Storytelling for Business

by Nick Owen

Simple metaphor

Use this type of story when you want to give people something to think about. When used appropriately and at the right time, a metaphor can often endow you with a sense of gravitas and wisdom because it is so timeless and universal.

Requirements

  • A minimalist story, simple yet evocative
  • A parable or a short classical story, often from antiquity or a wisdom tradition, but it can equally well be of contemporary provenance
  • Can be linked to a person who many admire in some way: for example, Gandhi, Mandela, Branson, Clinton, Senge, Mohammed, Christ or Buddha
  • Best used to make a particular point in a particular context, so that its wisdom seems direct and concrete
Example

The Clerk of the Works at the construction site of a great new religious building asked the four stonemasons what they considered their job function to be:

The first said ‘I’m cutting stone.’

The second said ‘I’m carving a pillar.’

The third said ‘I’m building a great and noble monument.’

The fourth said ‘I’m serving God and Humankind.’

He invited the fourth to join him on the management team.

(Note how this story could fall under many of the story categories listed here.)

Example

Three young men sit around the bed of their dying father. With the last of his energy he tells his sons there is treasure in the fields of the family farm. ‘Where?’ they ask. But it is too late. He has gone.

After the formalities are over, they arm themselves with hoes, shovels, forks and picks – whatever digging implements they can find. They dig deep; they turn over every inch of soil, but they find nothing. Deeply disappointed, they return to the city and continue with their business as usual.

Next summer, the farm yields its best harvest ever.