Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fiction with a Mission

I can't remember a time when I was more excited and sure that I had come up with a great idea than when I suggested the use of fiction as a way of conveying key lessons learned around telecenters. I had been reading a lot about the use of storytelling as a knowledge sharing tool and then case teaching as a method for teaching. We were looking for something innovative, not just another toolkit or cookbook and so I suggested that we develop a fictional country with fictional characters and a plot. Through their experiences, the main characters would come to identify key lessons learned and develop a process for others to use. While the initial reaction to the idea was somewhat positive, the final word was "no, this isn't going to fly."

I've come to realize that an idea that fails isn't necessarily a bad idea. Sometimes the timing is wrong, the manner in which the idea is introduced is less than ideal, or some other contextual element is acting as a barrier.

It's quite possible that I could not have made it fly but I haven't given up on the idea of using fiction. Since then I've discovered a series of "business novels" that are doing something similar to what I meant to try. In other words, I didn't come up with a brand new idea. It already existed. I just wanted to make it work in the context of a development-related issue.

I've compiled a reading list related to this theme of business novels and I'm working my way down the list. I've now read "Jack's Notebook" by Gregg Fraley and "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson. "Jack's Notebook" is about Creative Problem Solving and "Who Moved My Cheese?" is about change and how people deal or fail to deal with change. These two books are different in style: "Jacks' Notebook" has a real plot and characters, it reads like a simple novel; "Who Moved My Cheese?" is more akin to a fable. However, they are both written with a primary focus on conveying a set of key principles or concepts, using a storytelling approach. Mainstream novels may have an underlying theme but don't have as their primary function to teach anything. Their primary function is to entertain the reader.

Here's my reading list:

Patrick Lencioni's Business Fables

* The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni.
* Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors
* The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees)
* The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable.

Jeff Cox's seven business novels

* The Goal
* Zapp
* Quadrant Solution
* Heroz
* The Venture
* Selling the Wheel
* The Cure

Other Examples

* Flying Fox
* Runamok
* The Management Game
* Who Moved My Cheese
* Jack's Notebook
* Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, By Steve Litt
* The Deadline: A Novel about Project Management

My hope is to learn from these examples of "didactic fiction" and come up with a development-related version. If you are reading this and you know of some existing examples in development-related fields, please let me know.