Storytelling & Transformation

18th September 2019

The language we use in corporate life is often too impoverished for the purpose we expect it to fulfil. We cannot assume that technical language will engage, inspire and transform, yet I believe that too little consideration is given to more a ‘poetic’ lexicon that has more potential to reach into people’s hearts and minds. Yet ‘poetic’ language does not mean floweriness! I have been experimenting with film as a more 'poetic' transformational medium, and am convinced of its contribution to culture change, leadership development, and the enactment of strategy.

After all, a strategy is simply a story about the future! And film is the medium par excellence of storytelling, and an enabler of transformation, because of its unique constellation of images, music, sound, content, characters, plot, and of course, its emotionality.

We can develop a relationship with a film in a way that we can’t with a PowerPoint slide.

Great stories are always about transformation. Stories illuminate how we cope at particular crossroads in our lives, when the way ahead is full of uncertainty. They show how we respond at turning points, when we have to wake up, rise to challenges, face difficulties, and discover the courage to become our best selves in the face of adversity. Great stories are about how we change, and in the telling, our stories have the potential to change others.

In this age of content creation, we swim in stories like never before. Some of the best contemporary storytellers who use social media remind us of what is important and of what is possible; they help us to learn and to grow; and they connect us – even Twitter and Instagram bring us together in a similar way that our ancestors gathered around campfires. We need stories today, just as we always have...

Our need for stories is psychologically important. Research published in 2008 (by Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush – ‘Do You Know?’) has shown that one of the most powerful predictors of a child’s emotional health can be how much information the child knows about the family story: the fuller the awareness of the family story, the greater the child’s self-esteem and the more control s/has over her or his life. It would be interesting to speculate from this research what the applications are to organisational life – could knowledge of the company’s history improve employee engagement and loyalty? Could improved story-telling skills of organisational leaders benefit strategic alignment and execution?

Good storytelling is about finding ways to take your audience on a journey that is compelling. Film enables this no like other medium.

We can develop a relationship with a film because it ‘situates’ us – we can see ourselves in relationship to the story in a way that we can’t with a PowerPoint slide. A good film is not only a form of viral communication. It can also connect us to ourselves, to one another, to social issues, and to the world around us like no other medium.

In the work on film and corporate transformation I am developing with my friend and colleague, Jon Riley, we believe that the fundamental role of the storyteller in film, is to connect people. People are, after all, the beginning and end of a good film. The facts about a situation might be news, but what is compelling and what holds our attention – the story behind the story – is always the personal impact of events on people. All of us have faced difficult circumstances, setbacks, betrayals... but it is how we make choices in the face of adversity that defines us – how we have harnessed courage at our own thresholds, that make each of us individually and collectively exceptional. And this is the story others want to hear – much more than the glossy and highly scripted ‘corporate video’ that – frankly – no-one believes any more!

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