Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, once said that the future of all business is about storytelling. It’s telling (pun intended) that the man charged with bringing his venerable institution into the technology-driven 21st century would point to a something as old fashioned as storytelling when envisioning the future of business. Telling, yes, but hardly surprising.
If storytelling isn’t new (its not), it has certainly come centerstage in this age of content marketing, the humanization of business, and the drive for differentiation as technology strips away both barriers of entry and points of analogue interaction. Stories have always played an important role in changing beliefs and behaviors, and now as just about every organization embarks on a transformation journey (digital or otherwise), it’s more important than ever that leaders employ the right tools to change the beliefs and behaviors of the key stakeholders — customers, partners, employees, shareholders, boards, etc. — throughout their business ecosystem. Storytelling fits the bill.
Transformation is vital to those organizations that want to win in the world of business today. Stories are vital to those who want to win at transformation. Indeed, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” (Hopi proverb or Plato quotable).
Here are just five ways in which stories can play a strategic role in business transformation:
1. STORIES STICK
What must I know?
This is hardly new news for anyone remembers the now-classic business book Made To Stick or knows that Carnegie Mellon research proved that not only are stories more memorable than data, but that stories alone are more memorable than stories plus data. Clearly, when a business message is so important that you want recipients (either inside or outside your organization) to not only remember it but also repeat it, it makes sense to put stories to work. And as far as important messages go, the message that you are taking your company on a transformation journey ranks among the most important messages you’re likely to deliver as a leader.
2. STORIES ADD EMOTIONAL WEIGHT
Why should I care?
While facts can sometimes speak for themselves, even the most hardened business person has an intuitive, emotional side that must be engaged by leaders looking to inspire (key word there) new beliefs and behaviors. In other words, emotion engagement bridges the gap between understanding what you want them to do and actually doing it. Stories that engage the emotions instead of the intellect do a better job of creating buy-in among the very people that carry the weight of responsibility for delivering change at all levels of the business. Or, as Simon Sinek might say, stories give people their why.
3. STORIES HELP US MAKE SENSE
What’s in it for me?
Exponential change and our companies’ efforts to transform to meet new marketplace demands create significant gaps between knowledge and understanding. Artificial intelligence will automate a significant number of jobs — but what does that mean for me? We are shifting toward a “gig economy” in which the nature of work is more dynamic than ever before — how will that effect my career? My company is making a shift from product to service, from pipeline to platform, from analogue to digital — why is this important and what will it look like? Stories are a powerful way to provide the context needed to understand not only the methods of change but also the meaning.
4. STORIES SHOW THE WAY
Where are we going and how will we get there?
Stories — with their basic beginning-middle-end sense of structure — are a highly effective way to bring a transformation journey to life and dramatize the ideal end-state. This is why futurists often use stories to make their often theoretical scenarios feel plausible and concrete. Transformation stories ground your stakeholders in the current state, help them envision the future state, and ‘take them with you’ as you navigate the road from one to the other. And they do this in a way that feels more real and more relevant than any fact-based business presentation can.
5. STORIES ARE SHARED
What part can I play?
Certainly people love to tell stories to others. Memorable stories make the rounds. These things are true, but I’m actually talking about something else too. Done right, strategic stories involve listeners as participants in the plot, are truly shared in the sense that everyone plays a part in advancing the action. By laying out an open and inclusive business narrative, leaders also provide others in the organization with an effective model for telling their own stories in support of that narrative.
Naturally, we see a strong connection between this type of strategic storytelling and the work we do every day in content strategy — from setting vision and finding your voice, to crystallizing key messages and ensuring those messages come across loud and clear in all communications.
So tell us, what’s your transformation story? More importantly, don’t tell us — tell your team and take them on the journey with you.