“What is the role of literature, or for that matter any form of poetry, art and music, in management education and practice? Is it an engagement in abstraction, an escape from the drudgery of daily life? Is it a flight to fantasy, a leap into the void? Certainly not! The need for mainstreaming inputs from literature, poetry and music in MBA curricula and corporate training modules rises from the acute inadequacy to deal with the complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and turbulence in the business scenario today. The art of managing people is not a matter of deployment of a set of skills or use of stereotyped formulas but awakening and unleashing our creative potential energy in its deepest and widest sense. Thus the realisation is slowly dawning in leadership consciousness that literature can enliven the spirit within, or otherwise why should Prof Joseph L Badaracco Jr at Harvard be using Sophocles, Joseph Conrad and Arthur Miller in leadership courses and Prof James Maarch at Stanford, who delves into literature after a lifelong journey with Organisational Design and Strategy to unfold the myriad dimensions of life and human behaviour to students and business barons before they deal with the multiple layers of reality within the self, the organisation and the planet at large?
Literature awakens the spirit in an exploratory – rather, evolutionary – and in not a pedantic manner, so that we can outgrow our conventional stereotypes of right and wrong, good and bad, black and white. “The colour of truth is grey,” said French writer Andre Gide.”
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But can it continue?
“It is one of the cruel truisms of the book business that publishers rarely have much insight into how their products are actually used. This is not for lack of curiosity on a publisher’s part but because of the structure of the industry: books are almost never sold directly to end-users. They are sold to libraries and the wholesalers that service libraries; they are sold to your local bookshop; and they are sold to online vendors; but rarely is a book sold directly by a publisher to the person who reads it. Book publishing, in other words, is a game of intermediaries. Sitting upstream, publishers have little insight into what is happening downstream. This is an invitation to make bad business decisions based on unproven assumptions about how books are actually used, and as an industry, book publishers have accepted that invitation over the past few years and made a series of big mistakes. It may be hard to roll back these decisions, but if we don’t know what they are and how they came to be, we are likely to keep making more of the same.”
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A Harvard Professor teaches MBA students how to become moral leaders, and finds lessons in literature:
“the understanding of what makes a good leader starts with searching for truth in works of fiction.”
“It takes something really big to shape somebody … The reason literature can have that influence–these books kind of get under peoples’ skin.”
“Because you read these books, and you might see one of these characters and think, ‘That’s me.”
“I think what you get from serious literature is a warts-and-all view of people and people in leadership positions … In other words, the authors can be basically unsparing. The good stuff and bad stuff and the confused stuff going over (the characters’) heads, it’s all there. You can see it and learn from how these characters made decisions.”
“This course is intensely practical, if the term practical is understood to include preparation for living a morally responsible life … One of the goals of this course is to move you beyond your immediate reactions in challenging situations toward a more considered and analytical approach to moral and ethical decision-making.”
“Ten reasons why reading good books is a key to success
* Reading good books has the side effect of inducing feelings of optimism, peace of mind and desire.
* Self-help books and success literature encourage you to focus your viewpoint on the future and not dwell in the past.
* When you read personal development books you get inspired and want to set new goals for yourself.
* Reading about success and successful people gives you something to aspire to.
* The stories and lessons found in many books provide hope that there is always something better waiting in your future.
* Some books will encourage you to imagine and picture what you want for your career and your life.
* Good books open your mind to new ideas and ways of looking at things.
* Books can teach you how to relate to and lead others in more positive and productive ways.
* Reading can increase your value to your employer and your profession.
* Books will open more doors to opportunity, growth and success in all areas of your life.”
“Arguably, literature and the humanities have a lot to say about the world of business and the world in general. Ask most business leaders what keeps them up at night, and the answer will rarely be issues of process, technology or numbers – although all of that is certainly complicated and challenging. Rather, what leaders struggle with usually comes down to the people stuff. And by that they mean the complex and often contradictory nature of human beings. …
Insights from literature and the humanities are particularly valuable when trying to understand behaviour that doesn’t seem to make sense in a classic economic analysis. Examples of people being confusing in the world of business abound, whether dealing with colleagues, partners or customers. …
As a way of approaching complex reflection, nothing beats the fragility, the openness, and the contradictory nature of the literary text.
A more sustainable business is surely a more human business. If we continue to ignore human complexity, and human motivations beyond profit, eventually people will turn their backs on commerce. It is already starting to happen.”
“Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children and empathy and theory of mind in adults. The program in Medical Humanities & Arts even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.”
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Want to be a leader in your field? Read.
“The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.
Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence (PDF), making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organizational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.
Finally, an active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving health. For stressed executives, reading is the best way to relax, as reading for six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, and some studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind.
Reading more can lead to a host of benefits for business people of all stripes, and broad, deep reading can make you a better leader. So how can you get started? Here are a few tips:”
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“… because you think if you own publishing you can control what’s printed, what’s written, what’s read? Well, lotsa luck, sir. It’s a common delusion of tyrants. Writers and readers, even as they suffer from it, regard it with amused contempt.”
Yet, the corporate publishing industry operates in those exact terms. Books are nothing more than commodity, with bestsellers being the lifeline that sustains the business model.
“The social quality of literature is still visible in the popularity of bestsellers. Publishers get away with making boring, baloney-mill novels into bestsellers via mere P.R. because people need bestsellers. It is not a literary need. It is a social need. We want books everybody is reading (and nobody finishes) so we can talk about them. …
Moneymaking entities controlled by obscenely rich executives and their anonymous accountants have acquired most previously independent publishing houses with the notion of making quick profit by selling works of art and information. …
… a “good book” means a high gross and a “good writer” is one whose next book can be guaranteed to sell better than the last one. That there are no such writers is of no matter to the corporationeers, who don’t comprehend fiction even if they run their lives by it. Their interest in books is self-interest…
And not only profit but growth. If there are stockholders, their holdings must increase yearly, daily, hourly. … How can you make book sales expand endlessly, like the American waistline?”
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“The top five, as portrayed in the updated “Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry” shows, at the top, a bunch of old champions in the global knowledge society: British Pearson, made of the uncontested leader in Education, and one of the biggest brands in fiction and nonfiction Trade books, Penguin, followed by Reed Elsevier, Thomason Reuters and Wolters Kluwer, spearheading mostly digital services for scientific and professional information, and French Hachette, the new comer to knowledge in a truly worldwide perspective.
Those five companies are giants with yearly publishing revenues (not counting newspapers, magazines, TV of advertising) of more than 2 bn € (or 2.5 bn US$), and imposing a strong presence truly around the globe, to provide book or similarly ‘complex’ content, notably leading journals, to the world.”
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“A lifelong habit of reading great novels exposes the mind to many more human dramas than are available in real life.
It enables a deeper understanding of the human animal and its subtle psychological nuances.
That understanding will help you deal with people much better – and in business these days, it’s the people that matter.
“It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavour of alternate worlds of experience.”
Truly great novelists have a very sharp eye when it comes to watching the way people live, relate and interact. They are able to weave this understanding into their characters and plot and dramatic structure, to create a product that leaves the brain stimulated in a way few other experiences can deliver.
“Business is about life, and so is fiction. The great businessperson must understand people, their driving emotions, their ambitions and their fears, and what causes their rise or fall. A great novelist delivers precisely that understanding.”
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