Hijacked or Precious? 

I introduced myself at a recent event as a business storyteller, which is what I am. There was a time when no one understood what the word meant. Not so today. The person next to me then introduced himself: ‘I am a storyteller too and tell stories with numbers.’ Everyone just looked confused. We later found out that he was an accountant!

One part of me celebrated. The word storyteller is now so sexy that it’s being hijacked. But another part of me was unconvinced.

Stefan Semester, of the design firm, Sagmeister & Walsh, doesn’t mince his words when he calls this bluff: I think all the storytellers are not storytellers. Recently I read an interview with someone who designs roller coasters and he referred to himself as a ‘storyteller.’ No @%$#head, you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer! And that’s fantastic and more power to you, but why would you want to be a storyteller if you design roller coasters?”

Until I read his work, I thought I was being precious about labels.
It turns out we all can and should story tell—it makes what we do engaging, interesting and relevant. But using storytelling as a tool versus being a storyteller are two totally different things.

It’s not (just) that my nose is out of joint (really!). I worry that it reflects a deeper problem. If you describe yourself as a storyteller when you are an accountant, then the very first story you are sharing is spin. Not cool.

I totally get that in a fluid agile work environment, the work we do cannot always be distilled into one or two words. Right till the 1980s the census job question only asked what is your title? Today the census features a 2-part question: What is your title? What do you do? Because titles like ‘Chief Fun Officer’ beg for more information.

So whether you are filling a census form or describing what you do to someone my advice is the same. Celebrate what you do! And find a sexy way to describe it (without hijacking the word storyteller). Unless, of course, you really are a professional business storyteller.

How would you describe what you do?

Please share, I love hearing from you.

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  • David Stuart

    Very interesting topic you raise Yamini.
    Author Bruce Courtney wrote in his wonderful little book ‘A recipe for dreaming’, “Each of us has been designed for one of two immortal functions, as a storyteller or as a cross-legged listener to tales of wonder, love and daring.”
    And is it true we are not the experiences we’ve had but the story of those experiences – with bits left out or made up to suit the impression we want to make?
    The question I think is not so much what we do or how we describe ourselves but more so.. ‘what do we cause?’

    • Yamini

      Hi David
      Thank you for sharing that insight from Bryce Courtney – I loved the idea that storytelling is an immortal function and your invitation to move away from what we do to what we cause.
      Many thanks for your insight and comment.
      Best wishes

  • Lars

    After working many years with setting , defining, anchoring and implementing corporate strategies on various levels … I now see myselfas a “Strategic Guide” that helps others to address a new business territory or industry destinations.

    In that role I listen to the group and based on this try to provide them with applicable background information, supply perspectives and tools so they can do optimal choices and support them when they get stuck or lost in the corporate djungle. All with the pupose to maximize their experience of the new territory/destination.

    I might tell a story now and then to make them feel stronger for the purpose behind “what they need to do” … but that doesn’t make me a “story teller”. I’m still a Strategic Guide that use a story now and then to boost the team’s the experience while travelling through the corporate djungle.

    • Yamini

      Hi Lars
      I love how you describe what you do as a ‘Strategic guide’ – that packs so much, yet so neatly and simply. I also like how you support the definition with stories. Great example and thanks for sharing.
      Best wishes

  • Reply

    Yamini, I totally agree with you. I am a business/corporate storyteller, as you know, and I get really peeved when someone ‘takes’ this description. That said, I often say to people when describing what I do that I don’t make up stories I research and write business stories so they can be shared. I actually posted an article about this very thing a year or so ago. Must hunt it out and give it another airing. Thanks for speaking out for the real storytellers of the world.

    • Yamini

      Jacqui ARGH feel and share your frustration! This post was hard for me to write, as I felt petty – peevish even but don’t want to let this hijacking go unchallenged. I am reminded of a caption on a mug in a doctors office that said ‘Don’t mistake your google search with my medical qualification’.
      Food for thought.
      Thank you for your comment.
      Best wishes

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