The Power of Story: Hey! Your iceberg is melting on my cheese!

CC Image by Sukidala

Stories began as campfire tales and paintings on cave walls. They were stories of practical information; where to hunt and gather food; stories of thankfulness to gods; stories of nature and fear. The art and business of story have been with us since the beginning of recorded history and remains as an integral thread in the fabric of our lives.

In the business world, stories circulate to provide a healthy source of metaphor for the current relationship between employee and industry. They offer new ways to look at traditional problems, and sometimes offer insights to tackle new problems with the traditional or “best practice” methods. But these stories have become cliché parts of our cultural lexicon: I think it’s time to start telling new ones.

Adapted from CC  Image  by  Jaysin Trevino  via Flickr

Adapted from CC Image by Jaysin Trevino via Flickr

Which stories are being told reflects what is going on in the industry. Although it is helpful to quickly identify what a company or team is consciously working on, their output might be limited by the stories they tell (old dogs don’t learn new tricks).  If we keep retelling the same stories, we will be limited by the metaphors instead of empowered.

How often have you heard these story lines?

  • When a company is trying to get traction: we need to find the cheese.
  • When a company is trying to form a new strategy for a changing industry: our iceberg is melting.
  • When trying to negotiate a deal with a partner or spark change in our team: we need to motivate the elephant, right now we are only getting the attention of the rider.
  • When a company experiences a tough quarter or a temporary set back: We need to move through The Dip.
  • When launching a new product: Has anyone thought about how we are going to reach The Few.

Our current stories talk about personal and business interest; our new stories need to speak to the interest of an industry as a whole. In our new stories, we need a narrative to explain the industry goals while inspiring the new workforce.

Stories hold packets of valuable cultural information. If we are aware that we control the narrative, we can influence our industry through the power of story, changing how we view problems and seek resolution.

The connection between business and the arts is creative problem solving. The most impactful solutions come from those who are able to bridge gaps and find new ways to creatively approach problems. By being aware of our expired clichés and creating new modes of narrative communication, we can refresh our interactions, improve our plotlines, and achieve better results.

The floor is yours. What kinds of stories are you going to tell?


Andrew J. Wilt 
SEI Analyst
Apprenticeship Program