A Critical Review of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Mastery With an Emphasis on the First Part
Upfront, I should provide some insight into who I am and make it clear exactly way I chose to critically review Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth Mastery.” Knowing a little bit about me and the reasons way I chose to review Gerber’s book should give any readers of this article an idea of my personal perspective, which could help in sniffing out biases and allow them to come to their own conclusions regarding the book. I consider myself a fairly objective individual though, and believe my analysis to be only partially biased in one respect, but that in itself could be a bias. You decide.
The people who are most likely to come across books by Michael Gerber are business professionals seeking a leg up in the corporate world. Many of them likely already have some experience living in and understanding that world. They have likely already read many of the most well-known business books, such as “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” As far as I can tell, Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth” series is not quite as well-known as those books and professionals turn to it when all other resources have been exhausted, or when business professionals get the bug to venture out on their own.
I am not one of said persons. I am not a business professional. I have spent the last 7 years serving in the United States Air Force, an organization that one would think provides opportunities to catch a glimpse of the corporate way of life, but this is not the case for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. I also have not read many of the most well-known books on business. Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth Mastery,” the latest in his series, could almost be considered the first book I am reading as part of my initial steps to ‘becoming a member” of the business world. I am looking to venture out on my own. A fact which leads me to what you really need to know about me.
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master’s of Entrepreneurship Program at Western Carolina University. I am in the first class, Entrepreneurial Planning, of the first semester of that program. The assigned textbook of the class is “E-Myth Mastery.” We are to read the entire book by the end of the class, roughly 70 pages a week. After reading the Introduction and the Forward in the first week I was reluctant to read any further. I knew I had to though; it was assigned reading, after all, and I did not really want to fake my way through grad school. I determined that the only way I was going to be able to get through the book was by marrying up the reading requirement with the writing assignment.
The writing assignment involved writing an article on a topic of my own choosing and posting it to an ezine website. Obviously, this is said article. If I had not made the decision to combine the two assignments, the article you are reading right now would more than likely be about something like, “Evaluating Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs in the Information Age so that You can Learn How to Motivate Your People Using Twitter” or something to that effect.
To say I have issues with the first part of Gerber’s “E-Myth Mastery” would be an understatement. I will explain exactly what my opinions and thoughts are momentarily, but it should be noted that a great deal many people have found “E-Myth Mastery” most inspired and inspiring. In writing this article, I did not seek to deprive anyone of any sense of well-being gained from reading “E-Myth Mastery.” And my intent was not to shame anyone for having found kernels of truth in the book. There is plenty of material in the book worth taking to heart, especially once you get into the second part, but I personally found there to be just as much that is not. People who have found more rather than less worth in the book can do what I was unable to do, that is, overlook some very distracting elements, primarily in the first part, which sullied the rest of the book for me.
I’ll start this critical review by recounting what the meaning is behind the phrase “E-myth.” Considering that it paints the cover of every one of Gerber’s books on entrepreneurship, the meaning behind the phrase is probably important to know. Up until the release of “E-myth Mastery,” the meaning behind the phrase was spun out of what Gerber saw as a fatal assumption that most budding entrepreneurs make. The assumption says that the success of any business directly correlates with the entrepreneur’s desire to own a business, the amount of capital he/she puts in, and the extent to which he/she knows the business’s target market.
The result of people falling into the “E-Myth” is a phenomena Gerber describes as an “entrepreneurial seizure.” When a person gets it into their head that they could start a business, when they are primarily focusing on the technical work involved in their trade, and when they think that knowing the craft of their trade is enough to make a business work, that person is experiencing an entrepreneurial seizure. Think of Dan Connor from the TV show “Roseanne.” He knew how to fix motorcycles. He thought that his knowledge of his trade was enough to make his motorcycle shop venture a success. He was experiencing an entrepreneurial seizure.
In Gerber’s books, such as “E-Myth Revisited,” which preceded “E-Myth Mastery,” he speaks at length about the myriad of other aspects of business that must be considered, understood, and synergized in order to make a truly successful business. He takes the reader through various business life cycles, business systems, and business processes. The “E-Myth” concept and his advice on how to counter the myth are all strictly within the bounds of the business world up to this point. However, with the release of “E-Myth Mastery” Gerber expands the meaning behind the phrase so that it no longer fits within the realm of the business world. It ends up pushing into the territories of self-help, psychology, religion, and philosophy.
The E-Myth Myth
With “E-Myth Mastery” Gerber adds to the meaning behind the “E-Myth.” He explains that the other side of the “E-Myth” is the common belief that the only people who can be entrepreneurs are those born with a gift; further, said people need only surround themselves with others who know the appropriate trades to create a successful business. Gerber rebukes this claim by saying, “[…] every single, solitary person on this earth […] can discover within himself the brilliance, the genius, the captivating and captivated soul of an entrepreneur, once he knows where to look.” This is said on the fourth page of the Introduction.
Here is where the hairs on my neck instantly started to bristle. I could not help but think that Gerber was being disingenuous in order to sell more books. I could not help but think that one of the locations where we are all supposed “to look” is to his book. In that quote and throughout the book, he leaves out the reality in order to play on people’s emotions, build them up and never let them down, the way self-help books generally do. The reason I think this is because, to me, it is so blatantly obvious that his stance is false; not everyone can become an entrepreneur, plain and simple, and especially not to the level he promotes – “World Class.”
We cannot all be “World Class” entrepreneurs because:
1) There are just some people who are born less capable. Even if he had said, “Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but only after a long and arduous training regimen,” in order to make it somewhat realistic, he still would be wrong. Not everyone has the capacity to even begin considering becoming an entrepreneur.
2) Economically speaking, only so many of the would-be entrepreneurs would get the dollar vote to keep them going. That’s just basic Capitalism at work.
3) If we were all entrepreneurs, then who would do the work at the lower levels that needed to be done?
4) It would be like those planets where everyone has super strength; therefore, no one really has super strength. Okay, I was being funny with the last one, but you get my point.
When I told a friend I was considering writing an article critically reviewing “E-Myth Mastery,” and explained this point to him, he said that it reminded him of a line from “Ratatouille.” The line he was referring to was, “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” That makes a tremendous amount of sense. It is realistic, but at the same time inspiring. The problem is that Gerber is not saying the same thing. What Gerber is saying in effect is, “Everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can’t come from anywhere.” Do you see how that does not make sense?
The Would-Be Psychologist Disguised as a Business Man
Now let’s say I’m misinterpreting Gerber. Let’s say that Gerber was in fact saying,”Certain people, with enough hard work and dedication, could all become entrepreneurs, if they knew where to look.” Based on that which Gerber writes in the first part of the book concerning all that is involved in the hard work, where he would have those certain people look, and Gerber’s background, I still would take issue with the book. Before I can explained why, I need to explain why it is that Gerber even decided that the “E-Myth” series needed a sequel.
Gerber found, while working with a client gone astray, that his business model had been ill-designed for years. His company, E-Myth Worldwide, had been immediately pushing business concepts, systems, processes, etc. onto its clients, telling them to implement what they had been given into their companies and as a result their companies will surely be fixed, without first working with the client to fix the client. Gerber decided to cross the boundaries of business and dive into the world of self-help and psychology. Now, realize that I do not take issue with the notion so much as the result. It was a good idea, but it was poor execution. I say this for one simple reason, Gerber is not a psychologist; he was not qualified to write such a book. It seems to me like Gerber was having a “psychological seizure.”
As I was reading his interactions with the wayward client, whom he uses to thread the entire book together, I found myself aghast at some of the sessions they had and how it was basically therapy. Gerber was and is playing with fire by having written “E-Myth Mastery.” Because he is not a qualified psychologist, his attempts in the filed can be deemed nothing less than haphazard. The client’s situation in the book turned out well, of course, but Gerber cannot be there to guide the many readers who pick up the book. The one thing that would have saved him from making this mistake would have been co-authoring with someone who was qualified. He doesn’t even mention one authority in the field; instead, he unashamedly thrusts himself into other fields – religion and philosophy.
Hate the Preacher, Not the Religion
This maybe my biggest issue with the book, 1) because the previous two issues can also be found in this one, and 2) because the issue concerns a topic that is a bit more personal to me. I am something of a “hobbyist” in regards to religion and philosophy. I study them just for fun, but with an intense respect, and have for some time. Gerber, in my personal estimation, appears to be treating religion and philosophy with a self-serving whimsicalness that borders on irreverent. I say this not because of the fact that throughout the entire first part of the book he jumps around from one religion to another philosophy several times, jumbles it all together and calls it truth. That is fine. He can create truths from religions and philosophies all he wants. That is what they are there for and there is nothing saying that they have to remain mutually exclusive one from another.
My problem is that he does the jumbling act, but does not admit to doing it. Instead, he takes strides to hide it. In the Forward to the book, he adamantly claims that his personal well-being, how he achieved it, and how the reader can achieve it too, has nothing to do with “good religion.” He is right about that, it is not good religion, but it is bad religion. When you take choice parts from various religions and philosophies, mix them up to create truth, and then profess that believing in that truth has nothing to do with religion, that’s bad religion. The fact that he calls his new religion/philosophy “magic” should certainly be of concern.
What is worse is that he may have been hiding the fact that the core of the book’s material is based on a religion of his own making just so that the stoic suits would not be turned away. It may have come down to marketing and money, which would be really quite sad. The publisher’s marketing department may have told Gerber, “Just stick to a lot of dribble about passion and the soul, but don’t bring up where they come from, at least not too often.” And so, he does avoid such things, leaving the reader with the equivalent of a bowl of alphabet soup with one letter from every language on earth. They don’t really end up with an alphabet, but at least it is edible and edifying.
Towards the end of the first part he finally settles on Zen Buddhism, which actually made the stuff he was saying ring a bit more true for me, as an amateur Buddhist, but I still found that I could not help but be disgusted. And then at one point I realized that because of something that the professors of the class said in their syllabus, I might have been a little too critical of Gerber on this point. The professors told us that we were to refrain from discussions about religion and politics in the class’ online forums. I realized how much it bothered me that we couldn’t talk about religion, only to have to read as Gerber talks about magic for 10 chapters.
All the same, I think it would have been far wiser for Gerber to simple focus on passion in light of entrepreneurial visions and not in light of abstract, random blessings from an unknown power. People do not need religion nor philosophy in order to feel a sense of well-being and then to go on feeling passionate about something. I wish that I had the time to bring up an angle that he could have taken, but it would take a great amount of time; suffice it to say that the angle would be based on something that absolutely every last one of us has in common and is undeniable – human needs – much like Maslow’s Pyramid, but with a focus on the higher levels.
Besides the fact that Gerber comes off as disingenuous, that he was not qualified to write the crux of the material in the book, and that he took a flippant approach to religion/philosophy, he is also a terrible writer. There are three reasons why I say this:
1) His material was not very well-organized. I wrote out a concise outline of the first 236 pages, which comprises some of the second part as well, and found that his concepts were often out-of-place, flowed into each other poorly, or just didn’t flow at all, requiring the reader to fill in the blanks, if they saw them.
2) He apparently thinks fragmented sentences are perfectly acceptable because they were so very prevalent.
Short little spurts like this.
Makes each one its own paragraph.
That tells me he’s a buzzword writer.
Lots of cutesy little epiphanies.
That add up to nothing.
The fact that he wrote in fragmented sentences may actually be an indicator of his lack of qualifications to write on whatever topic has the most fragments. You don’t see it as often when he starts getting heavy into the strictly business related material in the second part, for instance.
3) He could not decide if he was writing a business book or a romance novel. I’m not alone on this one. Paul Simister of businesscoaching.com said precisely the same thing:
“Michael Gerber seems to think that he is Barbara Cartland writing bad romantic fiction. To make my point I opened the book at random and found this on the first page I tried (page 71). ‘Her face was bright, flush with life, her eyes clear and excited, her smile beaming. We hugged each other like old, old friends do, and spoke each other’s names…’ Yuck! There is no place for this nonsense in any business book that intends to be taken seriously as much of E Myth Mastery deserves to be.”
I have laid out in this article my reasons why I took issue with Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth Mastery,” and why those issues extend primarily out of the first part of the book. Every step of the way I tried to be objective and/or point out where I may be under the influence of a bias. Whether what I have said regarding Gerber’s ‘E-Myth Mastery” is accurate does not really matter. People are going to find/create truth where they wish too and there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But a moral line is crossed when someone oversteps their bounds to create truth, professes to be authoritative, but is really just trying to sell a poorly written book. As I said, I may be biased. You decide.