HOW TO USE STORY

Story’s relevance and potential application in the world of work has few limits.

Storytelling’s contribution cuts across every division, department and domain of the modern organization. Anywhere you have people interacting, relating and communicating with each other, story has a role to play.

"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives — the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change — truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."
— Salman Rushdie

Leadership

The role of any great leader is to tell stories that influence and motivate people into action. Not just any action, but purposeful action that addresses the needs of the organization.

Story is a red-hot theme in the world of leadership including a recent article in the Harvard Business Review about the CEO as Storyteller.

Stories are the perfect vehicle for communicating ideas, values, principles, expectations, and the like. The only way to ensure everyone is on the same page is through the use of effective stories.

"Whatever simultaneously connects to something relevant and meaningful to your listeners and gives them a taste of who you are, works."
– Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor


Effective stories serve as anchors, frames, and metaphors that orient people to their work.

"The marketplace is demanding that we burn the policy manuals and knock off the incessant memo writing; there’s just no time. It also demands we empower everyone to constantly take initiatives. It turns out stories are a – if not the – leadership answer to both issues."
– Tom Peters, business mgmt. guru

Knowledge Management

Storytelling is a rising star in a field dominated by technology solutions. Story humanizes the process of knowledg management. As organizations struggle to cope with more and more information, storytelling plays a key role in how information travels, lessons are learned, and new communities of practice are formed.

Acknowledged and developed by institutions as diverse as the World Bank, IBM, Bristol Myers Squibb and Royal Dutch/Shell, storytelling is making contributions to successful knowledge organizations.

For deep insights on the World Bank story, please see Steve Denning’s book The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations.

"Stories Transfer Knowledge: If you want to teach, or if you want to set up a killer database that everyone will contribute to and use, make sure your subject-matter is stories. Distilling stories to ‘lessons’ destroys the essence of their value by disabling the learner’s ability to internalize, digest, and learn from, the contextualized experience of the teacher."
– David Pollar, salon.com

Storytelling is a robust way to share knowledge.

According to Larry Prusak and Don Cohen, co-authors of In Good Company, How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work, "Storytelling is increasingly seen as an important tool for communicating explicit and especially tacit knowledge – not just information but know-how."

Did you know that NASA launched a magazine to tackle its knowledge management challenge? The organization uses story to (1) celebrate its culture of problem-solving and (2) document institutional wisdom for its next generation of leaders and managers. Visit the award-winning ASK magazine on the web.

Branding/Marketing

Identity is forged and promoted through the use of story. How people relate to an organization — their emotional connection can be strengthened and enhanced through the communications of the right story line. But more than just dramatics, organizations must learn to embody their stories across everything they do – effectively shaping their culture around the stories they tell themselves and the world.

“A great brand is a story that’s never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that connects with something very deep – a fundamental appreciation of mythology. Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience.”
– Scott Bedbury, author of New Brand World and a key mastermind behind the Nike and Starbucks brands.

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning is deeply entwined with your organization’s story. Popularized through the practice of scenario planning, storytelling is an effective tool for exploring the different frames of how an organization sees itself:

  • What is your shared memory of the past?
  • What are your dreams and aspirations for the future?
  • What effect do these both have on your identity today?
  • What parts of your memory serve your desired future?
  • What parts of your memory are holding you back?

Imagine if an organization could honestly and easily answer these questions? They’d be ready to take on the world in a bold, focused and determined manner.

"A dream that I dream alone is but only a dream. But a dream that we dream together is reality”
-Raul Seixas, Brazilian composer

Community Building

Silos keep many organizations from operating at peak performance. You need to create ways of letting people connect outside traditionally defined roles and tasks. Let people see the bigger picture of how their work contributes to the whole.

"I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the question ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’ "
– Alisdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue

If you can create new bonds of relationship and communication, you will transform the culture of your organization. Storytelling is a key vehicle.

One such way is through Communities of Practice. If you want to explore this topic, be sure to review Seth Kahan’s Guidelines for Growing Business Performance Communities.

Looking to integrate a new member onto your team and into your organization’s culture? Storytelling is here to help. Madelyn Blair has written a case study that shows the winning combination between Story and Teams (.pdf).

Seth Kahan has developed a powerful storytelling process for use in many group settings. Download the JumpStart Storytelling Process (.pdf)

 

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