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Learning from fiction in business and finance

By Tom Baum - Posted on 14 November 2014

Professor Tom Baum looks at the benefits of using fiction to help people understand complex business and functions…

Should students in a Business School be encouraged to read works of fiction as part of their studies? After all, some of my colleagues might argue that many students give insufficient attention to reading their core academic texts so expecting them to indulge in fiction is unrealistic at best.

Cue Chaos Profiteers by Ole Thoresen, an author who writes with authority about the global financial and economic system on the back of extensive experience in the Norwegian banking sector as well as a subsequent career working and investing in the City of London. He has also written three other books about investment that have sold well in Norway. I should declare an interest here as Thoresen is my sister-in-law’s nephew although I don’t know him personally.

Chaos Profiteers is a highly unusual read. It starts with a detailed analysis of the ills of our financial and economic system, explaining what, in the author’s view, went wrong in 2008 and over the subsequent time period. Although this is fairly intense stuff, it is readable and makes useful reading to a non-specialist like myself. The author writes this part with confidence and authority although I am sure that a specialist reader could find fault with the simplification of complex ideas and phenomena.

After this introduction, the book switches to fiction mode, where Thoresen’s writing style is, perhaps, more challenged for the task he has set himself. The gist of the story, according to its own blurb is that “Four young people come across a devious plot to cause havoc to the world's financial markets. They soon find their existence threatened by the hidden powers of politics and finance as they are forced to save the world from economic disaster”.  This is modern day Enid Blyton – The Famous Four in the City or something along those lines. The story-telling style is about as simplistic and the plot is perhaps as implausible as Blyton in her pomp. There is, however, some instruction about financial markets along the way, as the characters go into intricate detail, in places, to explain specific mechanisms and issues to each other while the plotters also provide extended explanations of their nefarious schemes in ‘secret’ documents that the Four stumble across.

Having spun an unlikely yarn that combines conspiracies, love, good and evil, and the beauty of London, the story reaches an abrupt climax and ends with a resounding bang. This, however, is by no means the end as Thoresen returns to his expert analyst role and provides an extensive afterword that contains a series of strong recommendations on how to improve the financial system and the wider free-market capitalist system.

So should Chaos Profiteers feature on the reading lists of introductory business or financial services modules at undergraduate or, indeed, postgraduate levels? Once you come to terms with the hugely contrasting writing styles in the two parts of this book, it is certainly of real value and is instructive to the non-specialist reader. As such this book may just provide a springboard for students that enables them to enjoy insights into what is, for many, a complex and otherwise inaccessible world.

Do you think business education through fiction is a good way of helping to teach often complex financial topics? Let us know in the comments below.

[Image source] 

Ole Thoresen (2014) Chaos Profiteers: A Fascinating Financial Thriller with a Thought-Provoking Afterword, London: Liberalistic, pages: 308, ISBN-10: 0993008801

ISBN-13: 978-0993008801



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