I was talking to a publisher at The Frankfurt Book Fair about what makes business books successful and he said without hesitation, "The great ones are a catalyst that lead you to see the world differently."
I like that description.
He pointed to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey as a catalytic example of a book that has done very well in his country. I immediately added Getting Things Done by David Allen and StrengthsFinder 2.0 from Gallup. And I thought more.
Good To Great and In Search of Excellence were organizational catalysts. Five Dysfunctions of A Team has been a catalyst that has changed how groups work. The First 90 Days changed how we approached those first few months in a new job. And the list goes on…
There was a comment at the O'Reilly's Tools of Change Conference the day before the Fair started that carried a similar tone. Jeff Jarvis was asking the questions during his Q&A at the end of his talk and posed to the audience, "What is the greatest thing publishing does?"
A man in the back of the room stood up and said, "We create the photography, but not the reality. We are the catalyst, not the experience–people have to search that out themselves." While that might sound cryptic, that riff has some deep insight.
The highest hope we can have when we write books (or blog posts for that matter) is that the reader will have an experience that changes the view of their world and forces them to seek out a new reality.
I guess Jack and I got it right in the introduction to The 100 Best Business Books of All Time–"Business books can change you, if you let them."