In every library - sandwiched between Richard Branson's autobiography and a fat volume of John Betjeman - you'll find five books about business writing.
The first is on Twitter for the small business owner. The next two books cover higher-end business punctuation; such as the semi-colon. You can't tell if book number four has been misfiled but Carol Vorderman always looks good with a crossword grid behind her.
It's book number five that most troubles. Its cover is shiny, its pages are unturned, its spine is as un-creased as that of a toddler who's studied Iyengar Yoga since birth. The back cover is full of praise from people who don't exist.
Some Dutch guys have written book number five, and called it Splunk! Telling Funky Stories for Business. They'll be on the front cover, trying their very damndest not to look like the sort of consultants who define effective writing via a two-by-two matrix. Inside, a two-by-two matrix ranks their favourite authors by revenues, brand equity and sentence length. A quote from Shakespeare ends each chapter, even though no one in the Rotterdam office of Splunk has ever sat through one of his movies.
Books about business storytelling seem to promise the very worst of both worlds. Canonical myths - Ray Kroc flips his first burger, Jack Welch perfects both lightbulbs and modern management - rub shoulders with handy tips on phrasal verbs. Guidelines on when to use bullet points are reduced to the single word, always. The chaps from Innocent Smoothies pretend they set up their vitamin-packed business to eradicate rickets in toddlers rather to turn pure fruit into pure cash flow.
You hold the book closer to your eyes but your arms draw away from you of their own accord. Inside, there's a flowchart. You imagine a PA clicking on a Powerpoint slide which once explained how to re-engineer the business processes of a Walloonian plumbing concern. Certain words and phrases - value added, just in time, stakeholder - are deleted. Others - narrative arc, hero's journey, resolution - replace them.
The book ends with a plea for original imagery. But, like Kenneth Williams in a convent, it's destined to remain untouched.
Andreas Loizou combines his loves of writing and finance in The Devil's Deal, his lightly-fictionalised account of a large-scale scam he stumbled across. The book is one of the FT's six key books of 2012 and is being translated into Chinese, Korean and Japanese as you read this. Andreas studied English at Leeds and Cambridge, and is a director at the training consultancy, Learnflow. He's now hard at work on the sequel, The Winner's Curse.
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