Leverage the stories within

Stories have been around for as long as people. Myths and narratives enabled our forebears to make sense of the mundane, the unexpected, dramas and disasters. Stories serve a similar purpose today, especially in politics and business, yet artful practitioners are rare. Entertainment executive, Peter Guber, has long been fascinated by story-telling. The producer of top-grossing movies such as Rain Man, Batman and The Colour Purple, Guber once persuaded a group of leaders and story-telling experts to share a meal and their insights. “As varied as our backgrounds were,” he recalls, “I found that we kept returning to one theme: the crucial importance of truth as an attribute of both the powerful story and the effective story-teller.” Yet he argues that many businesspeople think story-telling is purely about entertainment, or somehow in conflict with authenticity. Not so. “It’s one of the world’s most powerful tools for achieving astonishing results,” he says. “For the leader, story-telling is action-oriented — a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results.” It’s not just good communication, adds Steve Denning, one of the world’s leading practitioners of corporate narrative. In an era where innovation is critical, a story “causes us to gape and suspend analytic thought, to set aside the inclination to slice and dice experience into abstract categories,” Denning says. “Instead, the mind is prompted to search backward to earlier examples and parallels. And simultaneously we are prompted to new acts of creation, to imagine other analogous examples in the future.” Foresight blogger, Venessa Miemis, says there’s an even bigger social impetus for new stories. “The cultural narrative is broken,” she writes. “People are disillusioned and lacking trust, and a new story infused with simplicity, aesthetics, beauty and grace will go far.”

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