One Ques­tion

What is busi­ness sto­ry­telling?

Business Spotlight - - CONTENTS - DR JAMES MCCABE writes and speaks about how sto­ry­telling can cre­ate more ef­fec­tive busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion for cor­po­rate brands and gov­ern­ment bod­ies: www.dr­jamesm­c­ In­ter­view: Ea­monn Fitzger­ald

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

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