Describing Storytelling’s Benefits to Business People

I’ve been running excerpts from the first and second parts of storyteller Eric James Wolf’s interview with me. In this excerpt, he asked me how I describe the benefits of storytelling to other people in the business world. My response:

I call upon the gurus who evangelized storytelling long before I did — people like Annette Simmons and Steve Denning and others, early pioneers who wrote books that have become the foundation for current business narrative/organizational storytelling.

Simmons characterizes the effectiveness of stories in business in her landmark book, The Story Factor (Chapters 2 and 5):

  • Story creates power.
  • Story is a form of mental imprint.
  • Story is a dynamic tool of influence because it gives people enough space to think for themselves.
  • In a complex environment, people listen to whomever makes the most sense — whomever tells the best story (Simmons’s followup book is titled Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins.)
  • Story makes sense of chaos and gives people a plot. People need story to organize their thoughts and make sense of things.
  • Story invites people to creatively reframe their dilemmas, while rules alienate people who want to think for themselves.
  • Change people’s stories and you change their behavior.
  • Story is like mental software that you supply so your listener can run it again using new input specific to the situation.
  • Story is uniquely equipped to touch you and help you touch others in this place that cannot be understood, explained, or reduced to a flow chart.
  • Story builds connections between you and those you wish to influence.
  • Story helps the brain remember.

And from the Australian consulting firm, Anecdote:

  • Stories reveal what’s really happening in your organisation
  • Stories inspire us to take action
  • Stories stick in your mind much better than [bulllet] points and clever arguments
  • Stories connect us to a purpose and improve our performance
  • Stories share and embed values

Marguerite Granat posted a list of rationales for story in business, which I reprinted here.

Finally, not part of my response to Eric Wolf, is a post by Mike Hamilton on Get Synchronicity entitled Core Elements of Storytelling, in which he lists these benefits (see his full post for his elaboration on each):

  • Storytelling is the great equalizer.
  • Storytelling clearly and quickly communicates complex ideas.
  • Storytelling is a powerful instrument of persuasion and influence.
  • Storytelling is your personal business card.
  • Storytelling communicates and builds value systems in organizations.
  • Storytelling encourages collaboration and unifies teams.
  • Storytelling builds community and promise.
  • Storytelling ignites action.