Good business strategies are a lot like a good book

Chris Formant didn’t need to write a book to understand that being a good storyteller can help you be a better business leader. The process of writing the fictional novel, “Bright Midnight,” simply reinforced the value of this skill in a corporate setting.

“You have to summarize and conflate it down to something the most senior and most junior people can internalize,” Formant says. “It’s like a good story. It has to have some themes that resonate with everyone. It has to have some drama.

“There have to be some challenges. There are always setbacks you have to overcome. You always need an enemy or a competitive threat and you need some sort of finality so it makes sense. Good strategies and good internal business stories have that.”

Formant’s book, a fictional novel that reimagines the deaths of some of America’s most celebrated musical figures of the 1960s, was a labor of love. There were moments, however, as any writer can attest, when the project was more labor than love.

“Sometimes I’d go a week or almost two weeks and I might have a paragraph,” Formant says. “Other times I’d get in a zone and I’d start at 7 or 8 in the morning and it would be 7 or 8 at night and you just don’t know where the time went. You’re in a zone. If you’re writing a business book or a how-to book, you can drop it and come back to it. It’s very hard to do that with fiction. My process is much like other fiction writers. I have to become the characters and get into it and live it. That required, at least for me, some sensory deprivation.”

As he was writing the book, Formant was also a board member at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and president of Verizon Enterprises. He recently retired from Verizon, but notes that the book project was a nice diversion while he was still on the job.

“I read a study talking about all the things you need to do to keep your mind fresh,” he says. “You have to exercise, eat well, get a lot of sleep — all things I don’t do — learn a foreign language. Then it said writing. I thought about it and that’s kind of true. One of the best ways to keep your mind fresh is through art or writing. If you’re inventing characters and inventing scenes and all that, that’s very stimulating. It takes incredible focus.”

Mark Scott is Senior Associate Editor for Smart Business Cleveland