Trying to get corporations to tell compelling stories is like expecting a laugh from your refrigerator.
In a talk I give on telling stories in corporations, I say corporate storytelling is so difficult because, for the very reasons that people love stories, corporations and their custodians hate them: Stories involve heroes and tension, and stories make concepts indelible and permanent. Whereas, corporations are made vulnerable by heroes, in the form of irreplaceable employees or customers. Corporations are made squeamish by the messy unpredictability of conflict. And corporations are brand changelings that don't like to be hemmed in by principles carved into stone by a vivid story. Wait a minute, George Washington can tell a lie?
But I'm thinking there's another, more fundamental reason companies have such a hard time telling stories that a human would actually repeat to another human.
My 12-year-old daughter Scout is a bright, well-socialized, perceptive, funny girl. She's surrounded by friends who have many of the same qualities. They're good students with fine vocabularies and perceptive minds. They say funny things, they make casual and astute observations about fellow classmates—"oh, she's a hot mess in the head"—and they genuinely want to communicate with adults.
And yet none of these girls can tell a story to save their lives. None of them. Can even begin to tell a story. And it's not just? Because, like, all their? Stories are told in uptalk?
It's because they have not learned the essential communication practice of imagining their listeners' frame of reference, and keeping it always in mind as they tell the the tale. Without this fixed waypoint, the kids don't know where to begin the story, how to set the scene, how to place themselves in it, how to develop the other characters, which details to include and which to leave out, how long to make the story, how to pace it or how to end it. Christ almighty, do they not know how to end it!
These girls? Could give you? A firsthand account of the sinking of the Lusitania? And you would be, like—whatever-I-don't-know-I-guess-you-had-to-be-there?
It's the very same problem with corporations, who are also far too focused on themselves and challenged to see the world as the audience sees it (let alone themselves as their audience sees them). Hell, corporations are afraid to describe the world as they see it, lest they reveal the vision of faceless masses their Big Data shows them every day.
Well, Bub: Without a singular point of view and without at least a strong theoretical understanding of what might interest your audience, you're awfully hard-pressed to tell a story.
Luckily, Scout's my daughter, and if she learns nothing else in the world, she will learn how to tell a decent story. And I bet her friends will, too.
I'm not holding?