SAM TROU T
The art of corporate storytelling
By Steve Fisher
ONCE UPON A TIME: Those four simple
words conjure up the anticipation of a tale of
wonder and fascination. One might think this
is something for a campfire, classroom or bedside and not a tool for business. One would be
The definition of story here is an account
of incidents or events, a statement regarding
the facts pertinent to a situation in question—
not a work of fiction.
Everyone’s been in a business or sales meeting where the speaker clicks through a PowerPoint presentation showing charts and numbers.
Few people, if any, take anything away from
those meetings other than a sense of confusion
or ennui. But put the same information in the
context of a story and the point is made.
“When you tell a story, people understand
what the mission is and they understand how
they can enact it,” explains Evelyn Clark (www.
corpstory.com), a Costco member and business
consultant in Sammamish, Washington, and a
corporate storytelling guru. “If you just talk at
a high level of mission and vision, the reaction
is ‘What am I supposed to do with that?’
“There was a sales management group,”
Clark continues, “that had been celebrating
sales on a monthly basis, honoring the top
salesperson by showing numbers. When they
started telling stories about how the person
did it, the others learned how to do it themselves.” Successful companies get it. “Good corporate stories are more likely to conjure up
n Managing by Storying Around
(Armstrong International, 1992, 1999),
by David Armstrong
n Parables into Profit (Armstrong
International, 1995), by David Armstrong
n Introduction to Corporate Storytelling
by Hilary McClellan
n “Evaluate Your Own Story”
( www.corp story.com/process/evaluation.
htm), by Evelyn Clark
tangible visible images than anything in a
PowerPoint presentation,” says Chip Heath
( www.madetostick.com), a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s graduate school of business in Palo Alto, California.
“Stories are flight simulators for our brains,”
he observes, explaining that they portray experiences that members of the audience may
not have had yet. Heath teaches a course
called “How to Make Ideas Stick” and has co-written a book with his brother, Dan, Made to
Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
(Random House, 2007).
What’s in a story?
Clark spoke to leaders of companies who
“understand the power of story” for her book,
Around the Corporate Campfire: How Great
Leaders Use Stories to Inspire Success (C&C Publishing, 2004).
One such company is Medtronic, which
started as a home hobby and has grown
into a worldwide creator and manufacturer of
medical technology. Medtronic, based in
Minneapolis, has embraced storytelling as a
key ingredient of its success. Every December,