Why Stories Work
Stories shape our view of the world. They are the vessels through which we learn about abstract concepts. They are the catalysts for imagination and innovative thinking: they simplify reality and create mental pictures which give us ideas about what to do “here and now” so we can one day get “there.”
In fact one of the best definitions of strategy is “telling a happy story of your future”…and that’s exactly what’s required in our rationally driven corporate worlds. We have repeatedly underestimated the power that a story has to make sense of the business world around us.
Visual stories give meaning to data and information and have tremendous untapped potential in creating a shared understanding in terms of how businesses organize work and allocate resources.
There are three key areas in the workplace where visual storytelling helps people to execute strategy:
1. Simplifying the complex through metaphor.
‘If a picture is worth a thousand words a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures’. A simple picture can powerfully convey a point of view, complex idea or a strongly held opinion. Metaphors can take the complexities around us and make them simple enough for us to understand and relate to.
2. Creating the context or the big picture view.
Providing context or the big picture of business enables employees to understand what they need to do, why they need to do it and how they fit into the solution. It enables them to really be part of the strategic process, see how it works and get a deeper understanding about the business and where it is headed.
Employees at EVERY level need to have a clear, simple and relevant understanding of:
- The External Business Environment (i.e. the influence of market trends and external forces as well as competitive dynamics on the business)
- The Current Reality of the Business itself (i.e. the assets, processes, systems and infrastucture of the business, and how value is created and delivered to customers and stakeholders)
- What the Business aims to achieve? (i.e. what is it’s ultimate purpose, objective and reason for being)
- Financial and Key Business Measures (i.e. how does it measure/ track success?)
- Value proposition (i.e. what differentiates the business from competitors and enables it to deliver superior value sustainably?)
3. Creating shared meaning.
Words are blunt instruments when it comes to creating shared meaning. Pictures, however are powerful tools.
In many organizations abstract concepts such as customer centricity, change, capital discipline or risk management are what we call "New York" words.
That is, they conjure up different ‘mental pictures’ or meanings for different people.This is where the problem often starts!
However pictures and visuals immediately identify these differences and therefore provide a powerful platform for shared meaning to be created.
The clarity of understanding that results through using pictures creates a foundation for an essential building block of enagagement: relevance. Once employees understand the strategy they can start identifying the overlap between it and their personal goals (What’s in it for me?).
Finally, pictures make meaning ‘stick’: