Business Parable Books: Yay! or Nay?

Interesting discussion at Joyful Jubilant Learning stirred up by Reg Adkins’ review of Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results.

The book is pretty well known in the business parable genre, perhaps because it has the distinction of being modeled after the very real, very fun Pikes Place Fish Market” perhaps because since being first published in 2000 it has sold kajillion copies (to still be at #343 at eight years later is pretty astounding)” and here’s another thought; perhaps because it’s worked for a bunch of people.

What’s been your experience? Have parable books worked any magic for you or your organization?

In the spirit of quick disclosure and up-front honesty, I ebb and flow in my mood for them and depending what message they convey. There are a few I love, and others where I find the writing is poor and the stories contrived. I readily admit that I may have enjoyed the Know Can Do! parable recently because it was one of those “when the student is ready the teacher appears” experiences for me: The book came to me at exactly the right time, and it is destined to be the thank you gift of “keep this going!” urging I start giving to all my workshop clients. (Spoke of Know Can Do! here, and have a review coming soon posted here.)

Generally, as a manager always looking for good and relatively inexpensive training tools within the workplace, I really liked parable books when I’d stumble on the right one for my crew, in that they are so easy to incorporate into practice, most having simple and fairly straight-forward messages. As I wrote in a comment at Reg’s review:

I am so glad you chose this book for us Reg, for I think that we vastly underestimate what great tools “parable books” can be (and not just for the workplace). Compare Fish! with The Opposable Mind which Tim just reviewed for us: Parable books are ‘bite-sized,’ more easily doable coaching tools that work particularly well for those people who will say, “I hate to read.” That’s a sentiment that is not widely shared by this community (if at all!) but every teacher, trainer and coach will say [not reading] is way more prevalent than we’d like it to be.

The best strategy overall I think, is one of Less is More (ironically the message of Know Can Do! from Ken Blanchard, quite possibly the King of the genre.)

When they find a good one, I encourage managers to “work ‘em, and work ‘em good” using the books to tip and centerpiece consistently strong WOW project campaigns for them that are real, and really good — to just buy these books by the case, distribute them and expect everyone to just “get with the program” on their own (and when there is no program) is extremely annoying and condescending. This dump/expect magic approach will probably backfire on you disastrously, earning you jerk status for sure.

I liked Fish!, using it with pretty good results at the time. As I finished up with my comment at JJL” “Reflecting back on our then-big-corporate experience with Fish!, what we most got out of putting it into practice was their peer-to-peer coaching: Everyone coaches everyone else, and they are taught to do so in a respectful, highly effective way. It is not only the job of the managers.” Having had a personal experience there with them for a few days, the Pikes Place Fish Market is the closest that companies on my personal radar have come to having self-directed work teams that function so well.

My personal favorites of the business parable genre have been co-authored by Ken Blanchard, and I mention them in the Recommended Reading section I added to the back of Managing with Aloha. They are Raving Fans, A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service (and thus exceptional in creating customer service conversations in organizations), and The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, one I recommend a lot because I continue to see how challenging effective delegation is for managers.

[From Managing with Aloha]:

This book is touted as one of the “most liberating books in the extraordinary One Minute Manager Library” for it claims that “one simple idea can set you free: Don’t take on a problem if it isn’t yours!”  I agree, and I’ve never heard it said better than within the pages of this book.

All managers struggle with something that sounds deceptively straightforward: figuring out who does what and not doing it themselves so they can do what they should be doing in the first place. After I read this book I bought three dozen copies and passed them out to first-time supervisors and their managers.  Within days I was delighted to find that monkey mania ran rampant in our language. This is the connection this book has with Managing with Aloha: “The more you get rid of your people’s monkeys, the more time you have for your people.”

What are your stories with the business parable genre? Yay! or Nay?


  1. says

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