The mortality rate for start-ups is high, particularly when they are in the fledgling stage. Many shut shop due to disharmony in the team, errors in the prediction of market demand, inability to react to changing market conditions, and/ or toxic work culture. Many founders are young and fret over the lack of grey hair in their board. They actively seek wisdom and mentoring to navigate this complex entrepreneurial journey and to prevent their start-up from falling into the valley of death.
Fortunately for them, corporate fiction writers have distilled a variety of business experiences through creative storytelling into concise books and by dipping into them, the entrepreneur may derive quite a few lessons in a rewarding and indulgent manner.
Corporate fiction is a niche area in writing. In corporate fiction, the main characters are business executives, managers, and employees and the key conflicts are driven by commercial considerations. A good work of corporate fiction allows the reader to fully experience the business world along with its shenanigans and understand the motivations of the characters and their responses to a variety of business crises. Access to this knowledge can be a vital edge for an entrepreneur.
Only a few writers have the techniques to produce this type of writing and typically, they tend to be very knowledgeable about the workplace. Joshua Ferris, for instance, was an advertising man early on in his career and he brought out the famous work of corporate fiction titled Then We Came to the End.
Stephen Frey works in the finance sector and has written thrillers set in the financial world. The real world experiences of these corporate fiction authors help in bringing credibility to the business situations and characters they create.
A few start-ups tend to scoff at corporate culture and systems and fear that adopting them will strangle their growth and agility. But here’s the thing:
Start-ups can actually learn a lot from large corporations. For one, big businesses have achieved the scale that start-ups are striving for. Every major corporation has begun life as a tiny start-up—operating out of a garage, bootstrapped, struggling for survival. But by embracing better practises, they have managed to grow in size, cultivate a stable work environment and create value for various stakeholders.
Reviewing life inside such a corporation through a magnifying lens—which is what a corporate fiction writer attempts—will allow the reader to walk in the shoes of the characters, develop empathy, explore alternative scenarios and be more creative. The reader will get to know the human implications of strategic decisions. There will be insights to be consumed way beyond what management studies and non-fiction can offer.
I’d like to give you a flavour of corporate fiction by presenting a brief excerpt from my story Lonesome which has been published in the Punch Magazine.
He sits in a corner, hunched over a computer with headphones plugged into his ears. He is barely noticeable unless someone is specifically looking for him but nobody seems to want to. You would not have known of his existence, but for that trip in the elevator where he practically flattened himself against the wall, sweated profusely and refused to emit any sound. Perhaps being in the presence of a high ranking woman who is the Head of Business Development is a tad intimidating for him.
These are the opening lines of the story which introduce the reader to the lonesome character Gunther and it is interesting to note that it is actually the quiet demeanour of the employee that gets him noticed as opposed to a carefully crafted elevator pitch.
The corporate fiction author will not offer expert guidance on manufacturing or operations but he or she will certainly scrape away the glamour of the workplace and reveal the truth about the dynamics that lie beneath—warts and all.
He or she will allow the reader to be a fly on the wall of boardrooms and listen in on closed door conversations. Using techniques like the stream of consciousness and multiple points of view, the writer will present the audience with the intimate feelings, thoughts and compulsions of the characters and the reader will get to appreciate the hard graft that goes into building successful ventures.
So dear entrepreneur, the next time you go about assembling brilliant minds to innovate products and services, please do not ignore that corporate fiction book sitting on the bookshelf. It might just offer you the understanding you need to succeed, help your start-up escape from the dreaded valley of death and be the game changer you were hoping for.