Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Story About the Importance of Business Stories

Welcome back to Funding the Kryptonite, a blog that will take a look at comic book super villains and discuss them from a business perspective.
"[E]verybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world - no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds" -Neil Gaiman
Today I'm going to break the mold a bit and go outside of a comic book story itself to discuss why I think stories are incredibly important to the business world. 

A business case is like a photograph in time of a particular problem or situation a firm finds itself faced with. You get certain pieces of information, such as managerial views and financial data and other facts about the situation. Usually team-based, though sometimes solo, you would pour over all that mountain of information and use the experience and frameworks and knowledge you have to piece together an analysis of the situation, come up with alternatives, justify which one you want to recommend, and then explain how to implement it. In many ways, if not entirely, this is just another form of storytelling.

"But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.” -Neil Gaiman
This is another important part of case analysis and presentation, using the same framework as a story. The analysis is the backstory, the laying out in interesting fashion how we got here and what it means and why it is important. The alternatives are the possible paths one can walk down, and their discussion is the same mental weighing anyone can relate to as they try to decide what is best.  The implementation of that chosen alternative becomes the story going forward, with the presenter giving you the what and how and why of the future path and where it should bring you. Done properly, it can be incredibly evocative.

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” -Neil Gaiman
This echoes a very important point one of my coaches (thanks Adam!) taught me during preparations for a case competition. He noted that, while it is important to have the best possible presentation the team could put together, it was equally important to have a story to the presentation, or at least a defining theme. Throwing facts and figures at judges was all good and well and logical, but if we could reach them with a story we would be far more likely to be successful. When deliberating, the judges would be more likely to remember our presentation if they associated us with an idea/theme.

"[I]f a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit. -Neil Gaiman
And this is why companies try, in their way, to tell stories. Stories resonate with people. They do it with vision statements and other such declarations, but it's about trying to create something that goes beyond merely the people involved, and sometimes even the company involved, in order to change the way people think about themselves and their lives. By moving from a "what"-based model (here is what we make) to a "why"-based model (here is what we believe), companies can engage employees and customers and partners on a deeper level.

This is why I think comic books are especially good stories for businesses to read about and draw from. Their plots range from serious to silly, grim and gritty to over the top. Their characters are larger than life and otherworldly, but still founded in our reality and connected to it. Their stories can teach us something about ourselves and how to tell our own stories to the world, and business can be, in a basic way, just another form of storytelling.

"[G]reat comics have nothing to do with powers, costumes, or continuity, and everything to do with using these heroes as timeless metaphors for something meaningful about our real lives." -Brian K. Vaughn


  1. Just commenting to tell you , your rss feeds all wrong, there is a the GA code coming up in the feed, so it seems you have pasted it at the wrong place. Please check

    1. Thanks for letting me know. I'm not familiar with GA code, could you please tell me what it is?