You might think that being able to spin a story isn't crucial for career success, but you would be woefully wrong. Boost your career with storytelling.
Many people associate storytelling with dishonesty, but when used correctly that couldn’t be further from the truth. A great example is the use of Apple products by creatives in a multitude of fields including music, art and design. Steve Jobs used a narrative to associated both himself and his products with a more artistic creative lifestyle. Not only did Jobs establish his personal brand with his story telling he also helped reinforce his companies and products’ brand.
I know you might be thinking that you have nothing in common with Steve Jobs, or any other gifted businessperson and storyteller, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of their skills to improve your personal brand and career. Let’s take a look at how you can use storytelling to boost your career.
The Next Great Storyteller
A purported ex-employee of Jobs said that one day they were sitting in the lunch room of NexT (the computer company Jobs started after leaving Apple) when Jobs walked in. Jobs asked them who is the most powerful person in the world and after they answered he told them they were wrong. The most powerful person in the world, he said, is the storyteller. He said that Disney was the world’s best storyteller, and Jobs wanted to change that. This was shortly before another of his companies, Pixar, created the computer animation craze, which ushered in a new era of animation with Pixar seated solidly on the throne.
This is an excellent example of constructing a goal for yourself, even lofty ones like deposing an animation dynasty, with a narrative that will help you achieve it. When talking about storytelling, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to tell anyone but yourself the story. The story could be just for you, to motivate you and push you forward. It could be a reminder of what you had to endure to reach your goals. Because after all, every hero has a great origin story.
You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t present it in a way that will convince people to get behind it, then you will have an immensely difficult time making your concept a reality. This is another great function of storytelling, not only can you present your idea, you can help people get behind it. It gives you the space to express where you see the idea going or the result of it, without seeming over-speculative and boastful. Although a cliché: people need something to believe in and if you show them what you envision as the result of your proposal they can get behind it more readily. If you are a talented enough storyteller not only can you introduce people to projected results, you can also weave intent and mission into your narrative.
If you are looking for people to either invest in your idea or buy your product, then storytelling becomes infinitely extremely important.
As Hollywood has shown us, nothing proves a salesmen’s worth better than selling their interviewer a pen. I won’t try to sell you a pen, but I will give you two examples of a sales pitch to consider.
-This is a high-quality pen with free flowing but not leaky ink and is made according to the highest standards.
-This pen was made by a company founded in 1818 and have spent three generations creating quality pens. Since then they have tried to develop an ink which flows freely but doesn't leak, making it a joy to write with.
Although both explain essentially the same thing, one creates a mental image; the other one is just a generic sales pitch, it’s not bad, it’s just not memorable. Now in a business or corporate environment would you want to be forgettable or make a lasting impression? Do you want to be the first person your supervisor thinks of when they need to promote a person from their team? Of course, you would, and that is a great reason to use storytelling to boost your career. Now, you are probably wondering when you should use storytelling in a corporate environment. The most obvious answer is when pitching an idea, start with how the idea was conceived, add a little of the research you did and then where you envision the idea going. A less obvious application would be:
Storytelling might seem like a lot of talking, but Graham Winfrey of Inc.com says that listening is just as important in as speaking. He gives an excellent example of Steve Jobs turning over the microphone to the developers he was going to present in front of at the ’97 World Wide Developers Conference. His developers were very frustrated because of Jobs recent purchase of NexT and the shift they would have to commit to. Giving them a platform to speak from lowered tensions and allowed Jobs to present his side of the story.
Listening though isn’t just to bridge the gap between yourself and someone that might be disgruntled, it might also help you adopt your story and make it even better than the last time you told it. A great example of this is Nintendo. Yes, the company that made home consoles the $26.9 billion dollar industry it is today! In previous years they kept their past relatively obscure concentrating more on their video game pedigree. Recently though they have been more open and actually promote their history beginning as a card gaming company, then evolving into electronic toys and then finally video games.
Often Shigeru Miyamoto the creator of some of Nintendo’s most beloved characters including Super Mario and Donkey Kong becomes a vehicle for Nintendo’s story… and going back to people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, they both have a specific way they present themselves to the public, down to what kind of clothes they wear, because undoubtedly every good story needs a great set of characters which brings us to the next point.
The most obvious and important character in any story is the protagonist. In the realm of business or corporate storytelling, your protagonist can be your brand, idea, product or even yourself. Morals, ethics and struggles all define characters and of course, they must define yours. Through this tool of character development though you will be able to show your ability to problem-solve and overcome obstacles. When talking about your morals, or the morals you hold your partners to, you can show transparency. Finally, ethics can show a dedication to holding both yourself, your production and the people you collaborate with to an exacting standard.
Do you know of any great examples of corporate or business storytellers? Have you ever used storytelling in your own professional life? What were the results? Let us know in the comment section below.