“The Power of Storytelling”

Saving Mr Banks – the power of storytelling “Saving Mr Banks” is the charming tale of how Walt Disney persuaded PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins to bring the magical nanny to life on the big screen. There is a moment about three quarters of the way through the movie where Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks says”…. it’s all about saving the children…” to which PL Travers, played by Emma Thompson said in a way only British leading ladies could say “Oh, you think it’s about the children…” and the message of the story which is clear to her, but obviously hidden to most, suddenly becomes clear to the watching audience.

Why use stories when speaking in a business setting? The power of storytelling is well documented as it’s a great way to engage the audience. After all it’s used throughout our early years before and during primary education, but seems to fade off in secondary education which may explain why we have academically well-educated students, but lacking experience and common sense.

In the business world Steve Jobs was one of the pioneers in the use of verbal storytelling supported by simple images and one line concepts. TED Talks have carried that practice forward and their world-class speakers are expected to speak in simple narratives, using stories and powerful imagery to convey their message.

Yet with a business backdrop, most companies still rely on offering leadership and management change ideas by supplying data, numbers, statistics, analytics, and so on. The inevitable suffering of “Death by PowerPoint” in presentations still seems to rule the day.

Why don’t we change? The answer is simple. Because today’s leaders don’t know any better and that’s the way they’ve been taught and so that’s the way they like to deliver messages.

While storytelling is not the only way to engage people with your ideas, it’s certainly a critical part of the recipe.

Stories powerfully connect us to our listeners. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others (Example or Proof stories) our audiences feel that they get to know us as authentic people – people who have lives outside the corporate setting, people who have struggled with problems and who have figured out how to overcome them. Doesn’t this just underpin what we all want – authentic and honest leadership?

 Not such an ugly duckling One Hans Christian Anderson equivalent in the business setting is Geoffrey Berwind, a professional “Storytelling Consultant and Trainer”. He’s created storytelling projects for historic sites and provides consulting services for leaders, entrepreneurs, speakers, and companies worldwide. His clients include Historic Philadelphia, Inc., Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex, UNUM Global IT Leaders, along with thousands of experts in many fields who want to make a deeper impact on their audiences, customers, management teams, and influential stakeholders.

Storytelling – just one part of Natural Learning Some of the best leaders will know of the value of natural learning because without it they wouldn’t be the best.

We have all heard phrases such as ‘learning the hard way’, ‘coming from the school of hard knocks’, or studying at the ‘University of Life’. All these sayings usually refer to a level of ‘street-wise’ knowledge where the individual has learned how to survive through experience, watching others and listening to stories and fables. This often takes the form of an ingrained ‘how-to’ knowledge and can lead to great successes. One very visible champion of this sort of learning is Lord Alan Sugar, who has worked his up through the system using a combination of instinct and experience, as well as considerable factual knowledge. Interestingly this type of ‘natural’ learning is hard to pass on to others. It is highly subjective and lies deep within the individual. It is the kind of learning that we use to become ‘mind fit’ – or ‘mind unfit’.

What is Natural Learning? Implicit or as we call it Natural Learning is unconscious and automatic. It is action based and goes into long term memory. Simple examples are walking, tying a shoelace, riding a bike or driving a car. All could be painful when starting, but in time through actions, awareness and focused practice we improve.  We Naturally Learn through:

  • Physical experiences
  • Mind experiences
  • Copying
  • Stories
  • Maps
  • Feedback

Compare this approach to the familiar academic ‘book-based’ approach to learning which is easier to quantify in many ways.  Discussing theories and looking at diagrams is reassuring and a wall full of certificates certainly lends an air of legitimacy to the proceedings. This is called explicit or educated learning. This form of knowledge can be passed down from generation to generation. Some of the greatest thinkers in history can open our minds to new ideas and lead to a shared learning experience which is edifying and exciting for all involved. But in many instances we are just adding to the “knowing-doing gap”, creating highly knowledgeable and educated leaders that are still ineffective and inefficient.

Natural Learning – the good the bad and the ugly Not all we learn naturally will be good as it’s as easy to form good habits as is it bad habits. We may all think we’re good drivers, but if you were really honest you’d find something you could be better at when behind the wheel – such as indicating, using two hands on the steering wheel, proper hands free mobile phone kit! Maybe you are thinking of others?

In business wouldn’t it be ideal if we can eliminate all the bad habits of leaders, managers and in fact all employees? Collectively these we call these bad habits “Behavioural WasteTM

We define Behavioural WasteTM – All forms of behaviour that divert energy, talent and resources away from the personal or organisational purpose.

One of the problems in larger organisations occurs when people have long ‘to do’ lists and can be easily over-whelmed. The problem only starts there, as when you merge all the long lists together and separating out each project, it becomes abundantly clear that priorities assigned by people are different, so projects will take longer. And then tomorrow it all changes as the next top priority pops-up from more fire-fighting operations in a different department. And so it will continue until the next meeting… I’m sure you have lots of examples you could share. Here are a few more examples of behavioural waste:

  • Unnecessary meetings occur through habit
  • Underperformance not challenged
  • People stuck in their beliefs
  • People say things like – ‘it’s not my fault’ or ‘we didn’t know that’
  • Disengaged people: people give up, go through the motions
  • Conflicts not addressed
  • Businesses fail to adapt to change
  • Rigid and habitual processes and systems become dated
  • Poor leadership
  • Cynical attitudes
  • Over-controlling behaviours – maybe bullying

Any Behavioural WasteTM means your business is underperforming and if you deal with it now, not only will you improve business performance but it will be a better and happier place to work. People will be engaged, looking to improve and be more effective and efficient in what they are doing.

Storytelling – the message others hear While we will never really know the true story of how “Mary Poppins” came to the screen, we do know the first film wasn’t called “Saving Mr Banks”. Although it was only a movie, until the line “Oh, you think it’s about the children..” Walt Disney was in the land of Behavioural WasteTM, stuck in his own belief and pulling all his team in the same direction.

Imagine what the ending might have been if it was all about the children? Would the family Banks all have been flying a kite at the end? The art of a good storyteller is to impart the true meaning. And make it real for the listener. Great leaders know the power of good stories, and all have a simple meaning. But they also know storytelling is only part of your armoury. A great leader uses the combined power of all the elements of Natural Learning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>