I want to share some really good news. This past November, my book, Sexual Harassment in Organizational Culture, won both the book of the year award and the textbook of the year award for Organizational Communication. I have had a number of people ask how that is even possible. These awards are generally given to radically different books written for entirely different audiences. The book of the year is for books that pave new pathways into an important organizational communication topic. Textbook awards are given to books that help shape an undergraduate classroom experience by sharing basic concepts in accessible ways.
Given these differences, how did my book win both awards? To understand the answer, you need to know a bit about Shrek, the movie.
Shrek is a movie about an Ogre who goes on an adventure with a donkey to save his swamp from the forced relocation of fairy tail creatures. In the process he saves a princess from a dragon, falls in love with the princess, learns she is an ogre, kills the bad guy and marries the princess. The donkey and the dragon fall in love and have babies.
When I summarize the movie Shrek in this way, I wonder how it was created in the first place, but if you have not seen the movie, trust me, it is really good. It is one of my all time favorites.
When Shrek came out in 2001, my daughter Fionna was three years old. Like all three year olds, she held very specific and tightly held opinions about random things. Here is a rough rendition of our conversation at the time.
Me: Fionna, we need to go see the movie Shrek!
Me: What? Why not?
Fionna: I am James the Train.
You have to understand that Fionna was a committed fan of Thomas the Tank Engine. You know, the British show with cute little talking trains that work really hard. On the show, there is an engine named James. In one show, James crashed and had to be rescued by other engines. Fionna loved the James character. She would run around at her top three year old toddler speed, suddenly drop to the floor, and then yell that she required rescue. My job was to pick her up off the floor, dust her off, put her back on the "track," and send her on her way. Let me tell you, the James the Train thing got old really fast.
Then something amazing happened. I discovered that the princess in the Shrek movie was named Fiona. When I told Fionna that the movie was about Princess Fiona, well, that changed everything. We had to go "right now," and we had to buy popcorn (of course).
Fionna and I both loved the movie, but for completely different reasons. Fionna immediately dropped the James the Train thing and began to insist that we call her Princess Fionna. Not only was I required to "rescue her from the dragon," but she repeatedly rescued me from the dragon as well.
In contrast, I was entertained by the adult humor, by the complexity of the metaphors (onions v. parfet anyone?) as well as the deeper social commentary about discrimination, gender, beauty, and goodness.
Fionna and I both saw the same story with the same characters, but our takeaways were very different. Shrek was written with different throughlines for different audiences.
There was a throughline for kids.
There was a throughline for adults.
Same story, different throughlines.
Brilliant, I thought at the time. If I ever write a book, I am going to write multiple throughlines.
Creating Different Throughlines
And that is what I did for this book. I asked myself from the very beginning of the conceptualization process, "who do I want to read this book (okay, besides Oprah. We all want Oprah to read our books)." Here are my throughlines:
I want my colleagues in academia to read the book to better understand how problems become woven into the fabric of organizational culture.
I want my graduate students to read the book to understand how to combine real world applied contexts with research to create a more complex understanding of organizational culture.
I want my undergraduate students to read the book to understand how communication matters in shaping and reshaping organizational cultures.
I want activists to read my book to better understand the nature of the problem they are facing (I am thinking about you, Time's Up).
Finally, I want organizational practitioners to read the book to better understand how to successfully addressed entrenched and toxic organizational problems.
These are my throughlines. It took me an extra year to write the book because every section needed to attend to these diverse needs as I told the same story.
Writing Good Books
I love to read good fiction, especially science fiction. I love the way good science fiction builds worlds and cultures. I love the way words can be used to create pacing and intensity to build a story.
Do you know what I don't love? Most academic books that I have to plow my way through with a force of will. I really don't like that. I read those books because I have a strong sense of curiosity. I read those books because my job requires me to build knowledge, and you can't build knowledge in a vacuum. I read those books because they inspire my imagination. But I don't read those books for fun.
Good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, academic, textbooks, technical books, etc., means that we should be attending to the shape of our words. We should be building worlds and culture. We should be attending to pacing. We should consider our intensity. We should write so people take pleasure in our efforts, even when (or maybe especially when) the topic is as grim and challenging as mine tends to be.
My book has two topics. I develop a new model of organizational culture that explains how problems get woven into the fabric of the organizational culture. Second my book addresses sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a tough topic to write about. People immediately get defensive, or just as bad, they think they know what it is and how to solve it, even though they don't. This is a topic that deserves the best writing that I can create. Readers need to understand how sexual harassment is built into our worlds through our cultures. Readers need to grasp the intensity of this predatory behavior. My words need to help them do that.
So How did my Book Win Two Awards?
Straight up, this book represents my best work. It is built around a combination of research, consulting, and teaching. It took me 20 years to create. It is a really good book (I am taking a page from the Barbie movie: "I worked really hard for this and I deserve it"). What makes this book an interesting read isn't my deep knowledge or passion for creating a more equitable world. What makes this book interesting is my focus on the needs of my various audiences, and my willingness to step outside of the academic norm by using my words to build worlds and reveal the human drama of predatory sexual behavior that is woven into the fabric of an organizational culture.
Freya Clark is a gifted child artist who raises rabbits and plays sports.
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