Business loves inspirational stories. The world of entrepreneurship and leadership constantly draw on stories. Many people love sports analogies. Some admire the individual resilience, the going solo in the Atlantic, the Himalaya climber who almost died, the Paralympic making extraordinary efforts, the jungle survivor, the janitor converted into a multi-million Self-Help empire owner.
We need these stories. But we need other type of stories as well. In large scale behavioural and cultural change programmes (Viral Change TM ) we use a special type of storytelling. Our stories are far more modest, sometimes almost insignificant, certainly not heroic. They have to meet some criteria. One of them is transfer-ability. I need these stories to trigger ‘It could be me doing that’, or ‘my team could be in that situation’, or ‘perhaps I should do the same’.
Non-transferable stories may still be motivational. If this is what you need, fine. They are caffeine-rich shots of energy, and most of us could do with some from time to time. But a constant flow of heroic stories in the organization, sends the wrong signal. I don’t want for my clients an organization of heroes or super heroes at the cost of ignoring the invisible anti-hero who is achieving great things with his team, in his corner of the world. Business life, and any life for that matter, is made up of day-to-day, sometimes mundane leadership and followship.
Heroic stories may simply switch people off: ‘that’s not me, it could never be me, I will never be in a position to do that kind of thing’. However the small stories of success, particularly when they are linked to the behaviours that we consider the DNA of the organization, do wonders.
These, still inspirational, perhaps non-heroic stories, which show how we are progressing, and that trigger dozens of ‘that could be me, or my team’, are the best. Between a high caffeine motivational, but non replicable story, and a transferable, with less caffeine, that infects many to act now, my choice is clear. Act is first.