Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chicken Soup for Entrepreneurs' Soul, Spoiled

Bend, Not Break is an autobiography written by Fu Ping with her coauthor Meimei Fox, published on December 31, 2012. The book has since caused substantial controversy and is the subject of this web site.

The book is published by Portfolio, "a dedicated business book imprint within Penguin Group." However, the "business" story in the book received little to no attention as its authors and publishers chose to promote the book by highlighting Fu Ping's life story instead, especially her self-claimed suffering while growing up during China's Cultural Revolution era.

The official book description boldly proclaimed: "It sounds too unbelievable for fiction, but this is the true story of a life in two worlds." They were correct for the first part. Her story was indeed too unbelievable, as either fiction or nonfiction, as this web site has documented and will be continuing to follow up.

On the other hand, the business part of the book has a few "case studies" of Fu Ping being the CEO of Geomagic. It reads like a collection of "Chicken Soup for Entrepreneur's Soul" tales, whereupon the author(s) tells a tidbit of her experience and then derives a quick but very generalized morale or "life lesson," such as "being good to other people." Because these stories are told in isolation without historical coherence or context, it is very difficult to follow in terms of how she actually performed her job.

There is almost no mention of any internal conflicts in running the company as a business, even during the brief period when Geomagic was in danger of survival. The board and other executives of the company are essentially invisible. When they did get mentioned, they were just happy campers going along with whatever Fu Ping wanted to do. The author, by the way, tried very hard to portray herself as "being nice" with her former CEO at the time, but in a very condescending manner while misrepresenting facts and even timeline. If there had been real struggles in being an entrepreneur, you don't learn them from this book, but only hear them through the author's occasional self-pity.

The few substantial business cases are not illuminating either. For example, the book included two tough negotiations Fu Ping had to enter on behalf of her company, one with Align Technology for a critical contract and one with two big companies with a lawsuit threat. In both case, she chose to capitulate before the negotiations even started and then justified her decisions on circumstances. The only M&A action described the book involving a Hungarian company also resulted in failure. Maybe it was the author's intention to teach by mistakes, but it does leave readers wondering.

In all, the book reads like two books being forcefully compressed and intermingled into one. It could not make up its mind whether to be an autobiography or a chicken soup instructional book. It ends up not doing a good job in either. The awkward use of the story-telling device of constantly shifting back and forth in time certainly doesn't help any here. It only exasperates the frustration that Fu Ping's life story keeping getting in the way of her business activities, or vice versa.

Some readers may indeed be inspired by her story as presented, just as many may find chicken soup books valuable guides to their lives. But in this case, they will have to first get over the fact that most of the stories in this book are falsified, made up, or questionable.

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