Is Storytelling the new black?


A new General Manager has joined one of our client’s organisations. And the word has spread that when he meets people in the lift he asks them ‘So what’s your story?’ GULP.  A sure fire way to kill any conversation, most people feel cornered with this one & mutter hum ha and then hastily dash out at the next floor, whether it’s their stop or not.

We are definitely seeing the word story used everywhere, from the company story, to the brand story, to the tag line for a budget airline that says ‘Low prices are just half the story’.

So if storytelling is the new black how do you wear it well?  As the self nominated  ‘story fashion police’ here are our tips.

For GAWD’s sake stop calling everything that moves a story!  Just calling something a story doesn’t make it a story.  We were working with a client who kept talking about their retail story.  When asked to explain further they promptly launched into their retail strategy.  So it wasn’t a story it was their strategy.  It’s still OK to have a strategy (in fact it’s highly recommended) and even better is to call it a strategy.  You can then have a range of stories that help people understand and connect with your strategy.

This brings me to my next piece of advice – always aim for a range of stories – no one story can encompass a whole strategy or a whole brand.  Having just the one story is like having just one black suit and trying to wear it all year around, in summer, in winter, to the beach, skiing, in the garden, on weekends…you get the point.

Similarly you need a range of stories to communicate your strategy or your brand.

Nordstrom the upmarket retailer in America has ‘Outstanding customer service’ as one of its core values.  And they communicate what they mean by this through a range of stories. Like the story of a Nordstrom employee who made a house call to exchange a pair of shoes and another one about Nordstrom splitting two pairs of shoes in order to fit a customer with different sized feet.

And finally never ask for a story / stories.  It’s like asking people to tell you a really funny joke.  It puts people under too much pressure.  Instead ask the right questions to draw out the stories.  So if you are looking for stories around your customer service ask people “Can you think of a time when you or someone you know made a customer happy?”  You need lots of questions, to draw out the stories and some patience.  It will take some time for people to warm up and often the first or second story will spark more stories.

For example every register at Nordstrom stores has pen and paper for customers to share their customer service experiences. Every morning before each store opens, Nordstrom employees gather in the main lobby for the store manager to share some of the best experiences from the previous day and reward the employees in those stories.

Storytelling is definitely the new black and just like black it’s both timeless and classic…or is that just a Melbourne thing?!

Bright ideas – where do they come from?


Business StorytellingMark Henderson was sitting in a coffee shop when he asked the barista what they did with the used coffee grounds. “We just put them in the bin” was the reply. Mark also found out that, the shop alone threw out about 10 kilograms of grounds a day.  He thought there must be a better way and started to research how coffee grounds could be used to produce fertiliser.

Anecdotally I also know a few people who put coffee grounds into their gardens because they have heard it’s good for gardens, but no one thought of taking it further than that.

Mark and his friend Geoff Howell did and  quit their jobs as IT consultants and set up ‘Espressogrow‘, which plans to pay coffee shops for their used grounds, and then turn it into organic fertiliser at a central manufacturing plant .  Wow, what a neat idea. As an entrepreneur I am always interested in where people’s ideas come from – like Mark’s it could be with our next cup of coffee?  The mindset that drives this is usually ‘There must be a better way’.