First off, I didn’t realize it, but last week was my 150th post! It snuck up on me, unlike my 100th post in March of last year. If all goes well, I should hit my 200th post in February of next year.
I was listening to a recent podcast episode from the Tim Ferriss Show where he interviewed author Jim Collins. In the latter half of the episode, they discuss Collins’s latest publication, a monograph that expands on his flywheel concept that he introduced in an earlier publication, Good to Great.
What I found most interesting was his reason for releasing a monograph (which comes to a total of around 45-pages). He stated that one option was to release it as an appendix to a future edition of Good to Great since it was material that has been expanded since the original publication. However, he decided against this idea since it would force anyone who already purchased Good to Great to buy a second copy of it, which seemed unnecessary.
A second option would be to release it as an article, either in a magazine publication or online. His reasoning against this, however, is that articles and blog posts are too ephemeral, and would likely not get the traction he was seeking. He wanted something that wouldn’t be forgotten immediately in the wash of news and opinions that are put out there for consumption multiple times per day.
Instead, he opted for a somewhat outdated option of releasing a monograph.
What struck me most was his comments concerning idea mediums, which reminded me of a few of my rants on animated bibliographies. His reason to avoid writing a separate book to expand on the flywheel idea is that he doesn’t see value in taking a relatively small idea and working to inflate it to 300 pages.
[Collins] “A piece of writing has a natural length. A symphony has a length. “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones has a length. You wouldn’t say, “Well we should make ‘Gimme Shelter’ a 72-minute piece.” It’s the wrong length for “Gimme Shelter,” and writing is like music. It has an appropriate length for what the music is trying to do, to be. What I realized back in 2005 was sometimes you could have something that is a powerful extension idea or an ideal, it really shouldn’t be a book. It’s not enough to be a book.”
~From the show’s transcript.
This is a good comment on the self-help book publishing industry’s trend to push out books that have a few novel insights and a huge amount of commonly-cited research studies that fit the narrative (and confirmation bias). In fact, it reminds me of a video essay I watched recently which articulates (better than I) the problems with the self-help genre overall.
This certainly won’t stop me from reading self-help books, and I’m still knee-deep in many other animated bibliographies – I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment.
However, I think this insight is fantastic and expresses why some ideas don’t deserve to be turned into books (unless it’s a book of essays). It makes sense that some ideas have a natural size, and the size should be commensurate with the number of pages devoted to explaining it. While the industry does not incentivize these examples of smaller publications, I think it’s a great solution to the need to pad out books with the same sources and the same studies.