The Case for Storytelling for Business and Organizational Leadership

Narrative and Storytelling as a Business Tool

My grandfather lived the American dream. No he didn’t end up a millionaire and didn’t live. He grew up in sweltering poverty, by US standards, and with hard work, dedication, and spiritual blessings grew to be an award winning educator and a national speaker. What was his gift? He was a visionary, he was dedicated, he was creative, and he told stories. Really good–really funny stories. Which might explain some of my own passion to find out more about stories and the role of narratives in business.

The Joy of the Human Condition: Corporate Analysis vs. Corporate Storytelling
So what is the best case for storytelling in business? I was researching business storytelling recently, and Bill Denning made a great case for storytelling:

Using the magic of narrative to lead from wherever you are
and handle the principal challenges facing all leaders today.

There are good reasons why business communications are persistently analytic. Analysis is the key to good theory, precise thinking, logical proof, sound argument, and empirical discovery. Analysis cuts through the fog of myth, gossip and speculation to get to the hard facts. Its strength is its objectivity, its impersonality, its very heartlessness: it goes wherever the observations and premises and conclusions take it. Analysis isn’t distorted by the feelings or the hopes or the fears of the analysts: analysis gets us relentlessly to the bottom line.

Yet the very strength of analysis — its heartlessness — can be a drawback when it comes to communicating with human beings. Analysis might excite the mind, but its heartlessness is hardly the route to the heart. Yet it is the heart that we need to reach to get people enthusiastically into action. Endless mind-numbing cascades of numbers can result in dazed audiences and PowerPoint burnout. At a time when corporate survival often entails disruptive change, leadership is about moving and inspiring people — often to do things that they are not by habit or by predisposition inclined to do: just giving people a reason simply does not work.

Hence the current business interest in storytelling. Good business cases are developed through the use of numbers, but they are typically approved on the basis of stories. A story can translate dry, abstract numbers into compelling pictures of how the deep yearnings of decision influencers can come true.

Dan Pinks A Whole New Mind on Storytelling
Dan Pink’s a Whole New Mind is a great read. Its a journey into the human DNA and the anthropological basis of communication. Dan recommends several storytelling activities and resources, including making your own story with pictures, Digital Storytelling, and the City Stories Project (whose link appears dead). Or you can take a hint from Dan Pink’s blog and make a 6 word story of your life on wordle. Storytelling is an interesting way to differentiate ourselves to avoid being Outsourced, Esquire or to leverage our personal brand for successful outsourcing.

Narrative and Storytelling in Business Resources
• Steve Denning’s book A Leaders Guide to Storytelling

• If you read the 2nd half of this post you get some insight from Denning about from his second book “The Secret Language of Leadership”

Robert McKee’s book on storytelling Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Storytelling

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One response to “The Case for Storytelling for Business and Organizational Leadership

  1. I wanted to let you know about Heekya ( a cool start-up I work for about stories.

    Heekya is a Washington,DC-based startup that is revolutionizing the way people create, share, and discover stories. The name Heekya, which is derived from the Swahili word for “story”, demonstrates our fundamental belief that first, everybody has a story, and second, that a story can intersect along many points.

    We started Heekya because we believe that storytelling is broken online: although it exists in different silos (photo sharing, video sharing, blogging), there is no comprehensive tool that captures storytelling at its core — a base need and expression of humanity. For thousands of years, storytelling has been at the core of our human existence, and most recently, the storytelling channels and medium have been controlled and dominated by large companies and corporations. Heekya is unlocking that platform so anyone, anywhere, can share their story — and change the world.

    Heekya offers a simple, fun and easy solution to organize and add all of your digital media (videos, photos, blogs, music and audio) through importing, uploading, embedding, and searching. Heekya features an easy to use What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) drag and drop story editor. Our users can then share their stories through e-mail and instant message, or publish their stories to any of their online identities — a personal blog like WordPress or Blogger, a social network like Facebook or Myspace, or a personal website created at Weebly. Users can then copy and re-tell stories from seperate vantage points — much like the way they happened in real life. Lastly, Heekya then unlocks the potential to discover interesting stories that take place around you — by people, maps, and themes.

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