The Power of Storytelling in the World of Business

Doug Lipman began bringing his storytelling talents into the corporate sector, government agencies, and institutions in 1998. Following is an excerpt of an interview I did with him on storytelling in the corporate arena.

Nancy Binzen: How did you start working with corporations?

Doug Lipman: Through Forrester Research I got one of my first assignments. It began when the person who supervised writers and researchers noticed that many of the reports that were really good used stories to make their points. So he hired me to train all his technical writers how to use stories. Forrester then used my material and handouts from those classes as part of new employee training.

I was also one of a group of professional storytellers contracted by the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, for an assignment from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA has a government mandate to set aside a percentage of every dollar for public outreach and education. Our job was to train these people to communicate more effectively through storytelling.

Additionally, the agency realized there was an internal need to reverse the information gap that was beginning to occur as Baby Boomers retired. Because younger employees didn’t know the history of the agency, we had to teach retirees how to use stories to pass on the legacy of ‘how we did it.’

NB: I know storytelling is becoming more prevalent in business. How does that process generally get initiated?

DL: In my experience this usually happens only when someone at a managerial level personally falls in love with the idea. This person then becomes the internal champion for bringing storytelling – and storytellers – into the company.

For instance, I’ve worked with an oil company for several years. The person who contracted with me isn’t the CEO or president, but the guy responsible for best practices. His challenge was to convince senior management that storytelling would be an important skill not only for his direct reports to learn but also to pass on to their direct reports.

NB: How did he convince them?

DL: My first assignment from him was to lead a two-day workshop where, in addition to learning some basic storytelling skills, participants had an opportunity to tell their personal stories. And something very interesting happened. Listeners said to themselves, ‘Oh, I never knew that about you.’ With new insights into others’ lives, the sense of being part of a community grew.

NB: Do you have other examples of ways in which your corporate clients have found storytelling to be an effective management tool?

DL: In one of the companies I work with, a lot of the employees are from the Third World. My client realized that transmitting cultural norms and expectations through stories could be a very useful part of employee orientation, help bring employees up to speed faster and also encourage them to stay longer.

Because the company makes a long-term commitment to employee advancement, senior managers select various employees to share their success stories with the entire organization, As a story coach, my job has been to help these tellers develop personal stories that are filled with compelling images and told with passion and intensity. These stories in their turn inspire listeners and help them visualize similar success for themselves.

(Learn more about Doug's work at storydynamics.com. If you'd like to know about my new blog entries as they're posted, please subscribe to my newsletter at www.storypotions.com.)




Nancy Binzen
Nancy Binzen

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