Category Archives: culture and commerce

“business literature” that sounds like literature


374392584_d49f2b3dfd So this kid writes me this morning and you can hear that his head is swirling with ideas and you can see that his prose is just effortless, and he is talking about pattern cognition.  Nothing bad can come of this, I think to myself.

He runs a unit for a big company.  (I won’t say more than this.)  And he doesn’t know what he wants to say, exactly, but you can tell that this is a guy that just points thought and speech in any direction and light shines down from the heavens.

Except that he’s not using speech in the usual, didactic, expository, plain style way we all strive for. (Nancy Friedman uses this line from Matthew Arnold and it is just perfect:  "Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style."

No, this kid uses speech in a way we never hear it used in our circles.  He opens it like a sail and waits to see where he and the reader will end up.   Meaning is unmoored in the most interesting and alarming way.  You want to rush into the field(s) of reference but you are quite sure you’ll be looking the other way when an interesting idea comes pelting through.  (Readers ought to be fitted with orange safety vests for this sort of thing, and I can’t find mine.)

And I started thinking, this is a voice we never hear in the business literature, and that’s because in the  present BIGPRINT regime of business publishing, business literature never sounds the least bit like literature.  Why must this be?  As the intellectual and imaginative demands of business continue to grow, surely we need a body of discourse that isn’t just denotative, but actually connotative and evocative.  No?  Yes! 

Anyhow, here’s how I replied to the kid:

Dear [name removed], you write beautifully, how about turning your thoughts into a contemplation by turning them into a novel, which is to say, treat some of the "who," "what," "where" of your [corporate] experience as the narrative frame and then let these ideas [go]. 

The world of management continues to believe that illumination can only be achieved with big books from the Business Press when in fact some of the truths we are after are more delicate and evanescent and will need a more subtle evocation.  That’s it.  Do a book about management using an evocation when all the others proceed by laborious denotation. Best, Grant

I am pleased to report that Eileen Fischer and John Sherry are doing a new book for Routledge  called Exploring Consumer Culture Theory. It dares use poetry.  So certain experiments are now afoot in the business school and business press worlds.   I know that Mark McGuinness, the London poet, is, if he will forgive my saying so, well positioned here.  I’ve been reading Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, and this has moments of anthropological illumination. 

What we want is a "management literature" that reads like literature.  Why must our writers work for the corporation and write, like Wallace Stevens, as if in another life?   Everything in the corporate world is now changing…why not this?


Fischer, Eileen and John Sherry.  Exploring Consumer Culture Theory.  London: Routledge.  [Couldn’t find an Amazon or a Routledge listing.]

Nancy Friedman’s blog is here.     


Thanks to Christopher Chan for the image above.  See more of his work at Flickr here

Rootgate: it’s getting worse and worse

Test_patternNice work by Brad Hill over at Digital Music Weblog on efforts by CEO  Howard Stringer to sort out the Sony copy protection debacle.

Howard Stringer’s much-publicized remarks about Rootgate, issued at CES, are so clueless as to amount nearly to a denial of reality. "Clearly the perception out there is that we shouldn’t be doing too much of that copy protection stuff." Actually, that’s not the main perception, though I wish it were.


But here’s where Stringer seems to be improvising wildly: "…protecting the artist’s right is not something that should be automatically dismissed by the push-and-pull generation." I’m sorry–the what? Did he say the push-and-pull generation? Is this a sexual reference? Does he mean the rip-and-burn generation? The point-and-click generation?

Brad decides that Stringer means the "on-demand" generation and this is, I think, a pretty good guess.  But this is odd.   Why are any of us having to guess when listening to a chief executive give  a formal address in the public arena on a matter of grave import to the Sony corporation.  (Especially when the speaker is an Oxford man, with a masters in history.  This is a guy who spent his life in an educational system that prizes clarity above all things.)

"Push and pull generation."  Perhaps Howard wishes to evoke young teens inclined to minor assault on a fair ground.  Does Howard feel like he’s been wilded?  Has this recent controversy about rootgate leave him feeling like he’s been "jumped in?"  Is this what the consumer looks like to the top man at Sony, a fractious crowd capable of minor violence and non-felonious assault?

If ever there were a measure of the gap between corporations and their consumers, the Rootgate debacle is it.  It demonstrates that Sony "does not get" the new contract and connection that is being fashioned slowly but surely between the two.   But then the CEO stands up and in the place of a full recantation treats us to phrases that are either a further demonstration of how little he understands his consumers, or a revelation of the disquieted assumptions he entertains about them. Most odd.

There is something impressive about this kind of candor, even if it is a little baffling.  I mean normally CEOs are scripted by PR and wander off script at their peril.  We are grateful for this opportunity to stare into the world view of the CEO (if that’s indeed what we have done).  Stringer is impressive: Oxford degrees, military service, Japanese speaker, distinguished career as a journalist, effortless administrator.  There is apparently nothing this guy can’t do.  So why can’t he get in touch with contemporary culture and the new marketplace?


Hill, Brad.  2006.  Howard Stringer’s Push and Pull Generation.  January 11, 2006. here.

Hooray for Hollywood

OprahGood news from Saudi Arabia today.  Oprah is a star there, too. 

According to the WSJ, The Oprah Winfrey Show now airs in Saudi Arabia twice a day, five days a week.  And it turns out she is a smash hit with young women.  Conversation now apparently often begins with a hushed and eager "Did you see Oprah last night?"

Actually, Oprah is being smuggled into Saudi Arabia and the lives of these young women.  Saudi TV is controlled but more than nine out of 10 households have a satellite dish.  This gives the Saudis access to MBC4, a pan-Arab satellite station based in Dubai and the Oprah show.

Naturally, Saudi elites are not happy about it.  The WSJ quotes Maha Akeel, a Saudi journalist.

"Weekly, there are critics who say [Oprah and other Western programs] are a cultural invasion and inappropriate to society, but [because of satellite transmission from Dubai] there’s really nothing they nor the government can do."

Some of you will remember that Charlotte Beers was appointed by then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of 9/11 to change the way people in the Middle East thought about the US.

Beers said that she would tackle this problem by treating America as a "brand" and informed Businessweek, that "the whole idea of building a brand is to create a relationship between the product and its user." 

Well, maybe.  A simple reconnaissance  would have told us that there were at least two groups in Saudi Arabia who would respond with special force to the idea of liberty and the meme called choice.  Feminism had created a potent ideology that would speak to one of these.  What was needed was a Trojan horse to get the this message in.  Bless the Oprah Winfrey Show and satellite technology. 

Hana Balaa, director of the TNS Female Research Center in Saudi Arabia says, "Women are increasingly seeking ways to express themselves and their individuality. […]  Saudi women are also looking at their neighbors, like Dubai, or Kuwait, where women recently got the right to vote."

I guess this is where political philosophy and marketing (strange bed partners!) begin to look a lot alike. 


El-Rashidi, Yasmine.  2005.  ‘Oprah’ Is Attracting Young, Female Viewers To TV in Saudi Arabia
The Wall Street Journal.  December 1, 2005; Page B1. (Sorry, WSJ isn’t giving me an URL.  Go to and search for "Oprah."  Subscription required.)

McCracken, Grant. 2004.  America in the Middle East.  This Blog Sits At… March 31, 2004. here.