revolutionary ideas have transformed the way some people do business and many of his adherents are passively rabid.
But like any true believer, Marshall has trouble communicating why the truth is true and how it appeals to her. It’s easy to discard the book as a series of corporate aphorisms, but that is one thing it is clearly not. The words and structure not only ring true for the thoroughly convinced, but they ring true in a way that makes them unassailable.
This is where the trouble begins.
Just as stating the religious truth to a non-believer is often unconvincing, reiterating Deming’s teachings and those of his other adherents — the book leans quite heavily at times on citations — doesn’t get to what makes the truth true.
Consider how you would go about writing a manual for how to learn to ride a bicycle. Imagine what it would be like to try an communicate something so natural as to defy description.
The point is that it takes more than knowledge of how a thing is done to communicate how to do it. The irony is how important leadership by example, culture participation and non-reliance on pointless missives are both in “Finding the Soul of Big Business” and in the Deming philosophy.
Another really dispiriting aspect of the book is how quickly discussions of Bama operations and culture start to sound like press releases. The book treats mistakes and successes in the abstract. The brief look into Marshall’s childhood, a reminiscence wherein her father tells her she has it better than most people, brings no insight because it is never really connected to a lesson learned.
While literarily this lack of connection is consistent with the rest of the book, the lack of ego is consistent with Deming’s edicts against corporate hubris.In the end Marshall’s skill as a student is her undoing as an author. The work left me thinking how wonderful and lucky I would be to work for Bama while praying fervently I would never be subjected to such a book again.
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