As host of the MarketingProfs podcast, Marketing Smarts, I've read more business books over the last 18 months then I did over the preceding three decades.
What I've learned along the way is that not all business books are created equal. Some, like Lee Odden's Optimize or Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, by Beth Kanter and KD Paine, have a strong "how to" bent. Other books, like Dan Pink's To Sell Is Human or Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, use interesting stories and scientific research to suggest how we might better do things.
Still others, such as Humanize by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter or Brandscaping by Andrew Davis invite us to reconsider and re-conceptualize our approaches to the way businesses are organized or the way that marketing is conducted.
Finally, there are those "business" books, such as Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green, that, for good or ill, simply make you think.
Get Ready to Work
"We presume," Sam Ford told me during this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, "that anybody who comes to read this book is coming ready to bring a lot of labor to the project."
The reason behind this presumption is that the question at the core of this book—What is "the role the audience plays, not as a mass aggregate but as real people"?—is, as Sam puts it, "a very complicated thing to think about."
The problem is that when you are in the thick of actually conducting business, it's difficult to find the time to think about such things as whether the concept of content "going viral" accurately describes the way content circulates or the implications of thinking about your "audience" as a set of eyeballs to be aggregated.
"In the agency world, we are always so focused on client needs and the next big meeting or the next new business pitch, whatever it is you're working on, that it's hard to stop and have these sorts of conversations," explained Sam.
"And when you do," he went on to say, "it so often becomes about new tactical things, new platforms, new analytical tools, new ways of doing your job, rather than these sort of deep-seated conversations."
Being Useful By Posing Questions
Spreadable Media contains some practical advice—at one point the authors list out characteristics of content that can make it more "spreadable"—but what the book asks you to do is reexamine your assumptions about audiences, content, how the latter benefits the former, and vice versa.
Rather then tell you to do something, the book invites you to question what you are doing and, as a result of that questioning, consider what you might do instead.
In other words, it doesn't tell you to do, it asks you to think.
And is that such a bad thing?