Way back in April 2002 I ran a workshop on storytelling with a colleague.  We were attending the UKSG conference at the University of Warwick, and promoted the workshop with the following blurb.

Storytelling is something that happens when you are young – isn’t it? So what relevance does it have in the corporate world? Stories can convey values and important ideas, teach lessons and bring plans and mission statements to life in a way that normal management techniques cannot. It is a valuable addition to our professional(1) toolkit.

UKSG is an organisation that manages to bring all of the main players in the serials(2) industry(3) together on neutral ground, and at the time I was serving on the UKSG Main Committee. I can remember arguing passionately for a slot in the conference programme because I really wanted delegates to be introduced to the power of storytelling.  I’d become a bit evangelical about it all, which was strange because until recently (in terms of April 2002 that is!) I had always associated storytelling in the corporate world with “telling stories”.  In other words I thought it really meant ‘telling fibs’.  Pretty naive with hindsight.

I had my eyes opened to the power of a good story when I started to hear it talked about, and read research and insight into it’s use. Four people had a big impact on my appreciation of story telling: Professor Clive Holtham(4), Dave Snowdon(5), Steve Denning(6), and Victoria Ward(7). They are all worth checking out.

I encountered Clive Holtham , Dave Snowden and Steve Denning at the Knowledge Management Europe events (a precursor of European Conference on Knowledge Management (ECKM)) in the early 2000s.  Sparknow (through Victoria Ward) collaborated with the Library Association (now CILIP) to run a stand in one memorable year and the experience was wonderful.  The inspirational Victoria created the interior of a garden shed (and two walls) and we used seed pigeon holes as a scriptorium to gather visitors’ reactions to what they encountered.  Given that every other stand was glossy corporate in look and delivery, our stand stood out dramatically and initiated a some fabulous conversations.

What I am addressing here is the value of storytelling to business communication and building public awareness of your brand. In has become even more relevant in the intervening years with the prevalence of social media and the ways that businesses have adopted it. Developing a following has always been about what you have to offer, but it is now easier that ever to confirm congruence between the message and the product/service.  In other words it is harder than ever for any business to pretend authenticity where it doesn’t exist.  They will get found out.

It was a post in the Mindjet blog that reminded of my storytelling journey. I have always told stories to illustrate or highlight a point during a presentation. Somehow by telling people a story to explain a point got the message home in a way that the bold facts couldn’t.  Wrapping a message in a real-life story sheds a spotlight on key learnings.  I always remember the stories I hear during presentations, but I don’t necessarily remember the more academic points.  How about you?

When is a story more than an anecdote?  Put simply, an anecdote is a short true account whereas a story (true or fictional) is generally longer and has more depth.

I’d love to develop a collection of stories which have had a real impact.  What are your favourite stories, and how did they make a difference to you?


 

Footnotes

(1) Professional in the context refers to the information management and librarianship

(2) Serials means serially produced publications both paper based and electronic

(3) Industry refers to librarians from all sectors + publishers + intermediaries + technology vendors

(4) Clive Holtham – @bunhill. In this video link Clive discusses the role of social media in social change.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkyDpfduPwo

(5) Dave Snowden – @snowded. This pdf focuses on ‘purposeful story’. http://cognitive-edge.com/uploads/articles/36_Art_of_Story_2_-_Weft_and_Warp_final.pdf

(6) Steve Denning – @stevedenning. Essential reading is The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling. Mastering the Art & Discipline of Business Narrative.

(7) Victoria Ward – @victoriaward.  There are links to several publications about story on the Sparknow website.