I was surprised to see that two of the most respected and knowledgeable business book authors writing today, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, wrote a parable. The team—both faculty at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth—has previously written three more academic-leaning books together, and their 2012 book Reverse Innovation appeared on numerous best-of lists. So, why the parable now? Perhaps it’s because turning theory into story can reach an entirely new audience, as this book should.
Here’s the scenario: Animals have taken over running all the small “family” farms, and humans run huge factory farms. Humans, however, want to buy up all the smaller farms, and the animals want to prevent this because the worker-animals on the human farms are treated unfairly. On this particular farm, the (horse) CEO has moved on and bequeathed the running of the farm to his (horse) daughter, Deidre, who is (the sheep) Stella’s mentor. Deidre’s promotion is a surprise and puts her at odds with the farm manager (a bull) who expected to take over for the late CEO, but was overlooked due to his more traditional approach to business.
Clearly the farm is in danger, and obviously there is a bad guy (human) who would like to snatch it up. This puts pressure on the farm to do some quick innovating.
They hold a contest, and Stella’s suggestion of introducing a new, rather “foreign” revenue stream to the farm is chosen as one of the changes. Drama (and lots of ground pawing) commences. Does Stella and her innovative idea save the farm? The authors suggest early on that just because the book is named after Stella doesn’t mean she actually did save the farm. Numerous other characters contribute to the attempts to innovate, so the suspense remains high to the end.
I’ll admit, as I was reading, I began to think about the independent bookstores we’ve seen wither under the assault of first the super-stores and now the online monolith, Amazon.
Overall, Deidre determined, the farm was operating as efficiently as ever. That was the good news. But prices for the farm’s products were dropping across the board, squeezing profits. If current trends continued, Windsor [farm] could be forced out of business in just a few years.
In other words, I could relate—which is exactly what Govindarajan and Trimble set out to do with this parable. This tale enables the authors to share their theories of innovation with any reader who learns better or engages more intimately through story, even if the story features farm animals at the helm. Additionally, as I was reading, I started to come around to the idea that these animals (hooved, but able to type!) were actually fine representatives for those of us who feel handcuffed when fighting against companies with more money and more power.
Govindarajan and Trimble offer us an insightful little book laced with humor and clever little details that make for entertaining reading. Will you need to suspend disbelief that there are custom-made desks for horses? Yes, but you will not need to struggle through a lengthy academic thesis to access the pragmatic lessons the authors make clear through the struggles of this charming little farm. They also offer a list of review questions and ponderables at the end of the book to get you thinking about the many layers of lessons woven into the story. And this last section allows readers to become a very important part of the story.