Maths Textbooks and Thrillers

When I was at school maths textbooks were designed to allow the student mathematician to progress in a systematic and orderly way from one concept to another, and from one subject to another. The necessities of the subject demanded that if prose were needed it would be sparse and clear, sufficient and subservient to the requirements of logic and concept, and most importantly, formatted under Section Headings to guide the student forward.\n\nIn contrast to maths textbooks, American crime thrillers – my favourite genre – use no Section Headings (generally) and more prose, but they are equally effective at keeping the reader locked into a specific place in the story. As in maths, one thing follows another, but unlike maths, the signposts can be more subtle and yet there nonetheless.\n\nThe contrast between maths textbooks and American crime thrillers came to mind as I was skimming through some leadership books in the bookshop on Paddington Station. Leadership books often deal with process, in a narrative of sorts, and yet they fail reach the effectiveness of either a simple maths textbook or an elegant crime thriller.\n\nWhy are leadership textbooks so ineffective? Perhaps it’s because they fall between the two camps of logic and story that they manage to do neither efficiently. Which is, by the way, a parable of much leadership practice.\n\nPerhaps it’s because leadership is best caught from others not taught from books.

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