Creative Storytelling in Business

What goes around, comes around...again! Have you noticed that everyone is a ‘storyteller’ today? Some conferences now advertise that they don’t have speakers or presenters any more – just Storytellers.

I refer to this tendency to replay past ‘hits’ in my book Rethink-How to think Differently, calling it ‘The Righteous Brothers Effect.’ You can re-record one of the pop duo’s songs – say Unchained Melody – every 5 years, and you will have a whole new market (and often a hit!)

Ditto with business and management ideas. Now everyone is  telling stories - and talking about the topic. This is all great - say goodbye to those boring bullet points and the forgettable abstractions of management speak, and you are really motoring. Hallelujah!

But although there are some great ‘storytellers’ out there, all too often the term is used in a lazy way, meaning simply examples, illustrations and anecdotes, rather than a genuine story. One that has the power to change minds, inspire and move people.


Types of Story

In my interactive presentations – sorry, Storytelling Events! – I focus on the essential narrative tools to make a message, argument or even a sales pitch come to life. But I also find it useful to categorise stories in a similar way to Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Similarly, Stories of the Past are great for culture building and disseminating values. They include the original brand and founder’s stories, which can be timely and inspiring – but given the business world’s ‘corporate amnesia,’ are often forgotten. Tales that reinforce the desired culture and the values in action are also very powerful ways of lifting peoples’ eyes to fresh horizons.

Stories of the Present are invaluable for highlighting priorities and creating a climate of high performance.

They can also be used to clarify and communicate a strategy, highlight the kind of behaviour that is not acceptable, and inspire people in an impactful way.

Stories of the Future is my innovative approach to inventing a more successful future for your organisation. Coming up with highly motivating and clear narratives about the near future, and then working in reverse to nail the steps to bring the story to fruition, is from my experience a lot more engaging and useful than slaving over the words of a mission or vision statement! It also unleashes creativity and deepens ownership by the players in the business, who can make the story version of the future really come to life.


Stories Applied

In the film Trains, Planes and Automobiles, comedian Steve Martin turns to his garrulous friend and reminds him that more people would listen to him – if his stories had a point! I’m a bit suspicious of gratuitous ‘sharing’ of set-piece anecdotes, so here are some of the ‘points’ or applications of Storytelling I have used. First, to enhance presentations and communications that touch a nerve with the listener. Also, to capture and communicate the essential values and beliefs in an organisation in a memorable and actionable format.

Then there are uses I hadn’t thought of – a manager used the story form to describe why she would be suitable for a promotion, a couple to decide if their life was a shared story (or one that was diverging dangerously) and a communications team who used stimulating narratives to portray its long term commitment to its customers. The applications seem limitless…

Most of all I’ve enjoyed getting teams to creatively ‘invent’ their future by capturing in story form the attitudes and daily behaviour needed to make their vision a living reality. Along the way the participants discover that they are the ones writing the story, and that they can be very inventive with their script for the future. It’s fun and a blast: many of the ideas and attitudes teams uncover stick in the minds and the hearts of their inventors.

What are the fresh applications of stirring stories that you’ve experienced, which I’ve missed in this brief summary? I’d love to know, as to complement my speaking and consultancy work I’m also working on ‘The Story of Stories,’ my attempt to explain and elucidate the power of a great tale to inspire and motivate both the teller and the listener.