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What Do You Have Against Stories, Anyway?

Story_timeIt's been an interesting experience as I start preparing for the release of my next book.  As with the past two, it's a business narrative (or business fable, if you will), a short novel with a business principle.  I've been actively seeking those to write advance praise for it from a variety of sources.  What amazes me is the number of people who are not only averse to the genre, they absolutely hate it.  (I'm glad they are in the minority... I'd hate to think of a world where this mindset prevails.)

Now to be fair to these people, I've endured the Who Moved My Cheese? crap, which proves people like Spencer Johnson need only sneeze on paper and it becomes a best seller.  Ironically, my reason for choosing to write business fables in the first place was after reading Ken Blanchard's Raving Fans, and being so disgusted by the intelligence-insulting bunk that these so-called experts were passing off as business literature that I challenged myself to try to beat them.  So, granted, the genre has received its fair share of black eyes in the marketplace.

But should you judge a book by its genre?  Those who have actually read both of my prior books have provided excellent feedback fairly consistently across the board.  My own writing skill aside, don't stories serve a critical role in today's business landscape?  After all, Jesus' parables are still quoted regularly both in and out of churches (ask anybody what the term "prodigal son" means and they'll tell you), and Aesop's Fables are timeless pieces.  Homer, Plato, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen... hmmm, I guess they didn't get the memo that stories were ineffective and condescending.  Telling a story can get a point across like no droning ever could.  And realistically, whether we know it or not, we're all story-tellers.  Every time we put together a PowerPoint presentation, we're telling a story.  So why not learn to do it well?  Would you rather hear your manager talk about quarterly figures or tell you a story?

Case in point:  My next book is about systems thinking.  See?!?!  Your eyes are glazing over already just at the mention of such a topic.  But... if somebody told you that the author spent a year with a SWAT team to tell a story about how to drive more effective business results using police tactics, wouldn't you be a little more intrigued and curious?

Could it be we're afraid of stories BECAUSE of what they might tell us?  Could it be stories are so truthfully permeating that we can't help but take something away from it which might CHANGE us?  A quote on the Random Juxtapositions blog said it best:

Story telling is one of those great art forms, which not only entertains but also has the ability to render different perceptions of this world to us. But when it comes to oneself, most of us don't have a very fertile imagination. Reality is pretty mundane isn't it? Why is finding a story for your life elusive?

Who knows?  You might be the next best selling business fable author.


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Mark True


I, for one, love stories. They're powerful tools that engage the reader, often by making the complex simple. Analogies, models and metaphors are all types of stories that help us understand concepts from a different perspective.

Those who roll around in the details of the complex, let it sift through their fingers and and smile confidently with their ability to grasp the concept from and with a technical narrative, however, may not feel comfortable using a story. I don't think it's an ego thing - they're not generally TRYING to make it difficult to understand - it's just that they don't have the ability to adapt to a story telling mode.

Story telling is a gift, just like writing, painting, mathematics, public speaking, playing the oboe, etc. Those that don't like using/reading stories to explain complex concepts are probably not particularly able to understand them or relay them.

As for the genre, those who may have said they don't like the genre may simply not like the genre. And for your sake, I'm glad you're able to identify those before you put advance copies into their hands. I hope you're able to find people who love the genre, who know the genre and who appreciate the genre: they'll be able to give it a fair shake. Just like a mystery fan would give a more objective critique of a mystery, and an accountant would like a book on accounting.

You have another advantage: a fan base who knows the genre. Start with the fans of your previous works, and you'll find someone willing to give an honest appraisal of your latest work!


Eric Peterson

I can't wait for your new book to come out! I second everything that Mark said. It's actually hard for me to believe that there are people out there that don't appreciate a good story. For me, some of the business literature gets to be too busy and too wordy.

Give me the likes of Steve Farber, Timothy Johnson, Patrick Lencioni any day! Business fables (for me anyway) just read so much easier. I can pick up The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Radical Leap, GUST, and sit down and read them in a few days. However, you give me some of the "non story" business books out there and it may take me weeks (if I even finish them).

Anyway....You keep writing your stuff, and I know there are many people out there (myself included) who will keep reading it!!

Timothy Johnson

Mark - I'm grateful I already have fans of the genre and of my previous works

Eric - thanks, I'll be glad to get it out into your hands. It's been a fun project and some of my best writing yet

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