Q&A with Bill Gibeault, Questions 5 and 6
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with people right now?
A: Throughout history people have always loved telling stories. We are just wired that way. Maybe Steve Denning says it best, “We are like fish swimming in a sea of narratives.”
Yet until recently, when we entered the business world, we discarded our storytelling hats, reached for our calculators, PowerPoint slides, and other left brain (rational) tools of persuasion.
What has changed? Why now?
In a word it’s called the Internet, many say, the greatest invention of mankind. It has resulted in the globalization of people, goods and ideas, and a virtually connected world population. It has changed how we view the world and ourselves. It has also made our lives much more complicated. While technology has enabled globalization and virtual connection, it has not necessarily brought with it a deeper emotional connection to other people, that we all desire and ultimately need to be truly happy. That emotional connection cannot be made by intelligence and data from a computer. After all you can’t hug a computer. Storytelling can help make technology more human.
From a business perspective, the rules of the game have changed. I think Tom Peters in describing business today as “A brawl with no rules” hits the mark.
The Web and the continued development of technology have commoditized most goods and services. Business leaders agree that the new business differentiator is the customer experience. The torrid never-ending development of technology, has led to a dramatically changed and empowered consumer, and yes, a revolution that encompasses our society-how we live and work, including how we communicate and share our life’s experiences. Information, like most products and services is also commoditized. You can find any information you want by doing a web search and in many cases it’s free and available 24-7. Most of us are overloaded with information and immune to marketing spin and hype.
So what does this have to do with the explosion of storytelling?
The explosive growth of the storytelling movement reflects the fact that people want more than just goods and services from businesses. They want experiences that engage them in a personal way, give their life more meaning, connect them on a deeper level with people and communities, and validate their sense of self-worth and identity. Ration and logic do not connect people emotionally or rock us viscerally. When is the last time a PowerPoint presentation or boring Website influenced a buying decision or inspired you to do something BIG? — inspired you to be GREAT?
With the emergence of “The Experience Economy,” storytelling takes center stage in business. Storytelling is a powerful way to share our experiences, understand and connect with each other. “It’s the currency of human contact.” From a business standpoint, storytelling is a strategy that addresses revolutionary changes in how we communicate.
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/ narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: The absolute one piece of advice that I would share with all readers is to be honest and authentic in your storytelling/narrative initiatives. Our society today, is frustrated and angry at being lied to or misled by the leadership of our major social institutions (business/education/government/charity/church). The most obvious of these are the behavior of many business leaders and politicians. Trust and credibility in these institutions are at an all=time low. Overcoming the lack of trust and belief in businesses today is a major challenge. Your identity matters greatly. To be clear, your identity is about your values, character, sense of purpose, to name a few. People get much more excited being associated with, working for, or buying from, companies they feel good about. It’s impossible to feel good about a company whose stories do not really match its true identity. I like to say selling values with truthful real stories trumps selling value with advertising and spin.
I truly believe that those of us who tell stories, be it as a professional storyteller, or as leader, have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. People more than ever are searching for meaningful experiences that can help them understand themselves and transform their lives.