When each month brings news of great leaps forward in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, self-driving vehicles, advanced robotics, virtual reality, blockchain databases, and conversational interfaces, it's easy to believe that innovation belongs exclusively to the world's technologists.
But leaders across disciplines are increasingly investing in a different strand of innovation, one that's simpler, cheaper, and compared to our bleeding-edge technological breakthroughs, downright ancient: Storytelling.
In an age defined by rapid change, increasing complexity, and information overload, you'd be hard-pressed to find a technology more suited to solve your most immediate challenges than narrative. Story makes order from chaos, delivers memorable messages in noisy environments, motivates effectively in volatile times, and connects efficiently across distributed networks. The collection of sense-making skills we know as storytelling has never been a more powerful or necessary capability. And that's why executives in firms across sectors and functions -- from professional services and human resources to consumer goods and energy management and information systems -- are investing in building narrative intelligence, teaching storytelling skills, and establishing story networks across their teams.
Here are five use cases that suggest you should join them.
Motivational Myths: The last few years of research into employee engagement and motivation has surfaced an unmistakable trend: talent is far more likely to join, stick, and lead if the mission of your company is clear. Not surprisingly, the research also reveals that your mission better be more than a statement; employees want evidence of the mission brought to life, lived out by leadership and colleagues. In short, they want stories of how your company is benefiting the community, the industry, and the world. Companies able to tell their impact stories are winning the race for world-class talent, and building fly-wheels of enthusiasm and productivity.
Connective Tissue: Anthropologists, ethnographers, and other practitioners of applied science have known for a very long time what organizations are just now discovering: cultural norms are created by the stories a community celebrates or condemns. Want to know why a team or an office behaves a certain way? They'll almost always have a story -- or a handful -- to explain their habits and actions. Want to inspire them to behave differently? Start sharing and celebrating the stories that reward and reinforce the new habits.
- Narrative Economies: Storytelling's long been thought to be an art, but it's a science too, and one of storytelling's primary contributions to organizations is its effective fight against the second law of thermodynamics. Seriously. All systems tend toward entropy, losing their energy and heat over time -- and that includes your organization and team. Leadership wages constant battle against this deterioration. And story is your secret weapon. An organizational storytelling economy recirculates success, multiplies the impact of good ideas, and preserves best practices. Think of stories as the Kinetic Energy Recovery System of your organization, retaining the energy and extending the momentum of your victories.
- Storytelling = Storyselling: The sales teams of the future won't hawk products; they'll deliver provocative insights. Consultative partnership, proactive solutions, product knowledge augmented by creative problem-solving techniques -- these are the new sales essentials. For your sales team to offer such, it will have to be capable of understanding the customer story, identifying their location in a larger narrative, and naming the right role and entrance for your company in that story. Customer journey mapping will only become more essential to this process, and story is its natural and intuitive framework.
- Personal Brand: Wherever you are on your leadership journey, you've already witnessed the power of story in the life of your mentors and models. Those most able to motivate stakeholders, garner support and resources, stimulate buy-in upstream and down, and build a track record of success are the leaders who have shaped and sold the best stories -- of themselves and their agendas. Your personal brand inside your company and within your industry is the product of the stories you've intentionally collected and advanced. Whether you've got a future to shape or a legacy to ensure, your challenge is fundamentally a storytelling one.
Unlike the world-shaking new technologies produced in Silicon Valley labs, innovation in storytelling requires little in the way of capital investment or deep specialization. The appetite for narrative is innate, and the instinct for story is native. We're born storytellers, but spend most of our educational energy unlearning that native language. But the unique challenges of our global, diverse, and ambiguous moment call for a rapid narrative up-skilling that will return our teams to fluency.