What is business storytelling?
The word “story” is used today to refer to just about any kind of content, but a story is more than just an anecdote, and the respect with which storytelling is treated in Hollywood and on Broadway — where it can make or break careers — is slowly transferring to the corporate world. Business leaders need to spend more time watching films and reading thrillers if they want to use stories to connect with customers. That’s because storytelling is the critical skill used by playwrights, screenwriters and novelists.
Almost a decade after Steve Jobs’s death, it’s clear that he was a unique hybrid of commercial and artistic talent, with storytelling instincts developed at Pixar as well as marketing brilliance perfected at Apple. Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow, however, and it’s now clear that Apple is no longer the narrative leader in technology. That position is vacant.
Storytelling is also being driven in business by the ever-shrinking human attention span. It’s an average eight seconds now, and that doesn’t help with understanding a rhetorical argument. Rhetoric and drama are two forms of communication from ancient Greece, but the Greeks always prioritized the art of dramatic narrative. The very first thing they built in any new city was not a temple or an agora, places of rhetoric, but the theatre — literally, “a place of seeing”. Theatre showed; it didn’t tell. And the Greeks started there because with that showing, they bonded and created a deeper sense of identity.
Rhetoric establishes your authority to speak, presents your logical argument and then supports it with proof. That’s the way we’ve always done business, and it’s even the way we apply for our jobs. But story is replacing expertise with empathy. It’s substituting suspense for logic. And it’s displacing proof by delivering surprise.
Empathy. Suspense. Surprise. That’s the source code of all great storytelling.
Story is replacing expertise with empathy