Antidote for too-dull-to-read case studies: fiction

Users I interview for case studies tell me good stories. But most come with a poison pill: you can’t write it because it’ll embarrass someone. Just try getting it through the rounds of approval.

The smart marketer’s answer: Make up a composite!

If, as Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman writes, fiction is the best way to understand Libya under dictator Muammer Qaddafi, then it just might work to understand the drama within organizations.

How much do you really understand from news accounts from Libya? Before the current crisis, most news emphasized Muammer’s weird style of dress, his ranting speeches, and his “voluptuous Ukrainian nurse.” Here at home, case studies emphasize rational and unnamed executives weighing pros and cons and coming up with insight and decisions. The corporate story is all so safe and pure you find yourself hoping the nurse appears.

The average case study’s best hope is to be marked “present” and forgotten. Fiction — once set free with the clear label of “composite” — has freedom to imagine and dramatize. It is best at the subtlety you need for insight.

Obviously, you wouldn’t use nasty stuff. That stains everyone. But use the stuff that’s merely too much for the squeemish.

Here’s my rant: BI is made for stories. Each success is a story, starting with “we didn’t know” or even “we were so screwed up, we couldn’t even…” The story meanders through “we searched and tried.” The stories worth blasting from the roof tops end with the details behind “now we know, and we’re this much more profitable.” Everyone knows and understands composites.

By the way, I think the part about the nurse is true.

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