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June 22, 2023   |  Articles

Dear Michael Gerber

Did you know that there is a famous series of business books dedicated entirely to processes and structures?  Are you curious why this is the first time you have heard me mention something so clearly aligned with my practice?  The truth is that I have really struggled to engage with the eMyth books, by Michael Gerber, despite his opus arguably being a bestselling set of advertisements for my services.

Fortunately, I had something of an “aha” moment recently when I realized that my struggle has not been with the content.  Instead, I have found myself running into a few elements of style and assumption that have effectively formed barriers between me and the tools that Gerber presents. 

So my goal today is to describe these barriers and to explain why the information in the books is valuable anyway.  As he will be the first to tell you, Michael Gerber hardly needs my help in getting his message out there but since I genuinely do believe that there is good information somewhere in those pages, perhaps I can help a few more people benefit from the ideas without the same level of effort it has required me.  

Barrier 1: Good lord I hate the narrator

In searching for an analogy for my experience reading the original eMyth, I find myself back in high school, slogging my way through Wuthering Heights.  When it came time to write a paper about Wuthering Heights, I chose to focus on how much I loathed the narrator and her constant blaming of others while her machinations ruined things for all of the protagonists.  

Michael Gerber avoids Nelly’s blame and whine dynamic but he swings in the opposite direction.  When I read the section about the most charismatic, talented, high potential human who, by the way, just *happened* to be Michael himself, I nearly pulled a muscle from how hard I rolled my eyes.  The intro to the eMyth Accountant similarly posed an injury risk when the entire introductory brag list contained not a single caveat around being surprised by, humbled by, or grateful for the success of his previous works.  I have never done well in direct interactions with narcissists and it turns out that I also do not enjoy consuming information that is presented through a narcissistic frame.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to like Gerber for his key points to be valuable.  More accurately, *I* don’t have to like him for his key points to be valuable.  

Barrier 2: But I *like* my job / Impact is my top priority

Which brings us to the question of what *is* necessary for Gerber’s key points to be valuable, because I will say right now that the ideals and goals he assumes to be universal to all of his readers are completely unrelatable for me.  In at least two of his books, Gerber effectively presents the idea of early retirement and living off of a cash cow business while spending your days on a yacht as the ideal dream.  Follow his advice, he urges, so that you will never have to work again because passive income is *obviously* the only dream worth dreaming.

So what about the people like me who *like* our jobs and truly want to change the world around us?  I have put hours and years and sweat and tears into building a practice that lets me revel in problems I truly care about and solutions that delight me.  I set up my company so that I could have a broader impact than I could have while working within a single organization.  I have even been known to set my price points so that I could keep my services accessible to smaller businesses because I believe that the changes I am driving are important – even if those decisions mean that that yacht is less likely to be a part of my future. 

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to share Gerber’s dreams for the tools he shares to be valuable.  If you want to have more impact than money, his ideas can still help further that goal.

Barrier 3: You can’t skip leadership

Having moved past the narrative style and underlying premise of the book, I faced a third significant barrier: Gerber completely glosses over the importance of inspiring and motivating employees.  As I have written before, I use the “squares and rectangles” approach to leadership and management: All managers must be leaders but not all leaders should be managers.  Gerber’s books are full of amazing tools for managers but gloss over the leadership underpinning that I personally believe is necessary.

The good news is that there are scattered references to the Vision and North Star but following his advice to the letter strikes me as roughly equivalent to training someone in using an excavator.  It is a powerful tool that can accomplish great things but if the operator has no idea whether the goal is to clear a construction site or to dig a mine, no amount of expertise is going to end with success.

But here’s the thing – it’s a book.  You get to choose when and how you leverage the tools within it so nothing is stopping us from leading first and leveraging his tools to manage second.

So…  Should I go buy the book?

Please don’t!  While it is very clear that more money is Gerber’s prime directive, he has plenty of money already.  

But if you can get past the barriers listed here, I *do* think it is worth reading the book.  I just want to suggest that you borrow a copy from a friend or your local library!


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