The Story is The strategy
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Conclusion, Part 6 of 6.
As I have said in the previous articles, storytelling is more than just a communication tool. It is a mindset. I believe that an organization has embraced and understood how to truly harness the power of storytelling when it has started to see itself as a protagonist navigating through a narrative that it has decided to take control of. This outlook allows the company to draw strategies from its very own story.
Ben Horowitz, a leading VC and tech entrepreneur was one of the first to say that the company story is the company strategy. He is not alone in preaching this idea as a lot of leaders have started seeing storytelling beyond its use in marketing and communications. But what does this really mean? How do you draw out the company strategy from Story?
Horowitz prescribes a quick answer: a compelling story puts the company in motion. For him, the story articulates the organization’s “why”. Simon Sinek shares this view. Understanding the “why” inspires people to work, to move, and to influence others. The “why” is a powerful force that can move organizations. Story and storytelling articulates and unlocks this “why”. However, very little is said on how to exactly craft a strategy out of the company story. I’d like to propose three simple steps rooted in the art of writing stories.
First, as I have mentioned above, is for the organization to start seeing itself as a protagonist, a person living his own story. But this person is not just any other person. This is a person that echoes the employee’s own story in various ways.
Second, the ultimate desire of this protagonist, and the pains that come with it, must gradually be articulated and concretized. It becomes easier to imagine annual goals and objectives as desires (or pains) if the company is seen as a person.
Finally, after articulating the desires and pains of the organization, one can start identifying the obstacles that the protagonist will face in his quest of his ultimate desire. What is stopping him from getting what he wants?
This sounds very much like any other strategic planning framework. It does, because it is. Strategic planning requires three steps: an assessment of the self, an articulation of the goal, and an identification of the challenges. SWOT, Business Model Canvas, Business Scorecard, and every other framework follows this. What makes this Storytelling Framework different and more effective?
First, this framework allows you to see all your efforts not as a collection of plans and activities that will help your company succeed, but as a personal contribution to a developing grand narrative. You are not working for a company. Instead, you are telling a story. Second, the creative nature of the process allows members of the organization to tap into their right brains which will allow them to imagine and visualize not just the ultimate desire of the company but the measures and solutions required to overcome the obstacles. Lastly, the framework’s collective narrative aspect allows the individual to co-create and collaborate, making him aware that his own contribution to the grand narrative needs to interact and harmonize with the narratives of the others. And not only does a Storytelling framework make strategic thinking more human, it makes it more fun.
The challenge now is to develop a methodology that employs creative writing and storytelling techniques to draw out a comprehensive and compelling strategic plan for the company. And for this, it’s probably about time we get out of our strategic planning echo chambers and seek the help of the artists, writers, and storytellers.