Let me tell you a story…

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Power of words goes far beyond heart


Whenever I am working on a presentation, be it for a client, employee communication, Board of Directors or shareholders, I always ask my colleagues on what is the underlying narrative that we are looking to communicate. While narrative had subconsciously always been part of any such conversations in my past, the criticality of it struck me in one of the Board meetings a few years back. A quarterly Board meeting was due, and the company financial parameters were quite bad. I was expecting a stormy meeting, but the CEO pivoted the conversation about how except for one business, the others had started showing month on month improvement. Somehow, the entire Board meeting got focused on the green shoots and there was hardly any conversation on overall deteriorating parameters.


Narratives or story telling however is not just about a presentation or managing a tough meeting, it plays a pivotal role in the world. Filmmakers use the phrase “Narrative Is Everything” to emphasize the importance of storytelling to their craft. They understand how a good storyline communicates to the viewer and draws them in. Without a good narrative, a movie with even the best casts playing the most wonderful characters could fail on the box office. Great narratives can terrify you, warm your heart, or compel your attention. A few years back researchers auctioned insignificant objects on eBay, attaching heartfelt and purpose-written short stories. These items, initially worth around $1.25 each, sold for nearly $8,000 cumulatively. Storytelling distinguished these objects from competitors and tapped into emotional decision-making.


Let me tell you a story

Stories have always influenced human behaviour: our decision-making is often driven more by a good tale than objective facts and data.As social beings, humans are preoccupied with our own and others’ experiences. We think about these experiences in the form of stories, which reach into every part of our lives.Stories are hardwired into the way we make sense of the world. Our brains organise everyday experiences into a meaningful sequence of events, rather than a set of discrete perceptions. Narratives help us to make sense of the world so that it appears less random than it actually is.


We use stories because they are more persuasive than logical arguments and more memorable than facts. A 2008 study found out that an average American processed as much as 34 GB of information every day. This was before WhatsApp, Instagram or TikTok were born; So, one can safely assume that the figure today would be substantially higher. Because this vast amount of information is costly to obtain, store, manipulate and retrieve, we summarise and simplify it into stories. Stories sway decisions to hire or fire, to buy or sell, to spend or save, or to explain business performance. These individual choices move markets, drive the business cycle, or change the government.


Even the current presidential election in USA started with a narrative. Mark Burnett, the producer of the reality show ‘The Apprentice’ gave Donald Trump a story to recite in the opening moments. It went like “Thirteen years ago, I was seriously in trouble. I was billions of dollars in debt. But I fought fact and I won, big league. I used my brain. I used my negotiating skills. And I worked it all out. Now my company’s bigger than it ever was- it’s stronger than it ever was”. It was a powerful story, but also a big lie. At the time when The Apprentice was launched, Donald Trump was in a career trough and at a risk of losing out his business. It was in fact The Apprentice that gave him the lifeline. The power of that narrative remained even after a decade. If you recall the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s key pitch to the voters was his negotiating skills and how he as a successful businessman could do a better job. We know all that followed.


The biggest, most divisive debates in fact are about stories rather than fundamentals, be it the global warming or utility of cryptocurrencies or strength of a nation. Two decades back, we used to moan about brain drain from India and how most of IITians migrating to USA was a loss to the country. Today, media maintains a count of technology companies with Indian CEOs, and we proudly forward WhatsApp message that (falsely) claims that Indians form more than 30% of Silicon Valley. That is change in narrative!


For decades, scientists have been warning that greenhouse gas emissions are warming our planet. The climate story however is complex and discouraging. It involves costs and burdens of climate policy;about a trade-off between higher economic output in the near term and the damage caused by global warming in the long term. To get more people onboard to the need for action, there is now an attempt to change the narrative that transition to Net-Zero world provides the greatest economic, business, and commercial opportunity of our time. This new framing, of an optimistic, green transformation story,is based on our desire for a better future.


Narratives also help the companies in communicating a unifying theme to its consumers and employees. A company narrative is a simple story expressing what the organization is and what it aims to achieve. The narrative helps people get to know the organization, build trust, and determine whether they want to connect with it. The late Steve Jobs was a master storyteller. During iconic product launches, he captivated audiences by weaving narratives around Apple’s innovations. His storytelling conveyed Apple’s purpose, making it more than just a tech company; it became a symbol of creativity, disruption, and aspiration.


Honda’s brand narrative revolves around innovation, reliability, and sustainability. Their “Power of Dreams” campaign tells stories of engineers pushing boundaries, race car drivers chasing victory, and everyday people relying on Honda vehicles. By weaving these narratives, Honda reinforces its brand identity and inspires loyalty.


Airbnb’s approach has in fact transformed the travel and hospitality industry. The company’s success lies in personal stories from hosts and guests. It is an open secret that many of the properties being offered in Airbnb are being maintained by the owners for commercial purposes. These stories however create alignment by emphasizing shared experiences, trust, and community. It helps Airbnb in differentiating from hotels with perceived impersonal care.


Narrative plays a crucial role in driving transformation within a company as well. Transformations can be complex and overwhelming. A well-defined narrative helps everyone understand what the organization aims to achieve by providing clarity and context. Transformation narrative could also offer a powerful opportunity for differentiation. A well-crafted transformation narrative inspires by connecting with customers and resetting past experiences.


Storytelling plays a pivotal role in the business world. When effectively implemented, it can yield several benefits for companies. It creates connections, fosters loyalty, and leaves a lasting impact.


Nearly three decades back Boyzone crooned “Its only words and words are all I have to take your heart away”. Power of words goesfar beyond heart. It is companies that embrace storytelling that thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape.


Himanshu Chaturvedi,
Chief Strategy and Growth Officer,
Tata Projects Limited
Simplify. Create.

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