I recently sat down to interview Seth Godin - entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, global keynote speaker and one of the Founding Fathers of modern marketing. I asked Seth what entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders can do to make a difference in their respective fields. His response was unexpected and profound; your mother has a secret, and it could revolutionize your business - storytelling.
Seth says, "Without a doubt, mothers are the best storytellers. There's such a difference between a post-college hack trying to learn marketing and a mom who devotes fifteen to twenty years of her life crafting a human being, not with any digital, technological or physical tools, but merely by setting a standard and living a life that leaves a story behind."
Seth believes that through the art of storytelling we can transform our careers, re-focus our energy and be happy about the life we live today and proud of the one we leave behind.
Empathy - Honesty & understanding drives engagement
Empathy, or emotional intelligence, is one of the most underrated assets in a professional's toolkit. Seth posits that mothers are masters of emotional intelligence.
"What humans really want is promises to be kept," says Seth.
Whether you're a one-man entrepreneur or a Fortune-500 Company, it's more important than ever to champion authenticity, transparency, trust and honesty. If you commit to something, make sure you follow through on your promise. As Seth suggests,
"Don't do anything you wouldn't want your mother to know. That's when companies get into trouble."
The VW scandal threw this idea into the global spotlight. Our mothers teach us not to lie or cheat, because when we break trust it becomes exponentially harder to win it back. Crafting an honest, truthful story will add meaning to your customers' lives and make your company more trustworthy. As Seth notes, "The best storytellers are consistently non-manipulative and lead from a place of education, not conversion."
Innocent smoothies are a great case study. Their packaging speaks directly to the tenets of honesty and humanity,
"Hello. We're Innocent, and we make smoothies. And to be honest, it's not that difficult. We find the best tasting fruit, then peel, squeeze and blend it all into our cartons and bottles."
Listen to your mother and maintain a level of accountability. Honesty will endear you to your consumers and humanize your business. After all, our society is no longer B2B or B2C, it's people to people. Consider 'empathy mapping' your audience to understand them better.
Leadership - How the art of story can make you a better leader
Seth exposes the limits of wishful thinking, encouraging entrepreneurs and leaders to ask themselves:
"Do I want to become someone who matters?"
Our mothers use the power of storytelling to help us make sense of the world and our place within it. After time passes our dreams have a tendency to fade, as limiting beliefs and perceived fears crush creativity and confidence.
Seth offers some practical advice,
"Resonate with people who would miss you if you were gone. Start with your story. How do you see the world? If you're not clear about that, it's really hard to [succeed in business]."
Effective leaders are able to harness their teams' strengths and inspire others.
"The only reason to tell a story is to change someone. If you can't tell me the change you're trying to make and who you're trying to change, then you're not a leader."
Storytelling helps make abstract ideas real. True leaders and visionaries succeed because they're able to explain their vision simply and succinctly. Remember when we were captivated by the knight slaying the dragon as our mothers read to us before bed? Our stories might be different but the sentiment and impact remains the same.
Set a Standard - Lead by example
"Stories that work almost never have words," states Seth.
Our mothers craft the story of our lives from the moment we're born until the day we graduate into the 'real world.' These early memories and experiences shape the very core of who we are today.
"A story is merely the shorthand we use when we talk about how human beings process the world around us - we do it with a narrative."
Think about the story that you're telling others. Often times, what isn't spoken is just as important as what is. In our hyper-connected digital world, every Instagram post or Tweet enriches the story we project.
Many of Nike's Instagram posts, for example, transcends 'salesy' advertising by instilling a call to action to join Nike on a shared journey. Nike asks the consumer, "Will you step into our shoes and become part of our story?" (And let's be honest, who wouldn't?)
As Seth points out, we lead by creating an emotional connection with our audience.
Remember, your mother spent twenty years of her life crafting a human being. Take an introspective look at yourself and your business and ask: where is the humanity in my work? How can I create a story that others will feel passionately about and rally behind?
And when the answers come, don't forget to thank your mother.