So, we have seen what a story is, in part 3. We use the definition from Herrstein Smith:
Someone tells someone else that something happened
We know why. We know that it makes sense to tell it, rather than pure data. But the last question remains: what’s a Business Story?
I’ll follow in this Shawn Callahan, whose brilliant “Putting Stories to Work” was the conceptual bedrock for the curricula at IBM. Shawn was an IBMer and now he has a consulting firm just for storytelling, Anecdote (http://www.anecdote.com/). I cannot recommend it enough.
So, we know that the definition for story is someone telling someone else about something. This is our ur-Definition, our Abstract Class, in OOP speak, our Platonic Ideal. But we need to make it more concrete and contextual: we need to understand a Business Story. And a Business Story is a subset of the Story class.
A Business Story has the following elements:
- Either a TIME marker or a LOCATION marker that makes sense in a Business context. While you can have regular stories hanging in the air (”Once there was a prince…”) in a Business Story you need to provice tangible context, either in the form of a place, a time or a combination thereof. So “At Google in the early ‘00s…” is a good marker, while “Pete told the board where he worked…” begs the question “Where is that?”.
- There has to be a series of connected EVENTS. This is the “something happened” from Herrstein Smiths’ definition. What’s more, the events have to be connected in a way that makes sense in a Business setting. “When I was at JP Morgan we established a pattern for detecting fraud which allowed us to reduce the expenses on the process by a 30%” is a good story. “When I was working with the government on fiscal transparency, we hired a mystical preacher who did a magical purification every week and there was no more corruption there” may be a good story, but for a García Márquez magical realism novel.
- There has to be some PEOPLE INTERACTING, talking or working. This is the “Someone tells someone else” part, with the caveat that it might not necessarily mean oral speaking. We might mean sending a mail or a brief, etc.
- There has to be something NEW or a moment of INSIGHT. Unlike general stories, Business Stories have a clear motivation: to provide clarity and insight to our work. While there’s infinite reasons why someone might tell a story, Business Stories are always about illustrating or helping our work.
- Finally, and connected to 4: there has to be a BUSINESS POINT to take from the story. This can mean a lot of things: perhaps it is profit, perhaps is better customer engagement, perhaps less attrition rates. But a Business Story has to stick to the Business context.
So here’s the formula for a Business Story
If you can craft and relate a Story like this, this will make you a Business Storyteller. On our next post, we will discuss some easy Story patterns.