The Hard Business Fiction FAQ

Deathworld 3 by Harry Harrison
Deathworld 3 by Harry Harrison (Photo credit: Travelin' Librarian)
"Reduce output to 8,000 units this month," James said decisively.

"...but sir," Erica protested, "The factory is tooled, the production factors are contracted, and that's just half the output we've been averaging for the past 3 quarters..."

"I know Erica, but we're in business to make money, not phone cases, and there are greater profits to be made below the marginal utility on the new Chinese project."

"Yes sir," Erica replied, "I'll inform the shareholders, but they aren't going to like it."

"If they have a problem that 20% increased profit margins can't solve, I'll take care of it myself.  I'll catch up with you after lunch, let you know how it went with marketing."

"Sure," she hung up and immediately began dialing again.

What is Hard Business Fiction?

Business Fiction is a literary genre defined by the characteristic of taking place in the business world.  It may include elements of realism, history, science fiction, futurism, or even fantasy, but far and away its defining feature is that setting and plot are firmly rooted in the practice of business.

Soft Business Fiction violates basic rules of economics, lacks logical consistency, and may make use of deus ex machina and nonsensical plot -twists to make up for what the basic principles of capitalistic markets says cannot happen.

Hard Business Fiction is the contrast to this.  In Hard Business Fiction, we leave understanding the rules of business and the operations of capitalistic societies a little better than when we started.  Every business school model that begins, "If Y corp produces 750 widgets..." contains elements of Hard Business Fiction.

What are Examples of Soft Business Fiction?

  • Harry Harrison's "Deathworld" explores a symbiotic trade relationship between "Pyrrans" and "Grubbers," wherein the trade of food for machine parts constitutes a strategic alliance in the form of supply contracts, but one party withholds knowledge about core competencies in the field of medical technology, enabling them to hold a monopolistic competitive advantage over the world.
  • Terry Goodkind's "Faith of the Fallen" is an installment in an epic fantasy series that sees the hero bootstrap a delivery business start-up.
  • "American Psycho" and "The Great Gatsby" take place in settings with strong business roots, though their educational value is limited.

What are Examples of Hard Business Fiction?

Other works have been used to teach executives about business principles, though their status as Hard Business Fiction is questionable.  These might be better classified as business classics.  "Crime and Punishment" for example is often used to teach about ethics, though it does not take place in a business environment.  "Remains of the Day" takes place in a radically different business setting, a British estate, but is used to teach business principles of loyalty and ethics.

Some works may fall within the realm of Hard Business Fiction, such as "Heads in Beds" and "The Heart of Darkness," but present business information which is far more industry specific (hotel industry and colonial ivory trade respectively).

Why Care About Hard Business Fiction?

Two reasons.

First, in the world of business, internships in the workforce prior to graduation are widely considered to be one of the best sources of business education and experience, often weighed as more significant than the same amount of classroom time.*  Internships are highly competitive because there are far more students than positions.  If we spend the next 10 years dedicating ourselves to creating quality Hard Business Fiction materials, those materials and the simulations that can be created based off of them can serve to replace the internship experience for those who are unable to obtain a quality internship position.

*Ignore here the trend of post-graduation internships outside the medical community which often amount to free clerical labor for the business providing them and little more.  Many internships teach valuable work skills, but they aren't always easy to distinguish from less beneficial positions.

Imagine a marketing class where students spend no time at all in lectures, but instead report to a classroom outfitted with cubicles for 3-hour class/work sessions twice a week where they take on the roles of marketing researchers, assistants, copywriters, and more for a fictional business with a real balance sheet determined by their performance.  Scenarios like this will never become possible if the business world does not create the source materials, in the form of fiction, to help model such complex concepts.

The medical field does this, as does law enforcement, the legal field (moot court), and sundry others.  Business as an academic field needs to catch-up and expand its scenarios beyond basic Term Projects which are under-supervised and rely on groupwork among small numbers of individuals who are only just now learning the materials themselves.

The second reason is that the venerable Case-Study has had its day.

Business, along with law and other fields, have used the case-study method since time immemorial.  Yet, only in business has this excellent method of putting students inside of real business scenarios failed to evolve.  In the field of medicine, 2 entire generations of doctors who grew up reading or watching "Andromeda Strain" and "Outbreak" have come of age and pursued careers in medicine as a result.  Scientific and medical concepts have entered into the household lexicon helping patients to communicate with doctors and the population to learn what were once advanced medical concepts through the Trojan horse of the half-hour television drama.  Law can claim similar successes through the proliferation of legal thrillers, movies, and police / law procedural shows.  Even the once obscure field of forensic science has benefited from this democratization of knowledge.

Only business has suffered alone, with its most vital knowledge locked away in dense textbooks, journal articles, and often dry case-studies.  It's time for the case-study to come of age.  It's time for an epic fantasy novel, like Sanderson's "The Way of Kings," to go beyond excellent page-long descriptions of bartering exchanges and make the leap to the dramatic rise and subsequent fall of a poor Irish family who first finds wealth in farming, but then loses it all in the potato famine, and demonstrates the principles of microeconomics to the reader through the progression.

What Can I Do to Help Promote Hard Business Fiction?

  • If you are a reader.  Go read a Hard Business Fiction book (or one you suspect may qualify).  Tell your friends, give copies as gifts, write accurate reviews of the work, and consider creating a list of Hard Business Fiction Classics on Amazon or GoodReads.
  • If you are a writer, just start with one Hard Business Fiction short story.  Choose one simple business principle and illustrate it, using dialogue and narrative, but without resorting to blunt third-person business school case-study style writing.
  • If you are a professor, for goodness sakes, please, please include a Hard Business Fiction book in your syllabus.  If you don't think your class can afford the time, use an extract from the book and replace one of your less vital case-studies with it.  Or, assign a reaction paper to such a work as extra-credit and you'll see the benefit of some of your most at-risk students going the extra mile for points and learning something in the process.

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