Storytelling is at the core of what makes us humans. We relate to each other through language, we shape our identity within the cultural, historical, geographical narratives that surround us. As children, words first give meaning to the shapes, colours and sounds around us; later, stories give context to the movement of things, the interconnections between them. [[Plenty of clever scientists have proved the impact of metaphors and adjectives on our frontal cortex, and our natural instinct to draw together cause and effect by linking the new story with an existing experience.]]
I recently was privileged to spend three days with two of the most mesmerising and profound storytellers I’ve ever met. Matt and Gail Taylor, who founded the MG Taylor methodology for solving complex problems, spent three days in London with Capgemini’s global Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) teams helping us to shape the story of the ASE in the future. They gave us the space to create our own stories about the past, picking through history with our own interests to detect the rise of important social, cultural, political and technological trends.
As I listened to their many anecdotes, it was instantly clear that they had 48 people grasping on to every word, compelled to know how the story ended. As each anecdote finished – as with any powerful story – a small but palpable shift had taken place in each one of us. We were now thinking slightly differently, had learned something new or experienced something that could not be reversed.
Those three days reminded me of the power of storytelling – and the influence you can wield, if you are able to tell a coherent and evocative story. Simon Sinek famously writes of the importance of a company to ‘start with why’. Why does that company exist? Why should a consumer connect with it? We’ve all experienced the pain of wordsmithing a vision statement or strategy document – hours of disputes to reach that succinct phrase or paragraph that captures the ‘essence’. Maybe we should instead be thinking of the story we want our company to tell:
Why was it created?
Who believed in its mission?
Who did it want to reach?
What difference did it want to make?
What would the world be like without it?
Where does it want to be in the future?
Questions like these add a different focus to how we analyse success. In a world of mass-information, which we desperately try to sift and curate into our own, meaningful libraries, perhaps there is merit in slowing down to consider what these collections say about us. What parts of the story are truly important? What is the story each of us wants to tell – about ourselves, about our work?