Why Hugh Hefner Likes the No Asshole Rule

Bob Sutton’s delightful book The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t came out several months ago and has been a hit—it’s #136 on Amazon today.

But I’m curious about who’s buying the book, and why. There’s something happening here—but what it is ain’t exactly clear.

We “get” the title instantly. Sutton argued with publishers about it, and explains why other words just weren’t precisely right enough for this thought. He did get it just right.

Nor is this management soft porn. Sutton is serious and articulate about the need to strip assholes out of business—and his message is solid.

But that doesn’t get you best seller status. Thousands of books and articles talk about good leadership principles of collaboration, respect for others, and so forth.

Is it the catchy title? Titles do help. Think Blink. Or the all-time best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking—(originally titled The Power of Prayer—think of the difference that title made!)

Is it the “naughty” factor? In the repressed world of business book titles, it’s the Lady Chatterly’s Lover or Ulysses of our time. But, they didn’t top the charts either.

The Booklist review on Amazon tips us off:

If you have ever been a victim, just reading Sutton’s analysis brings calm relief, empowerment, and reassurance that you’re not alone.

I think we buy it because “asshole” is so obviously, completely about those people—and not about me. It’s about them. The idiot in line at the store. The flaming jerk on the airplane. And—most of all—the Boss from Hell. My boss, as chance would have it.

The title seduces us because it legitimizes a guilty pleasure—bitching, moaning, and kvetching about how bad other people are—to us! We don’t often get guilt-free permission to indulge so deliciously in the blaming of others—carpe diem!

Let me be clear—I’m not criticizing the book’s content. Sutton is in good company in his recommendations about management and leadership styles. He even spends a chapter on how not to be an asshole.

But that’s not why we buy it. That’s not the hook. The real hook for buyers, I suspect—is victimhood. It’s not my fault I feel bad—someone did it to me. Those, those—assholes!

It’s this indulgence in blame-throwing—a decidedly unhealthy occupation—that gives me pause.

But here’s the genius part: since the book is a legitimate commentary on management, the reader has plausible deniability about motive.

I may say that I’m buying the book to read the self-diagnostic parts and to think seriously about the management theses—as they apply to me—so that I can shoulder my managerial responsibilities and be a better person, leader and co-worker.

And I used to read Playboy for the articles, too.