Telling and retelling stories is one of humanity’s most durable characteristics: Harvard linguist Michael Witzel has argued that most of the world’s mythologies grew out of a single set of stories first told in Africa 130,000 years ago. Yet what is the future of corporate storytelling? Although our penchant for storytelling may not change any time soon, the storytelling used inside the corporation does seem to be shifting in two ways. First, storytelling is becoming recognized as a trainable skill. Second, and possibly more importantly, the Internet is making it increasingly difficult for companies to control a single version of their own story.
Executives have long understood the business value of a ripping yarn. Different consultancy companies will have their own take on what makes a good story. Yet whatever the scale of your literary ambitions, there are some fundamental rules seem to apply. First you start with good material and you need to identify what is and isn’t a story. A story is something that begins with a time-marker and is also always visual. Don’t use the “S” word. Don’t say “I just want to share a story with you.” Well, in business, that’s like death. Instead, say: I’ve had a really interesting experience. And remember to be sincere.
Storytelling is one of the most important skills for leaders to learn, because their job is to gain trust, and to persuade and influence people. Today, a number of consultants offer services that teach storytelling to executives or help them develop stories for internal or external consumption. A good story is a memorable way to make a point. And by engaging the emotions, a story makes it easier to persuade or motivate the listener. Stories can fulfill several roles for an organization. Founders’ stories, for instance, can be especially useful in giving people a sense of their company’s identity and in shaping the company’s culture.