Storytelling in Business

Storytelling in Business


My previous articles in this series emphasised the importance of making meaning for the customers, employees, and other stakeholders of your business, and explored the use of creative meaning-making devices such as as metaphor, picture, symbol, archetype, humour, and creative thinking.

If such devices are bricks for the creation of meaning, stories are the grand mansions. Stories pervade our lives in the sense that our biographies are constructed not only from factual events, but also from our experience of those events and the meaning we add to them. Such historical stories in turn influence the plots of our future stories. Because meaning-making is a primal human drive, we cannot stop the creation and spread of stories. But by bringing a creative consciousness to the construction of desirable stories, we open up greater levels of freedom, significance, and creative possibility.

Some of the uses for stories in business are to:

  • Inspire to action
  • Teach and inform
  • Advertise, market, and brand
  • Persuade and sell
  • Communicate and enrich our culture and values
  • Paint a vision of where we’re going
  • Paint a picture of our history, and
  • Understand individual aspirations contributions.

A number of skills are associated with a story, and some of them are shown below:

  • Imagining
  • Crafting
  • Telling
  • Acting
  • Listening
  • Adaptation
  • Incorporation
  • Contemplation
  • Interpretation

These are important and self-explanatory skills which can add richness to the creative experience of story. There is much written about the structures and processes for creating satisfying stories. Satisfying stories have characters whose humanity and motives we can relate to even though we might not agree with them. Satisfying plots usually involve a central character’s desires and the   challenges to achieving those desires which results in escalating tension, and the ultimate resolution of that conflict. The central characters of all satisfying stories are essentially human. Even when they are animals, aliens, or robots, they are actually disguised humans, because all meaningful stories are about the human condition.

Creating great – and memorable – stories

A satisfying story paradoxically encapsulates that which is both universal and deeply personal about the human condition, and can be thought of as a particular embodiment of a more universal journey, or mono-myth, as described by Joseph Campbell and popularised by Christopher Vogler. This hero’s journey starts with the hero experiencing tensions and stresses in the ordinary world of life and work, then crossing the threshold into an extraordinary world of adventure where battles are fought, and archetypal allies and enemies are encountered, and finally, returning to the ordinary world with an ‘elixir’, usually in the form of deeper knowledge and wisdom.

Carol Pearson’s 1998 book, The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By, is a very accessible manual for using the power of mythic archetypes as a resource for personal transformation. Six archetypal journey-stages described by Pearson are:

  • The innocent who trusts
  • The orphan who survives adversity
  • The altruist who is concerned with the greater good
  • The warrior who sees life as a quest
  • The wanderer who embraces life as an adventure, and
  • The magician who creates a desirable world.

Finally, Dorian Haarhoff and Graham Williams describe a cyclic, ‘four Ws’ model of story which provides a concise set of hooks for story construction and telling which I find appealing in its brevity. The four W stages are:

  • Womb
  • Wound
  • Work or wandering
  • Wonder (from the perspective of your business I would add wholeness, wellness, wisdom, and work-joy)

Because such archetypal journeys play out regularly in the course of our personal, working, and business lives, they serve as powerful templates for meaning-making in the entrepreneurial context.