Storytelling for Business

by Nick Owen

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Books

Blue ocean strategy

W Chan Kim and R Maubourgne, published by Harvard Business School (US), 2005, 240 pages.

The subtitle of this book is: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant. Its central concept is that of value innovation. As well as being an excellent read on leadership and innovative thinking, the authors pepper their chapters with instructive case studies about how individuals and companies have got into Blue Oceans and left the competition in their wake. These case studies make for great business narratives, based on cast-iron experience. Easy to read and well structured.

Good to great

J Collins, published by Random House (UK), 2001, 300 pages.

Based on research into the question ‘Can a good company become a great company? And if so how?’, this accessible book explores the concept that Level 5 Leadership is instrumental in achieving sustainable success. The book is full of examples, stories and case histories of how certain individuals, motivated by a combination of ‘deep humility and fierce resolve’, have achieved excellent and consistent results.

Alpha leadership

A Deering, R Dilts and J Russell, published by Wiley (UK), 2002, 226 pages.

This book is based on the authors’ experience of leadership development in Europe and the US. It focuses primarily on three key dimensions of the challenge of leading an organisation into the desired future. Anticipate: detecting and responding to ‘weak signals’ to stay ahead of the game. Align: connecting your own values and desires with those of others. Act: making things happen. Illustrated with copious stories, narratives and anecdotes, this is a useful source book for storytellers who seek stories based on corporate case histories. The style is lively, engaging and thought-provoking, but not demanding.

The leader’s guide to storytelling

S Denning, published by Jossey Bass (US), 2005, 360 pages.

Denning’s work with business storytelling and knowledge management is well-known and widely admired. This book is a deep exploration of the art and science of using business narratives. It is comprehensive in its detailing of key types of story and how to construct them. Illustrated with many examples of narratives from a wide range of sources, this is the ideal book if you want to deepen your repertoire and your knowledge of how to make corporate storytelling work for you. There is a density to this work, but it is never impenetrable. The journey is always worthwhile and illuminated by the stories and examples.

The magic of metaphor: 77 stories for teachers, trainers, and thinkers

N Owen, published by Crownhouse (UK), 2001, 214 pages.

This is a handy resource book of stories, analogies and anecdotes. There are over 80 stories between the covers, drawn from a wide variety of traditions, cultures, ages, and contexts. Many of the stories are readily usable in business and leadership contexts; others can easily be adapted. The book also includes valuable reference sections on how to plan and deliver stories, how to structure stories, how to adapt stories to suit your particular purposes and other useful tips. Very accessible and easy to read, this is a good bedtime book or one to rifle through when looking for inspiration.

More magic of metaphor: stories for leaders, influencers, and motivators

N Owen, published by Crownhouse (UK), 2004, 338 pages.

As the subtitle suggests, this is a resource book of stories specifically for those who need or wish to lead, influence or persuade. It weaves into the text two powerful models of human emergence: integral practice and vertical development. The book makes the case that we don’t live in a flatland world where one size fits all, and that it’s critical to recognise the different ways that people make meaning and construct their reality. Armed with this awareness, we can choose stories most suited to connect with, challenge or transform the current world-views or mindsets of our audience. Over 70 stories are shared and explored for their relevance to different meaning-making styles, demonstrating that stories and business narratives are critical tools for making powerful interventions. Whether you dip in or read randomly or sequentially, this book makes for accessible, easy reading.

The fifth discipline

P Senge, published by Random House (UK), 1999, 424 pages.

This classic work on systems thinking – a concept much lauded but too little applied – is worth reading for its excellent insights into how the human race (especially the corporate world) must embrace complexity or die. The key ideas are beautifully illustrated with analogies, anecdotes, stories, metaphors and narratives. If you are still resisting the idea that stories are the natural way to discuss systemic thinking, complexity and sustainability, this book should convince you. It is masterly in its expression of complexity through simplicity and clarity.

Presence

P Senge, O Scharmer, J Jaworski & B Flowers, published by Nicholas Brealey (UK), 2005, 289 pages.

Senge’s most recent work, co-written with three other powerful thinkers, is sub-titled ‘Exploring profound change in people, organisations, and society’, and discusses ground-breaking ways in which it will be necessary for 21st-century leaders to think, act and be. The authors weave together strands of Western and Eastern thinking, plus modern and classical approaches to leading self and others, as well as strategies for synthesising rational and intuitive interventions at the highest levels of decision making. Elegantly illustrated with examples, anecdotes, stories, metaphors and poems, this is not only a great resource book for storytellers, but a must-read for anyone who takes corporate leadership, responsibility and the sustainability of the planet seriously. Venturing into some areas that other business authors fear to tread, some may find this book a stretch, particularly if their faith in reason alone to solve all life’s problems is entrenched.

The story factor

A Simmons, published by Perseus (US), 2001, 254 pages.

The author demonstrates that, old as the tradition of storytelling is, it continues to be one of the most potent and influential of tools. Drawing on a large body of myths, fables, parables and analogies, as well as stories from the world of contemporary business, this book illustrates how stories can persuade, influence and inspire in ways that facts, bullet points and leadership directives can’t. A rewarding and accessible read.

The art of possibility

R Zander and B Zander, published by Penguin (UK), 2002, 210 pages.

This book is a treasure trove of stories drawn from the authors’ rich experience in the world. The stories come from many traditions, cultures, ages and contexts. The authors explore what makes personal and professional transformation possible and, through stories, illustrate their theme with wit, humour, sensitivity and compassion. A good book at bedtime or for travelling.

Articles

Parables of leadership

W Chan Kim & R Maubourgne, published by Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1992.

In this pithy, engaging and persuasive article, the authors demonstrate the power of myth, parable and story to offer potent and resonant insights into the nature of power, humanity and leadership. The fact that the stories are drawn from eastern traditions perhaps as much as 3000 years old gives us pause to reflect on the contribution that egotism and rationality (the clockmaker metaphor), unleavened by intuition and wisdom, have wreaked on the world in the centuries of so-called ‘rational enlightenment’. This article reminds us that we need both reason and intuition, logic and emotion, structure and imagination.

Author

You can also contact the author directly: Nick Owen