“Imagination and fiction make up
more than three quarters of our real life.”

~Simone Weil

When I ask my fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners if they read novels, the answer is usually a resounding “never.” Why? Because in business, every minute of every hectic, meticulously produced day, must be deemed useful.

Nonfiction business books make the cut easily. There, we are investing in our businesses by learning leadership strategies, productivity tools, business planning tactics, and other concrete returns on our reading investment.

This is all completely true. But where does that leave nonfiction’s less attractive stepsister in the minds of business readers? Apparently, lying in a muddy ditch by the side of the information superhighway.

Reading fiction, I’m told by my business compatriots, is a waste of time.

That sucking sound you just heard is all the air leaving my gut as if I’ve been stabbed. Or in more polite terms – I beg to differ, and here’s why.

1.Fiction Adds Depth: Nonfiction acts as a valuable human operating manual, answering the “what and how” of managing business and life. Fiction goes behind the scenes, exploring the “why,” adding color commentary. Beyond that, it provides a thought-provoking layer of “what if” to expand our view of this thing called life. With depth, it is nearly impossible to go through the motions. We become creators rather than mere operators.

Where could you benefit from a behind the scenes view of life?

2.Fiction Gives Life a Shape: Read enough fiction and your brain will start to recognize how stories and plot lines are shaped. You’ll start to understand arcs, rising and falling with action, inciting events, tension, and relief of tension. Once you understand how every event has a beginning, middle, and end, you will learn to tell better stories (and understand other people’s stories more easily).

How could a mastery of the rhythm of life help you tell better stories about yourself and your business?

3.Fiction is a People 101 Crash Course: Fiction offers one of the greatest gifts of all – an understanding of people – why we are the way we are, and why we act the way we do. Novelists invest more time in developing their characters, perhaps more than any other aspect of their story. This is because each character needs to be well developed enough to carry an entire plot line on his or her shoulders. Fiction writers are tasked with understanding people on a near quantum level and by reading their words, we learn to see through their eyes.

How could such a complex understanding of the way people operate, benefit your interactions?

4. Fiction Helps You Communicate Better: Every word of fiction is designed to paint a visual picture, to move a plot forward, or to reveal something about a character. Every line in a novel has its own mission. It must also seamlessly weave together with all the other lines, carrying the reader on a smooth tidal wave from beginning to end, without dropping them soaking wet and shivering onto the muddy beach. To do this, novelists employ writing elements like metaphors (my favorite), similes, allegories, parables, imagery and other feats of literary magic.

How could learning such advanced writing tools by regularly investing in fiction reading, help improve your verbal and written communication skills?

Yes, fiction is harder and slower to read, and challenges the popular page reading quotas of top business leaders; those who encourage us to download encyclopedia chapters of business data into our computer-like brains daily.

But fiction sets our creative brains free from the data hungry computers. It challenges us to think deeper, activates our imagination, teaches us human psychology, and gives us access to alternative viewpoints of life. It lets us dream beyond our daily lives.

(And there is no rule saying that you can’t read a little of both on a regular basis!)


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