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Storytelling: the importance to business

29 June 2014

yellow brick road

Looking for some fundamental change, crucial shifts or critical new behaviour in people? Terrific – just shoot off an email, whip up a PowerPoint presentation or draw up a memo right?


In Alan Deutschman’s 2007 aptly named book: Change or Die, he quotes research from Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the Medical School and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Miller’s research, first relayed at IBM's "Global Innovation Outlook" conference in 2004, found that only 1 in 10 people will change their lifestyle after coronary-artery bypass grafting surgery.

Just stop and think about that for a minute………………………….. what this means, is that even with premature death as a motivator, 90% of people are still not motivated enough to eat better, exercise, quit smoking or make some other lifestyle changes!!

So – Good Luck with that email!!

What then could make the difference in getting your message across, to help you to influence and persuade people when you really need to? Have you ever stayed up late reading a novel that you "couldn't" put down? Ever pushed yourself harder or been inspired after hearing the story of someone else's success or incredible courage? Or maybe changed your opinion after reading a convincing article in a magazine or newspaper?

There's no doubt that stories can change the way we think, act, and feel. A good story has the ability to influence and motivate people to achieve what might have previously been thought to be too hard or even impossible – Ghandi, for example, changed the history of a nation through stories, not guns. When you think about it, we’ve probably all heard someone say after viewing the latest Hollywood ‘blockbuster’, or even uttered ourselves “I thought the book was much better…it’s nothing like the book”.

The fact is that power of our imaginations can sometimes leave Hollywood productions looking pretty pale by comparison. A well placed story can often be the key to building understanding and inspiring action. They can build bridges between people, capture our imaginations and make things far more meaningful, relevant and real in a way that cold, hard facts can’t.

Make no mistake – stories can be very, very powerful and valuable tools to your organisation.

In Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, he notes that 3M gives its top execs storytelling lessons. As has NASA, where storytelling is used as a key part of its knowledge management initiatives. And Xerox – recognizing that its repair technicians learned to fix machines by trading stories rather than by reading manuals – collected its stories into a database called Eureka that Fortune magazine estimated (in 2005) was worth $100 million to the company!

The fact is that a good story has the ability to create associations in the minds of the listener, based on what it is we want to achieve by sharing the story. In an article in FastCompany Magazine called Corporate Storytelling, Randy Sabourin makes the following points. “Stories are an essential way to communicate with your organization, with clients, competitors and shareholders. Stories can be a powerful method for bringing people together and building bonds that increase engagement. They can also bring the past and future into the present and create an emotional context for people to locate themselves within a larger experience. Stories have been a critical part of being human since the first account of the mammoth hunt around the fire to today’s viral internet commercials. We all feel a deep connection to stories. We look for them, we’re drawn to them, and we remember them”.

Stories can, in a few words, capture the culture of an organisation; show people how to live in a way aligned with your values, and help build trust in teams. A lot of impact from the simple act of sharing some wisdom.



  • Qinnie Wang

    Qinnie Wang 7 years ago

    I love stories. As a young woman with no experience in business who happened to found an ecommerce based charity, I love reading stories of successful business men and women. Their stories educate me and inspire me. I love reading stories on Ruby Connection.