Professor Christian Stadler says these stacks of fiction books combine fun with function for business leadrees.

Novel idea: Fiction can combine fun with function for business leaders seeking different perspectives.

Finding time to read is not easy when you are running a business. When managers do find a quiet moment, what do they choose to read?

Do they spend it poring over annual reports? Absolutely. Reading a successful business book? Perhaps.

But curling up with a novel? Not likely.

Given the huge time pressures that managers face, it is hardly surprising that many consider reading fiction to be an indulgence best left for retirement. However, they are missing out.

I previously argued that managers should read academic articles to stay ahead of the latest management thinking and pick up Sci-fi novels to get a better sense of how humans and technology interact. There is also a strong case to be made for reading novels in general.

Why should managers read fiction?

For starters it offers escape, an opportunity to relax that is easily disregarded until burn-out knocks at your door. But reading novels can also make you better at your job.

In a world that is increasingly polarised, conversations with those from 'the other camp' are hard. Novels offer a nuanced perspective, homing in on the human aspects we can all relate to.

Novels are also great at taking us to places we usually do not go, offering an understanding of the world that is difficult to acquire from hopping between hotel lobbies to meet managers in far flung places.

Finally, novels package organisational interactions into easily digestible manners with a particular focus on the human side. This is something you might overlook in a corporate chart, only to learn later that it was your inability to connect that made a new idea fail.

And if all of this does not convince you, it’s worth remembering one more thing. Reading will make you a better communicator and novels tend to beat non-fiction hands down.

So, lets get to the three novels you should definitely pick up.  

The Castle by Franz Kafka

This is a highly frustrating book. Long-winded and tedious, you might hate it right from the start. The worst part, it does not even have an ending as Kafka never completed it.

This, however, is exactly what this book needs. It makes the core message even more powerful in the same way that the right soundtrack reiterates the plot of a movie.

Kafka tells the story of a land surveyor called K. He has been appointed by the castle but village officials reject his claim. Trying to rectify the situation he tries in vain to gain access to communicate with the castle authorities. It is a story about bureaucracy killing initiative.

While great business books like Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini’s Humanocracy make a similar case and offer useful frameworks, the emotional appeal of a novel is unmatched – which is probably the key to fighting bureaucracy.

Large organisations will always create structures and an abundance of forms. Some of them are actually useful but to decide when to stick to procedure and when not is down to individual managers. If they don’t feel that ignoring the rules makes sense occasionally, they never will.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

One way to read this book is with September 11 in mind. Changez, a Pakistani man, meets an American stranger in a café in Lahore. In an intense plot, it slowly becomes apparent that there is a story within the story.

Changez was in love with an American woman once, while working as a consultant in the US. However, 9/11 upended his world, with anti-Islamic sentiment and new policies pushing him to the brink.

Reading the book with this in mind will enrich your understanding of the journey facing people from emerging economies, offering an intimate look at something that is not easily accessible otherwise.

What’s potentially even more useful for managers is the acknowledgement that you can push people only so far. Failing to see their humanity is neither right nor smart, and can lead to disaster.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Follett actually wrote a whole Knightsbridge series and you should read all of them. In fact after you read this first one you won’t be able to resist picking up the others.

The novel is set in the fictional 12th century English town called Kingsbridge and circles around the building of a cathedral. It’s full of drama, telling the story of the people involved in the megaproject. As in all big projects, there is structure and hierarchy. Still, human relationships transcend these and managers are well advised to never forget about this.

From a career perspective, the book also highlights, that fortunes change. Just because you are on top today, does not mean that you will get away with mistreating someone junior.

Jason Feifer, the editor of Entrepreneur Magazine recently posted: “HARD NO! A celebrity was a jerk to me years ago — and now they want me to write about their business.”

In short: what goes around, comes around.

When is the best time for managers to begin reading?

It is easy to put off, but setting aside some time for reading fiction will open up your mind. So don't delay, start today.

You can combine fun and function in a manner that few other activities can.

And in case you are more of the organised type: 30 minutes before sleeping is not a bad way to establish a routine.


This article was originally published by Forbes

Christian Stadler is Professor of Strategic Management, author of Enduring Success, and co-author of Open Strategy. He teaches Strategic Advantage on the Executive MBAGlobal Online MBA, and Full-time MBA.

Follow Professor Stadler on Twitter and LinkedIn or visit his website.

Learn more about strategy on the School's four-day Executive Education courses Strategy Execution at WBS London at The Shard.

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