Storytelling: equiping new ideas to survive the journey through the corporation
The word storytelling immediately evokes the past: “Once upon a time” is after all how traditional childhood stories (used to) begin. But for a story to become inspirational it’s got not only to be deeply rooted but also to connect with what we can do now to reach a better future.
Henry V inspires his men by telling them what, in the future, they will be able to tell their children about what they are going to accomplish today:
“This story shall the good man teach his son […] (And) we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blod with me shall be my brother.”
What does this have to do with innovation?
Well, new ideas typically face a long and harduous journey through the organisations they are born into and that to some extent they need. At every turn of the road there will be a well-intentioned devil’s advocate ready to deal a fatal blow, there will be legions of giant worms clustering around the idea to caution it and slow it down, there will be armies marching in a different direction and pressing more men into their ranks. Their will be the nights of self-doubt when even the innovator feels like abandoning the field.
A good story is what will sustain the innovator’s morale, convince people to follow, slice through the worms, and tell the devil’s advocate to go to hell.
The ingredients of a good story are:
- The characters, people with qualities, limitations, a past with its successes and failures, humans rather than super-heros
- A fix, a happy past that has gradually or suddenly been marred with a growing problem that is now casting too long a shadow to be ignored
- A dark vision of how worse the future will be if the problem is not addressed
- The key, the magic formula that will change the course of history
- A bright vision of how great the future will be if indeed we put the key to good use
- A roadmap for the next steps of the journey.
Storytelling is not just a skill for captains to inspire their troops. Individuals who want their ideas to survive the journey towards a business home where they can settle and thrive, have to get them on the back of stories that will carry them through the long and harduous journey across the corporation. And in the end,
“He that outlives this day and comes safe home, will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named… Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words, … Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.”