Fall is always an exciting time for me. Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air. I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School. It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.
One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’. Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.
Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.
Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.
Starting the New Year off right, to me means honouring my roots. The Power of Story. Paul Smith has written an excellent guide to why the art of story is the most probably the most important leadership skill. As Director of Consumer & Communications Research at Proctor and Gamble, Paul got a lot of practice. Storytelling and the power of story has finally come of age in the business world. Most successful companies now use storytelling as a leadership tool. Some examples:
At Nike, all senior executives are designated “corporate storytellers.” 3M banned bullet points years ago and replaced them with a process of writing “strategic narratives.” Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood directors to teach its executives storytelling techniques. Scenario planning (or storytelling in multiple forms) is now a highly effective form of strategy. And if you are in my faovurite transmedia space, well … I don’t have to tell you about the power and profitability of narrative. The rest of North America is slowly catching on to what successful global organizations have been using for years.
Business schools are beginning to add storytelling to coursework. I use story and build storytelling into every course I teach – strategy, competitive intelligence, consumer behaviour, marketing – all benefit from the use of the best communication tool ever invented. Start your New Year off by joining a movement that is both instructive and fun. If you want your organization to prosper in 2013, why not increase your competitive advantage? Sometimes, the old ways are the best.
Jonathan Gottschall has written a great little book on how stories make us human. Drawing on the latest research in psychology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. The purpose of any story is to carry a value system – a moral message – that is communicated to inform and inspire the listener/reader. We are genetically ‘wired’ to respond to stories – and this book explains how and why. An excellent addition to a summer book bag for the beach!
Jonah Sachs has written a great book on the proper use of story and the five deadly sins of marketing (vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery and gimmickry). Tapping into the power of myth, Sachs speaks to empowerment marketing and what that shift would entail. The most important takeaway for me from this new offering was the importance, again, of the value system that guides individual and corporate behaviour. In short, SHOW DON’T TELL. Any brand who has maintained its value over time has relied on clearly expressed and lived values. Brand communication becomes sharing your values with your customers and can be expressed in the following values “bucket”:
1. Values built into the founding story
2. Values expressed by products and services
3. Values held by leadership
4. Values you believe will most deeply resonate with your audience
To Sachs, these are the building blocks of the stories you tell about yourself and your organization. If possible, the values should align over all the categories. Hard to do, yes! Living by values is never an easy choice. But it is the most sustainable and profitable course. So your intent for your organization? If sustainability and profitability matter, then you might want to add this offering to your reference shelf. The book can be purchased now for pre-release – Winning the Story Wars will be available in July. You can also check out the video.
Annette Simmons is well known in the world of corporate storytelling and her book, The Story Factor, is a classic. In it, Simmons reminds us that the oldest tool of influence remains the most powerful form of communication at our disposal. It is easy to forget that organizations are also social systems and that work is a personal habitat of the individual. The Story Factor brings together three trends that have informed story construction from the beginning. First, storytelling is an art form which unleashes both cognitive and emotional thought process. Second, the realization by the business community that story brings the whole person into the process and in order for our organizations to thrive, whole people need to populate the landscape. Lastly, story contains the old wisdom utilized by current psychologists -that solid relationship is the foundation of any successful enterprise. Telling stories shares experience – the missing component of knowledge management.
If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend attending one of Robert McKee’s Story Seminars. If you can’t, then this book is second best. In it, McKee outlines what makes a great story – elements, principles of story design, and the writer and relationship to story. Employing examples from over 100 films, McKee shows how to use form, not formula. Transforming the craft of screen writing into an art form, he shows us the subtle considerations necessary to make a story memorable. Beat by beat, the emotional map is laid out for us to follow. An excellent practical example of how story works.
Some books are oldies but goodies. Peg Neuhauser has been writing about corporate storytelling long before it became popular. In Corporate Legends & Lore, she explores the power of storytelling as a management tool. Whether your organization is large or small, stories have the power to motivate and inspire – to improve morale, build trust and strengthen the culture of the workplace. In this work she provides many examples of corporate cultures that use story and storytelling to protect their heritage and shape destiny.