How to Handle Business Book Narcissism

I’ve noticed a theme in a non-trivial amount of the feedback I’ve received about a few books on the Personal MBA reading list. The essence of the comments goes something like this:

“I stopped reading the book because the author’s ego was extremely annoying - what a jerk!"

What do you do when you realize you can’t stand an author’s personality?

Self-Confidence and Egotism

In a sense, comments like these aren’t surprising. It’s absolutely true that many of the authors of Personal MBA-recommended books clearly have extremely healthy egos.

Self-confidence is a significant asset, since it enables people to accomplish difficult things. Most of the authors of books on the Personal MBA are quite successful in their line of work, and it’s easy to tell that they have a great deal of confidence in their own skills and abilities. Authors like Tim Ferriss , Dan Kennedy, Chet Holmes, Alan Weiss, and Jay Abraham regard themselves highly, and their self-regard shows through in their writing.

While it’s true that over-expression of ego sometimes detracts from the message of a book, it’s quite foolish to overlook what you can learn from someone simply because they present themselves as being high and mighty.

An Opportunity For Self-Understanding

If you have a strong reaction to someone’s perceived over-confidence or ego, use your annoyance as an opportunity to explore your thoughts, feelings, and assumptions about what it means to be successful. If you find yourself responding in a negative way to your perception of someone else’s self-confidence, it’s a good indication that you’ve found something interesting to explore in your own psyche.

Many people deeply fear that the only way to succeed in business is to treat other people poorly, and thereby associate successful people with being mean. (Think Donald Trump firing people while surrounded by gold and mahogany, or images of “Robber Barons" past and present exploiting others for personal gain.)

This mental association is a prime example of a limiting belief: if becoming a “successful person“ in your mind means becoming an egotistical jerk, you’ll find it very difficult to act in a way that will enable you to define yourself as successful - after all (says your brain), you don’t really want to become one of them, do you?

Your mental mixed signals will sabotage your plans to create a valuable business, which ultimately harms both yourself and the customers who will benefit from your work.

4 Ways to Avoid Authorial Ego

  1. Use structured reading techniques to find the key ideas without wading through ego. Books like 10 Days to Faster Reading will help you focus on the valuable parts of a text and ignore the less valuable parts.

  2. Explore why you’re responding so strongly. The practice of asking yourself (and then answering) questions in a journal or talking through your response with another person are extremely powerful practices that will help you understand why you’re unconsciously acting in a particular manner, allowing you to change your behavior consciously.

  3. Remind yourself that you can choose to be different. You’re reading the book because you believe there’s something the author knows that you can learn - not so you can learn how to become just like them.

  4. Focus on what the material means to you. What you can do with the ideas presented? What are some things you learned from the book that you’ll be able to use or try? Books are only as good as your ability to put what you read into practice.

Recognize (and make use of) valuable ideas and insights wherever you can find them. Ignore the rest.

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman →

Published: January 23, 2009Last updated: January 23, 2009

Books by Josh Kaufman