The magazine Strategy+Business ran an article in their Summer 2011 issue titled “The Art of the Business Narrative.” The author of the article, Art Kleiner, interviewed Peter Guber, the extremely successful Hollywood film Producer and Executive Producer. Guber published a book in 2011 titled Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story (published by Crown Business) in which Guber makes the case for
creating compelling stories that have the power to move partners, shareholders, customers, and employees to action . . . Historically, stories have always been igniters of action, moving people to do things. But only recently has it become clear that purposeful stories—those created with a specific mission in mind—are absolutely essential in persuading others to support a vision, dream or cause.
The tradition of telling and writing stories dates back a very long time. Ancient cultures in Europe and Asia used oral narratives to pass along cultural values long before formal written languages were developed in those areas. In fact, two of the oldest narratives in western literature, and the world—The Iliad and The Odyssey—were passed from generation to generation in an oral form until Homer wrote them down sometime during the eighth century B.C. As a student of literature, with a specific interest in ancient stories and characters, I have often reflected on why I am so fascinated by old stories. There are at least a couple reasons:
- People need a hero; someone to look up to, emulate, and be inspired by
- Good stories are remembered
The Need for a Hero
Business leaders can benefit from the way people instinctively latch on to stories that inspire and uplift in order to help their organizations progress. Heroes exist in the specific cultures and environments they impact and are a part of. This is the basis of the phrase culture hero. Wikipedia defines culture hero in this way:
A culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some group (cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.) who changes the world through invention or discovery. A typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition, law, or religion, and is usually the most important legendary figure of a people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty.
In business terms, a culture hero is the person, or group of people, credited for getting the department or organization to the level of success it is currently experiencing. We have all heard about those “immortal” employees or leaders that preceded our experience with an employer. Examples of culture heroes in business include Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca, Oprah Winfrey, Katsuaki Watanabe, Akio Toyoda, Richard Bronson, Indra Nooyi, Ursula Burns, and Sam Walton.
Stories are Remembered Forever
Once an organization identifies a culture hero, either inside or outside of the organization, stories about their successes and failures become a literal part of the way business takes place on a daily basis. Stories centered around internal culture heroes are more impactful than those from other organizations. They are simply easier for the group to identify with. As a leader in an organization, paint a verbal picture that people can identify with, that inspire and motivate, that teach a certain business concept, or that will teach the group the differences between success and failure according to the corporate culture. If you as the organization leader learn to narrate a set of stories regularly, and with conviction, people will begin to pick up on the take-aways and work them into their daily work efforts.
Implementing business-related narratives into your corporate culture can help better understand the why behind what they are doing and move your organization closer to your strategic goals. If strategy is new to your organization, people will likely wonder how to implement strategic thinking into their daily work routines. Teaching and leading using business narratives—telling your people stories—will help bring strategic targets into focus and closer to reality.
When was the last time a business narrative inspired you? What an whom was the story about?