October 30th, 2023

Why storytelling will transform your business

Christian Heerde

In the famous show ‘The Office’* the shameless but rather successful department manager at Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott, some day is confronted by a new, higher ranking supervisor named Charles, who tries to gain control over his decisions. Michael quickly grows tired of being pushed around by Charles and quits his Job at Dunder Mifflin.

Keen on proving to his former employer, that he does not need to be bossed around to be successful, he opens his own company ‘Michael Scott Papers‘, and quickly realizes that he needs some funding for his new venture. He takes his newly formed team to a so called ‘Investors Club Meeting‘ and absurdly reveals that his own ‘Nana‘, is the chairperson of this suspicious union.

The meeting takes place in a retirement home. Michael introduces his intentions and his team to the Investor Club that is composed of several old and tired grandmas and grandpas in their 70’s. As Michael tries to make his point, he quickly gets challenged by his ultimately very clever Nana: “How do you expect to take a profit in this economy?” Prepared for this question, Michael answers with a few facts: “By wanting it more! By working hard! Because of my experience …“

His grandma does not seem to be convinced. She wants a valid answer and interrupts him a little more impatient: “What is your mission statement?” Realizing that he lacks a clear answer here, he tries again with a few made up rationales: “I will never give up. I will not be beaten …“.  Fearing to fail at his pitch, Michael switches to other invalid strategies and ultimately blows out: “It could be something else, something different that I sell – it does not need to be paper!”

“See, exactly this is what concerns me!”. His Nana makes her point that this is a serious Investment Club and that despite of her love for Michael, she will not invest in his endeavor.

When thinking about this meeting, we could easily say that Micheal really did not have good arguments here. But what did his grandma really want to hear? She was looking for something that would convince her. Something in Michaels‘ story, that could grab her attention, that would make her think about it. Michael on the other hand tried to make sense in his rational way.

Although he is a schmuck in the series, Michael – like us – is equipped with all the necessary traits: expertise, determination and constant vigilance. His grandma perfectly knows all about them really well. What made Michael fail at his pitch was not his unconvincing and hilarious facts. The problem here was, that he even tried to argue with facts.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions we have, when it comes to rationals. Because we think they make sense, we assume that facts could convince others or somehow drive the behavior of our listeners. The surprising news is, they do not.

In the world of business we constantly need to clarify, we need to pitch something, we need to justify a decision that we made recently, or we want to make our target group listen to what we have to say. Have you also tried to solve these problems with facts, features and sense making? How successful have you been?

What if, on the other hand, we would resist our first intention when we start to pitch something and step back for a moment. Let’s ask ourselves: what is the best strategy to overcome the dearly held beliefs of our listeners that drive their behavior? Are the many bullet points in our presentation useful? Is our feature-crammed video really working out? Since facts do not work in most cases, how about telling a story? Sounds like a good idea?

In her book ‘Story or Die’, Lisa Cron is writing: Today, we see story as a self-gratification tool that we use after a long and busy day to escape reality and step into a world of wonder, fiction and curiosity. Netflix, Disney and Marvel are good places for storytelling. With that, we forgot that stories do wondrous things not only in entertainment, but in every context, especially for our businesses.

The neuroeconomist Dr. Paul Zak found out that when we are told a story, we will be 40% more likely to change our behavior based on the facts that are presented to us this way. Stories give us not only an experience, they give us direction, order, structure, motivation and even further, they give us meaning. “Stories are mission critical – they will save you time for the rest of your life.“ – Jyoti Guptara in Business Storytelling.

Yes, Michael should have told a story to his ‘Nana’. A story about how he came to this point, to start out on his own. About his struggle that needs to be overcome. That he does not need to be bossed around. About his motivation that guides him and how he will change the world with his paper company. It could have been the origin story that made Michael a superhero in that moment. And his ‘Nana’? She definitely would have given him a big smooch and said: “That sounds great Michael, – take my money!“

If used right, the power of a story will change minds, it will transform business, create loyal customers and raving fans. It will create bonding and it will feel great. The best thing: It is totally free!

I hope this article was of any help for your future advances. Feel free to contact me, if you have any feedback, or share your experiences.

*The Office is an American Mocumentary at ©NBC EntertainmentSeason 5, Episode 22
**Graph from www.forbes.com –
link to the article and graph

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