Storytelling for Business

by Nick Owen

Warning stories

Warning stories are similar to both information stories and teaching stories. Use them to warn of the consequences of continuing to act in a certain way, of not changing or of continuing down a particular path. For obvious reasons, these tend to be negative tales rather than positive ones.


See Sharing information and Teaching stories and choose what is appropriate.


An international auto engineering firm, renowned for its innovative sports cars, is bedevilled by a culture of in-fighting, backstabbing, and a ‘That won’t work’ mentality.

Reason: too many ‘experts’. Experts tend to think in silo terms and stick to the tried and tested process (even if, in fact, that process was once innovative). Experts also tend to take feedback only from peers, who are seen to be at least of equal status. So the company was bringing in fresh talent with great ideas, but they were meeting tremendous hostility from the existing workforce. As a result, there was a steady leakage of highly-skilled young talent, who found the culture stifling.

Purpose of story: to wake the work force to up to the consequences of the culture they had created.


In a far off country, not so far from here, the people were quite eccentric. Every year, they held a running race in which talented people from all around the world were invited to participate. The winner would be the one to reach the top of the local mountain first. What was peculiar was that the people of that country didn’t support the runners, but actively abused them. ‘You’ll never make it!’ ‘You’re too clumsy.’ ‘You’re so unfit, you’ll never make the grade.’ ‘You don’t measure up to the greats of the past.’ Little wonder that, given all that abuse, the runners dropped out of the race one by one. Losing motivation and lacking support, they just gave up.

Except one. He carried on, despite the jeering and the boos, until he reached the top. People were amazed. ‘How did you do that?’ they asked. But he couldn’t hear them. It turned out he was deaf.