Storytellers rule the world

Depending on the source, it was either Plato or the American Hopi tribe that once said:

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

I came to the same conclusion independently more than a decade ago, and it is this revelation that has influenced the course of my career. Why is this sentiment so important to me? Let’s consider what our (Western/developed) society considers most important.

We all strive for money, sure, but those who make squintillions aren’t necessarily on the highest rung of society. Investment bankers, stockbrokers, etc. – the kind of people who work with money – these guys make money hand over fist. But will society remember them in 20 years? 50 years? 1000? I doubt it.

Money talks – but only while people are listening. The average Joe doesn’t look up to these people or aspire to be them (they aspire to their wealth, but that’s a different thing altogether).

Consider who truly sits on the highest rungs of society. Who are the most famous people you can think of? Odds are, they will be entertainers of some sort. Actors, musicians, directors, authors, even politicians or athletes. Odds are they are in the highest echelons of income earners, too. The most successful actor or musician will make millions more each year than our most successful care workers, plumbers, or even doctors.

Why? Because storytellers rule the world. Actors, musicians, and authors share stories with billions – through film, TV, songs, and books. Storytellers propel our culture forward. The philosopher Plato (a storyteller if there ever was one) lived and died nearly two and a half thousand years ago, and I’m quoting him today. For all their good qualities, I doubt people will be quoting Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Larry Ellison in 2000 years.

Money will buy you influence, but stories will grant you immortality. Storytelling has always been successful because it appeals to something primal in our emotions. We’re hard-wired to be receptive to hearing our world explained in a narrative (which is where religion/myth sprang from). We root for a hero and empathise with a quest.

How can you apply this fundamental truth? Be a storyteller in your business or your career. Here are three ways you can be a business storyteller:

1. Change management – during a period of transition in your company, sell the change to your team and your clients through storytelling. Give them the big picture facts, explain the background of the change and why it is in everyone’s best interest, and create a narrative tailored to each person so they can feel part of the story and part of the business. Note: to tell an effective story during a time of change, considerable transparency in the change process is required

2. Branding – use content marketing to align your company to a particular set of values. For example, Red Bull (particularly through their excellent magazine and their choice of sporting events/sponsorships) communicate that they are adventurous, sporting, and pretty much own corporate adrenalin. Through storytelling, the brand has become so synonymous with adventure that it is easy to forget Red Bull’s core business is selling sugary drinks.

3. Sales – depending on the situation (and the type of sales), make yourself or your client a hero. If you’re selling a product or service, give your customer’s the story of how they can follow you on your adventure. People want to feel part of something. Buying is often tinged with emotion, and the best way to sway a customer to you is to establish a narrative. Make them part of your story. If you’re in media advertising sales, make the client the hero and point out where they are in their journey. Read up on the Hero’s’ Journey theory and explain to them how working with you will progress them further on their quest for business growth.

By Shane Jiraiya Cummings

First published on LinkedIn, March 2015

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