Have you ever noticed that experienced managers rarely read management books? At first I though this might be because they don’t have the time or just don’t like reading. Yet many are voracious newspaper readers. They will get up early in the morning to get through one or more newspapers.
Here’s one explanation. Most management books provide a set of rules in the form, “for this type of behaviour, involving these types of people, in this type of situation, do this.” The problem with these types of rules is they can only be generalisations and when things move fast, and they’re complex, progress can only be effectively made with knowledge of specific situations. In the moment these specific situations (experience) help the manager create new generalisations made for the current situation. This context-specific knowledge is a combination of understanding what happened to get here, what’s happening now and what the manager (and the group) would like to see happen. This specific and detailed understanding comes from stories. Stories from the manager’s experience, from her colleagues, the people involved in the situation and those who want to make progress.
So why do managers read papers and avoid management books? Because newspapers contain stories of what’s happening now, in the past and in the future. They are detailed and specific and help build a manager’s situational awareness, their repertoire and their ability to act.
Management authors are beginning to wake up to what practitioners want and are now writing books replete with stories and even advocating the need to understand and work with stories in business. A quick browse in Amazon’s top selling management books and I can see four books that illustrate this point: Blink, Made to Stick, A Whole New Mind, The No Asshole Rule.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: