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#86: The Point to Management Stories

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 6, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I try to have a lot of examples, either from my own experience or management journals, to make points to my clients. However, some of these cases or examples from the literature these seem awfully dry. Should I just leave them like they are or creatively edit them to make my point?

I infer you are asking about the ethics of taking a case study or description of a real situation and altering it for your purposes. Let's also assume that these cases do not involve disclosure of proprietary information or trade secrets. Finally, assume that these are not original works of an author presented in, say, a book on management. Given these conditions, if a story is widely known, say reported in various trade journals, it is presumed to be public knowledge. If you want to change the story, I suggest you are obliged to relate that you are changing the "facts" and present the case as a hypothetical. For example, you might tell your client about what could have gone differently if Coca Cola had named their product "Vintage Coke" instead of "New Coke."

The caveat is to not tell a story about a real company or individuals that involves facts, motivations or actions that you have made up. Whether or not you intend to disparage someone, this might be interpreted be the person reading or hearing it as libel or slander, either stick to the facts or create, and disclose as such, a hypothetical example to make your point. In other words, only relate a story that is factual and complete; otherwise use your own story or present a hypothetical.

Tip: Better yet, use short examples for which there is a clear point. Use the work of business authors like Russ Ackoff, who is both a splendid observer of managers and their enterprises, but also of consultants. One good source is Ackoff's Best: His Classic Writings on Management, where Russ talks about a range of business situations form a systems, planning and applications viewpoint. Sometimes contrarian, sometimes iconoclastic, often funny, his observations are sure to expand your insights into your clients situation and your possible contribution to a solution.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

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