The Best Business Book You’ll Read All Year Will Be A Novel

A psychologist explains why fictional characters can teach you more about business and interpersonal relationships than you might think.

The Best Business Book You’ll Read All Year Will Be A Novel
[Photo: Free-Photos/Pixabay]

Airport bookstores are full of business books. Some are written by CEOs who share their leadership secrets, others by consultants who swear by a specific method for sales, motivation, or happiness. Then there are books written by psychologists–like me–about how to use your mind more effectively. If you’re a frequent business traveler, you pass by bookstores jammed with these books, and it’s obvious why you’d gravitate toward them: to get an edge on the competition.


But airport bookstands are also full of fiction, from detective mysteries to stories about sci-fi warriors who save the world in the last 25 pages. You might grab one of these to read when you don’t want to think, but chances are you don’t consider it an opportunity to pick up some business lessons in the process. You probably should.

Related: Five Ways Reading Fiction Makes You Better At Your Job

Novels Help You Analyze People’s Behavior And Motivations

Not every novel offers the same chance to boost your emotional intelligence, but the ones that emphasize characters’ relationships certainly can–at least those where that aspect is equally important as the action. (When or where the story takes place doesn’t really matter.)

Novels with strong character development can help you think more creatively about handling interpersonal issues. Chances are, most of your office frustrations have to do with people–lazy colleagues, unresponsive clients, deadlocked negotiations. Reading a novel–whether it’s a romance, wartime saga, or a post-apocalyptic struggle–lets you gain insights into the ways people think and how that might differ from what they say. And yes, that goes for novels with crazy characters, too. Novels are written by people, after all, so there’s a degree of common human psychology that exists in every fictional character–some are just more abstracted or exaggerated than others.

These reflections can be useful the next time you find your coworker saying one thing and doing another. Perhaps if you frame your words in a way that aligns better with how they think, you might get through to them more easily.

Novels also tend to explore how people’s assumptions, upbringings, and cultural conditioning shape the ways they treat others and make decisions. By exposing yourself more often to this kind of analysis (even if it’s fictional), you can get better at identifying your own assumptions and those of others, too.


Related: How Your Brain Makes You Hold Contradictory Beliefs

You Can Learn A Lot About Yourself And Your Values

Novels give you a chance to be more explicit about your values. Characters in novels act in ways that express what they hold dear. They might value order, safety, adventure, love, or profit. Your reaction to their priorities in a given scene or situation can help you better understand your own values: What do you really want in life? Are you out for success? Friendship? Risk? Yes, your experiences can teach you a lot about your life. But sometimes looking at life through someone else’s lens can teach you things about yourself that you aren’t totally aware of.

You’ll Pick Up More When You Don’t Rush

There’s nothing wrong with reading novels to escape–after all, we can all use it from time to time in our digitally distracted world. But to get the full learning experience, you need to treat them with the same respect and patience you’d give to a “serious” nonfiction book.

Don’t just plow through fiction because it’s fiction. Think about it. Talk about the characters with a friend. Take some notes. You might just find some unexpected lessons that you’d never hear from a CEO.