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First things first. Congratulations on having the curiosity to explore a literary rabbit hole! (And one relating to a notoriously verbose author at that!) This certainly wasn’t the likeliest topic for an Allinial Global blog post, but I’m glad you were willing to give it a chance.

As the copywriter at Allinial Global, I’m partial to literary tangents, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may have a bit of a thing for Mr. Tolstoy. While I enjoy nothing more than diving into a lengthy Russian novel, the good news is, I don’t have the fortitude to write an 800-page blog entry, and there will be no required reading for this post.

So, what lessons can a long-dead Russian novelist offer the accounting profession?

1. The value of empathy and different perspectives. Tolstoy was a keen observer of human nature and social customs, and he was remarkably open to learning from people in all walks of life. His novels and characters invite us to consider complex social conflicts, and thinking about these types of situations helps us develop empathy. Although many accountants consider themselves “numbers people,” empathy and related social skills are vitally important in a world that is increasingly complex and interconnected. In the age of AI and automation, these types of soft skills provide a distinctly human value that has yet to be replicated. When responding to client pain points, grappling with diversity and inclusion in the workplace, or designing customized user experiences, for example, the ability to connect meaningfully with others and understand their perspectives makes all the difference. 

2. The art of making the ordinary strange. If you need a new Russian word in your life, you can call this one ostranenie. Translating to “defamiliarization” or “estrangement,” ostranenie involves presenting ordinary things in new and surprising ways—and Tolstoy was a master of this practice. His novels are beloved for the way they capture the details of everyday life and make the familiar seem fresh and fascinating. In the accounting profession, there are plenty of opportunities to make use of this concept to enliven contexts that could otherwise seem tedious and dull. Whether you’re walking a client through the details of a new tax provision or guiding a new team member through an established process for the first time, it’s up to you to bring life, color, and energy that gets people excited to be on board.

3. Trust is your ticket to authority. Author and Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee has called Tolstoy “the exemplary master of authority,” citing Tolstoy’s ability to make us trust what he tells us. One way that Tolstoy inspires trust is by using third person omniscient narration, writing from the perspective of an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator. While seeing and knowing all may be a tall order in the context of accounting, a thoroughly knowledgeable and trustworthy stance is certainly a goal worth aspiring to. Today’s top firms rely on comprehensive approaches that integrate various aspects of advisory into one holistic view of clients’ business needs. The ability to inspire confidence is critical to positioning oneself as a trusted advisor, and the most authoritative advisors succeed because they know how to leverage their knowledge of the broader business landscape to help their clients thrive.

And there you have it: three surprisingly timely lessons straight from the nineteenth century.

Who knows—maybe you’ll gain additional insights when you add War and Peace to your reading list for 2021. But if your schedule doesn’t permit for such hefty reading, you can always check out this handy list of writing tips on our website (and note that you’ll need to be signed in for access).

We’re signing off for the holidays, but we hope to see you back in January for a look at firms’ top three concerns in the new year. Happy holidays from Allinial Global!

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