Business Fable

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 

Business Fable

A fable for the business community

What is a fable?

A typical fable (think Aesop’s fables) is a work of fiction, in prose or verse, that has anthropomorphized animals, plants, forces of nature and other inanimate objects as the main characters of the story. There are other fables with only human characters as well. Every story, however, ends with a moral, a lesson for life. So, how is a business fable different from an ordinary fable?

What is a business fable?

A business fable is also a work of fiction with lessons or morals for business life, but not always with animals or birds as its main characters. A business fable, also referred to as a relationship fable, offers lessons to business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs to manage their teams and organizations skillfully.

Why write a business fable?

Successful business owners know the hard work and skill sets required to steer a business to success. It is not about the product or service rendered alone; it is about managing people and learning the art of leadership and time management and much more. Business fables are often authored by creative business owners who want to share their methods and lessons with others and also entertain their readers. Business fables are not textbooks. Most business fables are fun to read while being rich in business management advice. Business fables are also a way of reaching out to a wider audience to entertain and inform.

Business fables that are must-reads:

I Moved Your Cheese by Deepak Malhotra

I Moved Your Cheese

A thoughtful challenge to, and critique of, the phenomenal Who Moved My Cheese?, Deepak Malhotra’s new fable questions the inevitability of accepting one’s circumstances and running along the same maze. Instead of adapting to the available routes, Max, Zed and Big, the new generation mice, re-assess what they have been told are their limitations, and chart a new map for personal and business growth, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

This business fable points out that accepting and living by set rules and policies form a barrier to personal development and business potential. To be able to tread fearlessly into unchartered territory, however, one has to give up one’s own personal fears. As Zed explains to Max, “The problem is not that the mouse is in the maze but that the maze is in the mouse.”

A Peacock In The Land Of Penguins by B. J. Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt

A Peacock In The Land Of Penguins

This entertaining and humorous business fable shows how out-of-the-box thinking is discouraged in rule-conforming business worlds. Perry the Peacock and birds with other kinds of feathers find themselves forced to abide by the laws of the Penguin Land. Perry is, at one point, asked to don a penguin suit to ensure that he not only think like one, but look like one too!

This business fable addresses the frustration and heartache that many of us experience in the face of living by set rules. It is the price we pay for thinking differently. But Gallagher and Schmidt assure us that people with ideas different from conventional wisdom are the most creative in any business organization. They must struggle to keep their head above water and stay put with their innovative ideas. This business fable is a study in contrast of rigidity versus flexibility. Rigidity has to give way to fresher, newer ideas if the organization wants to grow. Complete with tools, tips, quizzes and strategies for “teaching penguins to fly”, you cannot miss this business fable.

By teaching penguins to fly, the peacock or the open-minded, creative worker, pushes rigid minds to think outside the box. Creativity makes people leave their comfort zones and taste the unknown. Flying with the peacock, the penguins will discover a new world. This will also give them a fresh perspective of their own world. Come, let us join the peacock to experience a whole new world of ideas and dreams.

The One Minute Negotiator by Don Hutson and George Lucas

The One Minute Negotiator

Determined to cure you of your “negotiaphobia”, this business fable, is a sure way to success. Hutson and Lucas narrate the story of a sales professional who is in the bottom of a negotiation well. He meets the One Minute Negotiator on a cruise, who imparts to him the secrets of being a good negotiator.

This business parable brings us face to face with the one act that we cannot avoid in life, but also the one that makes us the most uncomfortable - negotiation. This business relationship book goes beyond the traditional approaches to negotiation - collaborate or compete. The one minute negotiator calls for flexibility in winning a negotiation. No two negotiations are alike. This business parable gives us the four strategies - avoidance, accommodation, competition, and collaboration - to negotiate well in any situation. Each of these potential strategies works in different situations, depending on one’s personal inclinations and the strategy used by the other side.

This business parable hopes to conquer negotiaphobia, a disease without which life is far less stressful. The one minute negotiator not only teaches you the craft of negotiation, but also makes your life relatively stress-free. It is a must-read for people who always walk away feeling that they could have struck a better deal.

Zenobia by Matthew Emmens and Beth Kephart


Zenobia, a business fable that reads almost like an allegory, is a tribute to the power of imagination in a stagnated business system. This business fable stays as a far away from business terms and description as possible. In a way, Zenobia addresses almost every organizational structure known to mankind.

Emmens and Kephart draw the picture of a mammoth business juggernaut with boring, unimaginative, rulebook-following employees who -work’ all the time, but do not help in progressing the potential of the organization. They are also reeking of negative-energy and pessimism. Their minds are reflected in the dark and dreary building with broken hallways and floating stairwells, leading nowhere. The authors use this architectural setup to portray a near-defunct business system, lacking completely of imagination.

Enter the red-shoed Moira, like a breath of fresh spring breeze in a years-old, clamped-shut building. She faces all kinds of hurdles, architectural (read structural) and human (in the form of sneers and warnings and discouragements). But she perseveres, because she too dreams like her astronaut sister - to reach the shining stars. Like a trapeze actor, aware of, and yet determined to outdo all fear and hurdles, Moira swings from one broken stairwell to the other, to reach the room she has been asked to be in. On her way, she is discouraged by many, and encouraged by some. A very few are tempted to break free from their shackled lives and fly like Moira, towards the bright room that represents a world of opportunities, opened up by the power of imagination.

A business fable like Zenobia is a must-read for people who want to travel a road not taken, only to discover a land teeming with opportunities for self-growth and the growth of the organization. If you are teeming with ideas but do not know if you should try those in your business, Zenobia is just the right nudge to open up a world of dreams.

The Greater Goal by Ken Jennings and Heather Hyde

The Greater Goal

Alex Beckley, the new company president, wakes up from a dream that changes his life forever. In his dream, he gets a calling to live and lead differently. He articulates his greater goal that goes beyond the mission and values of the organization. He begins to live his goal. This makes him a leader who matches his purpose with his performance.

Jennings and Hyde, in this business fable, show how business professionals should follow their ultimate goal in life by executing strategies that are in tune with the greater goal. These authors’ essential message to their business readers is to practise what one preaches or believes in. Work and life at work (interpersonal relations with employees, interactions with clients, getting bigger and better business deals, etc.) achieve harmony when the lobby-decorating and website-adorning values and goals of the organization are put to practice in real life. The authors promise us an unprecedented organizational performance and individual satisfaction.

The Secret, Second Edition by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller

The Secret, Second Edition

Another masterpiece from the pantheon of Ken Blanchard’s business fables, The Secret takes us into the minds of the best leaders of the business world. Miller and Blanchard use the business fable construct to teach all their readers how to become great leaders.
Debbie Brewster, recently promoted to a position of authority, is struggling to make sense of her world. She is so ensnared by her commitments that she is almost on the verge of losing her job. Tugging at the last straw available, she enrolls in a mentoring program offered by her company. To her surprise, she finds that the mentor is none other than the president himself. Over the next eighteen months, Debbie learns the secret of being a great leader.

This book shares with its readers the secret of leading well, no matter who you are leading. Everyone is in a position of authority at some point in life. These professional leadership secrets made available to us in the business fable format will help us to lead organizations and individuals successfully.

The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute

The Anatomy Of Peace

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute reminds us that war and conflicts in life at home, at work, and in the world, are often our own making. In this business fable, we read a moving story of struggling parents and children facing and coping with problems that consume their lives. Amidst this turmoil, they become friends with their once-bitter enemies.

This business fable tells us that conflicts are in our minds. This fable tells us the moving story of an Arab and a Jew, each of whom had lost their fathers in the hands of the other’s ethnic cousins. They come together to foster friendship and cooperation not only between their own families, but also among warring parents and children. The Anatomy of Peace is a business fable with directions to lead a harmonious life in the face of adversity and conflicts. The story can be easily extrapolated from the cultural-ethnic to the business world to solve conflicts in the workplace. A little self-reflection will help us see clearly what the root cause of the problem is. In more business conflict situations than none, it is all in our minds. This business fable shows us a way of being at peace with first, oneself, and then, with the rest of the world.