Thursday, April 28, 2011

The "Business Storytelling" Warning Label

Nowadays, it seems we have warning labels on everything.

Yesterday, I purchased one of those mesh-fabric laundry bags. It looks something like fish netting, but it is cloth, very soft and full of holes.

There is a huge warning sticker strongly attached inside the bag. It reads of dire warnings of how children should not play with this bag and there could be terrible consequences if the bag were used for anything other its intended use.


I have been thinking a lot lately of the happy-go-lucky approach to business and non-profit storytelling I have seen of late. It is like 1973 all over again. By that, I mean 1973 was one of the birth years of the often-cited Renaissance in oral storytelling in the USA. Sound bites abounded and they might have been such as “Everything is possible with storytelling. We are going to change the world with our stories! Mountains will be razed and valleys will be raised up.”


Nobody was talking “business storytelling” back then. However, we sure are talking about it in the last few years. “If you only believe in your story, your company will be recreated.” “Customers only want your story, not your facts.” “Story is now your unfailing Brand builder.”

Many of the messages about storytelling aren't true. Maybe we need to attach a warning label to storytelling. Here is is what I might write:

! Warning !

This is not a toy. Story, via storytelling, will leave permanent marks on everything that it touches. Off-label uses may include stains you would rather not have.

Business Storytelling must be only be used with the "Intentionality" activator. Untrained employees or well-meaning volunteers should not tell every organizational Story they think they know. Do not allow your company or nonprofit group to attempt Storytelling as a company-wide mission unless your CEO is willing to be the most active storyteller.

Do not use Storytelling as a replacement for all Story. Storytelling should only be used as a person-to-person, live-action, unique and singular experience of Story. For best results, use a blend of personal, business and world-tale Stories in your Storytelling. Other methods used to share Story, such as digital or written word, carry their own warnings. Read those carefully as well.

Misuse of this Story and Storytelling can result in a toxic substance known as “Manipulation.” Manipulation is always fatal to your organization. Storytelling should not be used to replace "Integrity" in any level of your organization.
Yes, I know I am being silly. Or…am I? Proceed with caution.

Check the label.

P.S. I've written before about what storytelling won't do for your business or nonprofit.

This is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.