Friday, June 03, 2011

The Mythology of Business Storytelling, Part Two

In the last post, I gave some background to these "myth" thoughts. Read the part-one posting before you tackle this post. Consider these two posts as one continuous chat. By the way, I am not suggesting that any "Storytelling expert" who has hopped on the Storytelling bandwagon of late is trying to deceive. I believe there sure is a lack of understanding of story and storytelling.

Myth 4. Storytelling has no rules. Story is whatever you want it to be.
Not every conversation is storytelling. There is a difference between a story and an anecdote. Storytelling is an oral art. Writing a story is not storytelling.

Let me switch gears and be the BEST STORYTELLING CONSULTANT(TM) (giggle) you could ever have: "Hey, why constrain the everybody-make-their-own-reality freedom? Whatever you want is the most important thing here! Go on, storytelling is whatever your company tells me it should be. Thank you for hiring me. That will be $2,500, please."

Would you hire an accounting consultant that thought like that? Would you hire an Internet Security consultant who just wanted to make things easy for you?

Let me share my adaptation of a Hungarian folktale.

Once there was a little bear who loved to sing. However, when she sang the song was awful. She could not carry a tune. While her family loved her, her singing was so bad they had to cover their ears when she would break into song.

One day, the little bear asked her mother a question. "Mother, do you not think that my singing is the best in the world?"

The mother bear gave her daughter a hug and said, "Well, I love you very much, but the truth is that your singing is not very good. It hurts the ears of all who hear it."

The little bear was undisturbed. "Why, then, if you don't like my singing, I shall go out and find others that think my songs are the most beautiful of any." And with that, she walked out the door.

A few blocks down the road she ran across another bear. She looked at him and said, "Do you like to sing?"

He replied, "Yes, of course! Here, let us sing a song together."

The two young bears began to sing a song so off-key and so acoustically jarring that dogs began to howl in pain and even the birds in the tree overhead flew away as quickly as they could.

"Now," the boy bear asked of his newfound friend, "what do you think of my singing?"

She immediately answered, "I think your voice is the most pleasing thing I have ever heard. Tell me, what do you think of my amazing voice?"

"Your voice," he announced, "is satisfying like cool water on a hot day. Come, let us sing for everyone we meet."

And so they did, raising their voices in song to whomever they met. To this day, they continue to sing their outrageous songs, but they find that fewer and fewer of the other animals will listen.

Myth 5. Everyone is a storyteller.
Let me be direct here. Not everyone in your company should tell stories or be required to create stories. "Yeah, but Bob in Shipping tells the funniest jokes in the lunch room." Telling jokes is not storytelling. There is an art and discipline to seeing story as it happens in your company. Yes, train everyone about business storytelling, but do not require that they immediately start to tell. Begin the story biz process slowly in one area of your company and let the enthusiasm spread. If everyone is a storyteller, then no one is a storyteller.

"But, Sean, we have a schedule to keep. We need 100 stories by Tuesday. Everyone must tell their company story." I am sorry, but that will not happen. If you force people to create stories, you are going to get piles of….fake stories.

Myth 6. "Just tell your real story. That'll win 'em over."
I once had a loose-lipped colleague who said his grandmother always chided him, "Don't tell everything you know."

I see this myth often when dealing with small-business or personal coaching consultants. I agree with the ideas of transparency. We should be "real" with our clients and let them know we are human. However, use caution. There is a fine line between sharing with your audience the struggles you have overcome or just dumping (or bragging about) your life on your listener. Sharing personal tales takes (here I go again) discipline and crafting of the story. Ask yourself: Does my self-exposure invite the listeners to move forward with their needs or does it make them like (or feel sorry for) "me" more?

With both Part 1 and 2 of this "myth" series, I have written about some of the problem areas I see with the current corporate storytelling movement. Story and storytelling make up a strong world-mind that we all share as human beings. However, even something as transcendent as sharing our stories can be diluted by hype and noise. As you explore story for business, take a deep look at the understanding you may have about its power. There is so much good to be had if we keep ourselves focused and on track.

The is official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Illustration in this blog post comes from and is used under his Creative Commons license. See Sean's storytelling training workbook at