How stella saved the farm

Apr 26, 2013, 01:41 IST | Yashodhara Ghosh

You'd never expect to encounter phrases like 'positive cash flow', 'growing venture' and 'sales charts' in a fable where sheep bleat and horses neigh. But then this is a tale about 'making innovation happen'.

Authors Trimble and Govindarajan set their story in a fictional world where animals have learnt to speak, and are successfully running farms: they shoot off emails, send text messages, watch reality shows (So You Think You can Prance!), and advertise their goods on Tweeter, Farmbook (even Spitter).

While the book obviously takes inspiration from Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm, discard any expectation of finding parallels. This is a world where animals compete with humans in a ‘rivalry of mutual respect.’ There is none of the abortive attempts at socialism or any allegorical examination of its hidden evils — it is an animal farm set in an avowedly capitalistic world that is driven by profits and sales margins.

As the animals set out to rescue their farm from the brink of financial collapse, they learn the fundamental rules of entrepreneurship — a breakthrough idea, disciplined experimentation, evidence to validate expenses, learning over profits and the like.

While the concept is novel, the authors stumble with the execution. The narrative struggles to blend the fictional with the financial. Storytelling is always a useful instructive tool, but the clash of genres is distracting.

The work tries to be a finance beast fable, but ends up being a children’s story, with its illustrations and ‘animated’ characters. The authors work too hard to maintain storyline and verisimilitude, and too little to confront the actual entrepreneurial problems that the plot throws up. In fact, the most complex, climactic lesson is hurriedly glossed over, with the authors shying away from throwing complex situations and concepts at the readers.

But it’s not all bad. A group of co-workers can take away basic but valuable lessons if they read this together, maybe at a work retreat. The book yields interesting questions and problems that are often encountered in workplaces.

— How Stella Saved the Farm, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, Macmillan, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores. 

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