3 Steps to Harnessing the Power of Story

by Jo Anne Nelson on June 1, 2010

Corporate storytelling affects every business. I recently overheard two members of a client team discussing their goals for the fiscal year: The more senior member of the team said, “We’ll never achieve those goals.”

Given that comment, I had no doubt he was right: the team would not achieve their goals — or even come close.

Human beings use story to make sense of the world.

The way we speak about day-to-day events, thoughts, and feelings has a consistent theme, and that theme creates a story. We use stories to construct identity, set context, and share expectations. And the story we tell directly impacts our mood. It can inspire and uplift us, motivate us to take action … or it may have the opposite effect.

Each of us has a personal story, just as each team and organization has its own story:

  • Paula is a real curmudgeon.
  • Our accounting team is fastidious.
  • The organization has always rewarded flexibility and innovation.

These stories serve as both a filter through which we interpret the world and a rationale for action. In the conversation I overheard, the team’s story closed the possibility of achieving stretch goals, and negatively impacted their ability to excel. We were brought in to work with this team because they were under-performing.

The bottom line is that story is a choice.

We choose the stories we tell. Teams and cultures that perform at the highest levels continually reassess their stories and the way in which they are interpreting the world.

What is the story you tell? Does it serve you well, reflecting a world full of opportunity? Or is it a story of fear, uncertainty and risk? Do you see yourself as the designer of your future, or as someone buffeted by events?

Our client team? After working together to build new skills in teaming — and in storytelling — they exceeded all their financial goals for the fiscal year.

Use the power of story in your own life:

Take some time to consider your recent conversations with friends or colleagues.

  1. How did you describe current events or situations in your personal life? In your work?
  2. Was it an optimistic description? A critical one?
  3. If it was a critical description, how could you re-interpret the story to open up new possibilities?

By practicing these three simple steps regularly, you can use the power of story to help move yourself and your team towards peak performance. And if you have an experience with re-imagining your own story, or a question about how to do so, we’d love to hear from you.

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