Storytelling for Business

by Nick Owen

Story types and structure

Stories can be put at the service of many different purposes. Some of the most common types of story in business contexts are:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who are we?
  3. Sharing information
  4. Transmitting values
  5. Motivating (or making change possible)
  6. Teaching stories
  7. Warning stories
  8. What’s in it for me?
  9. Illuminating visions
  10. Simple metaphor
  11. Classic stories.
Example

In 1999, the Harvard Business Review ran an article entitled ‘Beware the Busy Manager’. Busy managers, who don’t take time to think, reflect and inquire into the decisions they are taking, tend to make poor decisions. It reminded me of a story about an audit carried out by one of those swish London consultancies for an industrial manufacturing company in the north of England.

After four days of intense analysis, the young consultant reported back to the grizzled CEO. ‘Everything’s fine except for one thing. You’ve got someone sitting on your production floor who, as far as I can tell, hasn’t done a thing for four days. That’s not efficient!’ ‘Aah!’ said the Chief, ‘that’ll be Fred. Ten years ago Fred came up with an idea that still saves the company £10 million pounds a year. As far as I’m concerned, Fred can sit on his arse for the next ten years as long as he just keeps on thinking.’

Structure

Different types of story require different structural considerations and different ways of telling. Structure is the glue that holds a story together and the basis on which to improvise with style and sparkle. Follow these simple guidelines to create stories which fit your specific purpose.