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May 12, 2006

News & Opinion: Fiction and Facts about Killer Instinct

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:33 PM – Filed under: Big Ideas & New Perspectives

Mixing business and fiction invariably involves a trade-off. Most fables by business authors make up in insights what they lack in literary style. And most works of popular fiction sacrifice business verisimilitude for the sake of art. Finally, business readers, you can read popular fiction propelled by a sense of what really makes business people tick.
In his new book Killer Instinct, author Joe Finder has created a masterful parable of ambition. When protagonist Jason Steadman finds his career in sales stalled, he unwittingly enlists the help of a former Secret Forces ally to push him up the corporate ladder. Finder researches his topics extensively, which gives this page-turner real insights into the nature of ambition, the character of sales, and the lines that individuals are forced to cross.
Recently Finder replied to our questions.
In Killer Instinct, the protagonist Jason Steadman improves his sales touch by reading voraciously from a range of business books. Which ones do you enjoy and recommend? Conversely which books, or elements of this genre, do you run screaming from?
There are lots of terrific books in the business field. Just to name a few: Clayton Christensens The Innovators Dilemma, Rakesh Khuranas Searching for a Corporate Savior, Michael E. Porters Competitive Strategy, not to mention a whole shelf full of books by the great Peter Drucker. But there are also books that are essentially fact-free zones of inspirational hooey. Maybe they're helpful morale builders for some readers, but they're also hard to take seriously.
The ones I run screaming from all have titles like The Navy Seals Guide to - or The Army Way of They may be interesting glimpses into military culture, but theyre never going to help you close a deal or motivate a team of people who arent enlisted military servicemen.
And what about the best sales books?
The really great salesmen that I interviewed all recommended the same books (or tapes, or CDs): Dale Carnegies How To Win Friends and Influence People, Tom Hopkinss How to Master the Art of Selling, Zig Ziglars Secrets of Closing the Sale, Og Mandinos The Greatest Salesman in the World, and Brian Tracys Advanced Selling Strategies. These are all worthwhile books, I found. Call me a sop, but Dale Carnegie is essential, I think. And even though in Killer Instinct I make fun of Tom Hopkins, though not by name, I think his books are brilliant in their way, and quite useful. Ziglar is a bit dated, though.
Several scenes in Killer Instinct provide vivid detail on how Steadman makes the big sales. Did you base his character on one particular person? In your research, what did you observe about the habits and character of the best sales people?
I based Jason on a composite of friends and people I met while doing the research. As the book opens, hes too lackadaisical to make a really top salesman. Hes a little burned out, and hes not the competitive type, so he may not be the best fit for this kind of work. I did find that a lot of salespeople tend to burn out after several years in the field carrying a bag, as they sometimes put it. Its brutally hard work, especially on ones psyche. So they reach a point in their careers that turns out to be a fork in the road with several tines. They may choose to go into sales management, or to bail out entirely, or, worst of all, they get sidelined, accept mediocrity, and hang on to their jobs just by the grace of the kindness of their bosses.
The best salespeople, I found, have what has been called an optimistic explanatory style, as do the best athletes. That is, when they suffer a defeat, as all salespeople do (sometimes several times a day) they dont universalize. They dont blame themselves. Those with a pessimistic explanatory style tend to spiral into defeatism and burn out quickly.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.