Can Literature Breed Better Decision-Making?


By Neal Comment

sandra-sucher-headshot.jpgI was sifting through the latest Harvard Business Review over the weekend when I came across an interesting one-page interview with Prof. Sandra J. Sucher (left) about hacking her HBS class on “The Moral Leader” into an executive book club. To some of you, this may seem self-evident, as Sucher explains how discussing the moral dimensions of a literary work like The Remains of the Day provides an environment with sufficient distance from the workaday world to allow readers to explore the character’s moral choices without self-imposed psychological restraints, and how a group conversation can lead to new insights. “Most of us believe that our moral views are self-evident,” she says. “Hearing people present arguments you had never thought of is one way to strengthen your own moral reasoning skills.” So, for the article, she draws upon her curriculum to create an executive reading list (PDF download) that ranges from Machiavelli and Sophocles to Allan Gurganus and Russell Banks. (See, too, a longer interview with Sucher that discusses her philosophical underpinnings in more detail.)

For me, the article sparked a series of marketing questions. I know book publishers have become proficient at marketing “book club books” to socially-motivated book clubs, and business books to business people. What I don’t know is how good the industry is at marketing “book club books” to business people, or how one would go about doing that. But I’m thinking the increasing popularity of the “business fable” genre might demonstrate a hunger among executive (and aspiring executive) readers for powerful storytelling that publishers could tap into… and then you have to ask yourself, do you play it safe by sticking to the classics, or do you open things up and try to expose this class of readers to contemporary writers, some of whom might even be flying under the radar? And all this comes before the logistical questions of how you make the audience aware of the books… Do you have any ideas?