Busting the 3 Most Common Storytelling Myths

June 13, 2012

Seven years ago when I set up a business specializing in Business Storytelling and went home and told my mother, she said like every good Indian mother would “Business Storytelling, is that even a job?  Why can’t you be a Doctor or in I.T.? Storytelling you can do on weekends.”  Whenever I share this in presentations (with a strong Indian accent of course) it gets a roar of laughter.  Because it speaks to a universal truth …both about mothers and about storytelling

Most people don’t get what business storytelling is and how it can help them achieve business success.  Simply stated Business storytelling is storytelling with a business purpose and for business results.

One of the first misconceptions is all your stories have to be about business.  Absolutely not.  In fact we highly recommend that your stories are not from business as that is boring and predictable.  If for example your message is around the customer experience you could use a personal story just like our customer Matt Ritchie did.

I was recently reading a magazine that featured an interview with Bruce  Springsteen.  Bruce Springsteen has been a musician and performer for over 20 years and has a tremendous reputation as a live act.  The interviewer asked him how he kept up his motivation to deliver night after night.  To which Springsteen replied “It was when I realized that, while for me, every night is a “Bruce Springsteen concert night” there are 1000′s of people in the audience, who have spent their money to see a Bruce Springsteen concert maybe for the first and only time in their lives.   They may only come to one Bruce Springsteen concert in their life and I want to give them the best ever Bruce Springsteen experience. And that’s what keeps me going night after night”.  

Reading that reminded me of us at work every day.  While we might take hundreds of calls, for a customer who rings us, that might be the only contact they have with MLC, this might be the only “Bruce Springsteen concert” they go to.  Imagine the difference we can make if every time our customers got the full Bruce Springsteen experience…’

The story struck a chord with everyone in the group and what a powerful and memorable frame for thinking about, and delivering customer service, the Bruce Springsteen experience.

So using a personal story (and as you can see from this one it does not have to be the most revealing personal moment in your life) and linking it back to a business message can be really refreshing and powerful in business.

 The other myth is you need just ‘one story’.

Our clients often come to us asking for help to develop their ‘story’.  Their ‘Customer Experience story’ or ‘Insert name of department/organisation  story’.   This is a major myth.  There is no one story that can capture the range and complexity of what you are trying to do.  If you try to cram everything into one story, it will probably not end up being a story anymore and it will end up sounding like a mission statement.

You need a suite of stories, catering to different audience segments.  The Bruce Springsteen story would for example be one in a suite of stories all around delivering customer service.

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.  They never talk about ‘Our Outstanding Customer Service story’ or even worse ‘The Nordstrom Story’, but use a range of stories.

Myth 3 is that we can create stories by committee or by group

A client recently shared with us how senior leaders in their organization were tasked to come up with the organization’s story.  Needless to say the attempt was disastrous, resulting in a patchy set of motherhood statements.  Not to blame the leaders, this was simply the wrong process for trying to find the stories in their organisation. Storytelling even in a business context is a personal endeavor, a single human activity. Notice how most books are written by just one person?  So storytelling by committee will not give you any stories.  The best stories emerge when individuals are given the skills and the confidence to bring the personal into work and link it to business message, purposefully.  Like Matt did with the Bruce Springsteen story.

When all these 3 myths are busted that is the first step to understanding how to harness the power of storytelling for business results.  If you want to bring storytelling into your company to start achieving business results, we have found this works best when you:

  1. Introduce storytelling attached to a current business issue.
  2. Formalise the storytelling process and provide leaders training so they can skilfully and confidently apply it.
  3. Develop formal and informal strategies to capture stories and then find multiple channels to relay stories to other leaders, employees and customers.

And that’s just the start.  But none of this can happen unless the storytelling myths in your organisation are busted first.

Published in Modern Business June 2012

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