Thursday, May 28, 2015


I have an abiding interest in corporate storytelling. It came up in one of the Kmworld presentations (courtesy of Accenture) so I wanted to revisit it via HBR.

Storytelling that moves people: A conversation with screenwriting coach Robert McKee. HBR. June 2003.
  • "Too often, [managers] get lost in the accoutrements of companyspeak: PowerPoint slides, dry memos, and hyperbolic missives from the corporate communications department." 5
  • Book -- Story: substance, structure, style and the principles of screen-writing.
  • Unite the idea with a story and an emotion
  • "A story expresses how and why life changes. It begins with a situation in which life is relatively in balance… You expect it will go on that way. But then there's an event… that throws life out of balance… The story goes on to describe how, in an effort to restore balance, the protagonist's subjective expectations crash into an uncooperative objective reality."
  • "You create scenarios in your head of possible future events to try to anticipate the life of your company or your own personal life."
  • "You emphatically do not want to tell a beginning-to-end tale describing how results meet expectations. This is boring and banal. Instead, you want to display the struggle between expectation and reality in all its nastiness."
  • "We follow people in whom we believe. The best leaders I've dealt with -- producers and directors -- have come to terms with dark reality."
  • "The storyteller discovers a story by asking certain key questions.":
    • "What does my protagonist want in order to restore balance?"
    • "What is keeping the protagonist from achieving his or her desire?"
    • "How would my protagonist decide to act in order to achieve his or her desire in the face of these antagonistic forces?"
    • Is the telling honest?

  • It's all about oxytocin release.
  • More oxytocin = more engagement and willingness to help
  • To get more oxytocin:
    • Sustain attention by developing tension in the narrative
  • Start with a "compelling, human-scale story":
    • Why should people care about what you are proposing?
    • How will it make their lives better?
    • How will people feel when it's complete?
  • "people are more substantially motivated by their organization's transcendent purpose (how it improves lives) than by its transactional purpose (how it sells goods and services).
  • "enduring stories tend to share a dramatic arc in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity."

Carolyn O'Hara. How to tell a great story. HBR 2014.
  • Stories create "sticky memories"
  • Book: Winning the story wars by Sachs
  • Questions:
    • Who is my audience?
    • What is the message I want to communicate?
  • Mine your own experiences
  • Highlight struggle; keep it simple
  • Case study: introduce a (fake) nemesis or competitor

JD Schramm. A refresher on storytelling 101. HBR 2014.
  • The formula:
    • Parachute in to the story.
    • First and final words are important.
    • Take a Goldilocks approach to details -- not too much; not too little.
    • Focus on one audience member at a time.
    • Consider poetry and economy of words
    • Use silence
    • Know your AIM: audience, intent, and message

  • Commercials using Freytag's Pyramid are the most popular

  • Note that a three act structure is also quite popular for screenwriting, etc. From wikipedia:

Some other resources:

  • Book. The writer's journey: mythic structure for writers by Christopher Vogler.
  • Book. The hero with a thousand faces by Joseph Campbell.

Note that Vogler wrote a Disney memo called  A practical guide to the hero with a thousand faces.

  • The stages for the hero:
    • He is introduced in his ordinary world
    • Call to adventure
    • The hero is reluctant at first
    • The hero is encouraged by the wise old man or woman. The mentor gives advice and maybe a magical device. The mentor can only go so far and may give the hero a "kick n the pants"
    • Hero passes the first threshold. They are committed to the journey.
    • Hero encounters tests and helpers.
    • Hero reaches the innermost cave. The hero goes to a place -- often underground -- to find the object of the quest (Hell, dragon's lair, Chapel Perilous, Death Star, labyrinth, etc.).
    • Hero endures the supreme ordeal. They die (symbolically) and are reborn.
    • The hero seizes the sword.  Gets the swag, knowledge, reconciliation, or the woman.
    • The road back. Chase, etc. They aren't out of the woods yet.
    • Resurrection. Transformed into something new by the experience.
    • Return with the elixir. Treasure, experience, love, etc.
  • Character archetypes include:
    • Hero
    • Mentor
    • Threshold guardian
    • Herald
    • Shapeshifter: character that changes from the hero POV
    • Shadow: energy of the dark side
    • Ally
    • Trickster: energies of mischief and change


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