Business textbooks are not known for their humour but Jeremy Short, a management professor at Texas Tech University, has injected a bit of comedy into the business booklist.
The first novel follows Atlas Black, a work-shy college Senior, who juggles studying and opening a restaurant with David Chan, his brainy sidekick and flatmate.
Atlas Black, the main protagonist in the trilogy
Other characters include a bespectacled management professor; Tess, a wise-cracking barista and Black, an enigmatic, caped shadowy figure who intermittently dispenses business advice in the form of metaphors.
The five chapters cover principles of management, organizational behavior, strategic management and entrepreneurship.
“I use the book to cover the most critical materials that I also lecture on in class. [From] decision biases...to Porter's competitive forces that relate to industry profitability. All of these key management theories are covered in the book, which is similar to key material in traditional textbooks. The book helps to show how these frameworks can be used in a real application,” explains professor Jeremy Short at Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech.
Inspiration for the novel came from the popularity of graphic novels such as Persepolis and via a “serendipitous” set of events says Short.
“I just thought… if someone could make a strategic management novel that would be interesting,” recalls the professor.
“A student said she knew a guy called Len Simon who worked on Anastasia [a Disney animation] and we used the idea of a graphic novel to pitch to publisher.”
After developing the idea with co-authors Talya Bauer and Dave Ketchen in 2006, the first novel in the trilogy was published in 2009. Sequels Atlas Black: Management Guru and Atlas Black: Franchise Player will follow later this year. The novel, which can be used by both undergraduates and MBAs, was such a hit that Short says he saw a spike in his teacher ratings. His success could lie in its easy application.
“For [class projects], I ask students to pitch a new business they would like to see locally. So in class, they hear about the concepts from me, read about the concepts and their application through the Atlas Black book and then work to apply the material to a new application,” says the professor, who adapted a case study into graphic novel format for Harvard Business School titled “iPremier.”
Flicking through the book, the use of vivid characters and plot which students can relate to is another bonus.
“We have all these shows like The Office but no one is generally going to remember characters in a textbook... A lot of time, textbooks have these stock Getty images that do not have anything to do with the text...” says Short.