When and why of business storytelling

April 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm 1 comment

After my last post I was trying to think of what would go in a project toolkit, and while I still think that’s something I want to explore further, I decided to take a step back and look at when and why someone might want to tell stories in a project/business context.

(Of course there is always “because I’ve been told to put together a story about this”, but that’s not an overly helpful reason).

To get a point across

This could be any point you want to get across clearly with it’s associated context.  A bulletpoint list can get a point across but doesn’t have the framework of a story that really helps the listener really take it on board.
Different types of stories could be applicable for clients, stakeholders, higher ups and to the people who may want to know more about this project in a few year’s time.

To be entertaining/to make people pay attention

What does a story have over a report?  It should be much less dry and soporific, which is great for marketing and anyone who wouldn’t normally be involved in the project (eg a temp giving sickness cover who needs to get caught up quickly).
Also I think telling the story of where you’ve come from and where you’re going could be great for team cohesion.  One of the best project managers I’ve worked with was very good at telling the story of where we were headed in project meetings so that by the end of the meeting everyone felt charged up to work on getting there.  It wasn’t only the vision of the end point, but he very clearly (if with a broad brush) how we were going to get there, by telling it almost as if it had already happened.

To engage stakeholders

I think this deserves a separate category because there are so many potential ways to engage with stakeholders via stories.  Getting them to tell you their story helps them feel heard, and reflecting it back to them through a scenario or use case helps them to feel their input is being taken seriously as well as being a useful tool for helping stakeholders who don’t normally work together to understand each other.
In previous posts I’ve talked about using Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes and I think that could be a novel way of keeping track of each stakeholder’s journey in the project (how on board they are etc).  I’ve also spoken about interactive stories (either interactive novels or text adventures) which I would love to use in conjunction with stakeholders stories of their own work to help each group understand the other.
Even LARP could have a place in stakeholder engagement, though I don’t know anyone who enjoys roleplaying at work 😛  Getting stakeholders to engage with something different from their normal point of view – either another team, how things will be at the end of the project or some other point of view you want to get across.

This makes me think that any guidance is going to have to cover an awful lot.  And yes, now that you mention it, I am starting to feel out of my depth.

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Entry filed under: Digital storytelling, Interactive stories, Non-digital storytelling, Quest, storytelling for projects.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Chris Thomson  |  April 18, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I think there’s an inward-looking purpose as well which is partly what I’m looking at for my dissertation. Loads of authors like David Boje and Yiannis Gabriel talk about how organisational identity is actually contained in the stories that people within them tell to themselves, each other and people outside. This is something which happens without people necessarily thinking critically about it but I’m interested in what happens when, like you’re saying, organisations start actively opening their stories to a wider audience. I think it can be very helpful at identity forming, establishing open working cultures, transcending business hierarchy and inspiring innovation. Can’t prove it yet but I hope to have a case study in what Netskills is trying to do.

    Some of the attendees that have been on our recent storytelling for projects workshops have talked about how thinking narratively about their work opens up different perspectives on what they are doing, seeing it in wider contexts and relating it to broader purposes than just the project objectives.

    Still really enjoying the blog by the way. 🙂

    Reply

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