There is much that managers can learn from novels - Moby Dick and War and Peace provide much to ponder - but what can they learn from novelists and the construction of novels? I believe there are a few lessons:
- Don't dig a hole for yourself. Have you ever read a novel where it became obvious that the author knew the beginning and middle of the story very well but had no idea how to end it? You can cover a lot of distance with improvisation but eventually you'll want to know your destination.
- Beware of fatigue. Large novels are like marathons. You can sense when some authors started to tire. The quality of their work begins to decline.
- Beware of excessive love of technique. A unique style may work for the first three chapters but become quirky and irritating by the tenth. The same applies to bizarre management practices.
- Don't rely on a magical solution. It rarely works in novels or in real life.
- Don't expect a character to act against his or her type and remain credible. You may dress up Clyde as a sales rep and send him to sales rep classes but Clyde is never going to be a sales rep...unless you're looking for comedy or tragedy.
- Have the language match the moment. Placing 21st century hipster jargon in the mouth of a nineteenth century sea captain kills credibility. You can find less extreme but similar mismatches in the workplace. The language should match the place and the person.
- Recognize that life is not a novel. At least, not in most cases. The most powerful characters in life are the quiet heroes who support families, meet obligations, hone skills, and fulfill civic duties. The same is true in the workplace. Your most important employees are not the charismatic home run hitters. They are your base hitters who, although devoid of drama, win ball games.