Knowledgeable Narratives: The Art of Corporate Storytelling
In today’s world of rapid communication and endless information, one important element is often absent. People long for a sense of true connection.
For some it’s connection to their community, for others a connection to a greater set of ideals, but in general, all people want to feel personal connection to at least some of the information constantly bombarding them. Communication without personal connection is just noise.
In business, this connection void creates an immense opportunity to relay the purpose and goals of a company in a meaningful way. However, according to acclaimed Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, the yearning for connection yields an even more exciting business opportunity.
It allows companies to share their personal stories.
Fast Company magazine’s May 1st article, “Why Companies Need Novelists,” explores Hamid’s thoughts on personal narratives and how critical they are to a company’s survival.
In the article, Hamid discusses the growing interest in corporate storytelling; how writers and journalists alike are becoming increasingly drafted into the corporate makeup.
“Stories are fundamental to how we think about the world,” he says. “Nelson Mandela told a story about what post-apartheid Africa could look like. That story was persuasive enough to promote change, and it became reality. JFK told a story about putting man on the Moon, and it inspired people and came to pass. These types of huge events were built on stories.”
Today, most companies are familiar with basic storytelling. From public relations, to advertisement, to simple press releases, companies generally know how to craft a clear message. However, Hamid says that while those skills are important, many companies lack the drive or direction to articulate their internal story.
Hamid isn’t simply talking about case studies that pitch tales of corporate success and prowess to an adoring customer base. Instead, he makes the case for telling stories that matter to the Company’s most faithful…its employees. Hamid says a unifying narrative that all employees can grasp will ultimately help them work more creatively and independently – which he argues are necessities in today’s company structures.
“The exercise of storytelling is a creative way to think about strategy,” Hamid said.
Hamid also underscores the importance of when to relay internal stories and how to maximize their efficiency. He cites three stages in a company’s “life cycle” when leaders should be most aware of their overall corporate narrative.
- One: When a company begins – “If you’re a new company, or if you’re a company entering entirely new territory, you have to explain what you are internally, because nobody knows.”
- Two: When new leaders arrive or a company is acquired – “After that event, storytelling is very important to articulate a new direction.”
- Three: When a company (inevitably) has difficulty growing in the way it wants to – “Companies that have a legacy but can’t see where the future growth is coming from very often have a heightened awareness of story, because they need to articulate the way out of what seems to be decline.”
The Fast Company article goes on to list several of Hamid’s tips for the successful relaying of a corporate narrative, the most important of which is to hire writers, storytellers, and novelists to help relay a company’s internal story.
“The storytelling impulse is something that exists in many of us, most of us, maybe all of us,” Hamid said. “But in some, it exists very, very strongly; so strongly they choose to go into professions like being a novelist, being a storyteller.”
Though companies may not all feel as though they have a place for designated storytellers and the literarily inclined, Hamid says bringing different types of skillsets and people to the table can only strengthen a business.
After all, the more diverse the corporate makeup, the greater chance the corporate narrative has to resonate.