The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling by Stephen Denning
For some time now I have been trying to understand the art of Storytelling. To me it was always an art to weave the story in such a way that the audience keeps looking at you to know ‘what next’. Wrapped in the story is the message which the audience takes away with them without feeling being forced upon. We all know that there are some people who are born with this art. And some cultivate it over a period of time. To me, it is a refined form of communication that combines knowledge, the context of knowledge for the current circumstances and the narration in a way that is appropriate both qualitatively and quantitatively for the situation at hand. The purpose of storytelling can be entertainment, education, passing the message, inspiring people, port knowledge or simplification of a complex communication. It can also be used for multi-layer communication.
The author of this book has tried to look at the business narrative aspect of storytelling. He tries to solve all the business problems that the leaders face via storytelling. He talks of various types of stories relevant in various business scenarios. And he talks about the purpose of a story and about the depth that it should go to. He has tried to put a framework around storytelling with charts and tables explaining the various narratives which can be handy for a practical use. But what he missed is the how of storytelling. Till the storyteller knows the art of storytelling, the frameworks will be just like books. Telling you how to make a powerful Powerpoint presentation, which will look good on the projector. But may not make any sense till you can explain what is written there.
Now, I think it is fair to expect a book on storytelling to be interesting to read. I am sorry to say that this book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling was quite boring to read. There is a lot of repetition. There are only a few stories. Including one of the author’s personal stories that have been used as an example time and again throughout the book. All the books that derive a hypothesis out of few instances are like a thief telling a judge ‘Ok, you have two witnesses who saw me stealing, but I can show you millions who have not’. While the stories that author quotes have leaders using the storytelling to communicate what they are saying.
To me, a clear communication, whether it comes by way of hard numbers or by way of stories is when the leader has a clear vision and knows exactly what he wants to do. And what he expects from his teams. Unless there is clarity of thought, the technique used to communicate is just a means. Yes, storytelling can help in tricky situations. It can help in giving subtle messages. It can help tame the grapevine. And it can keep the flow of communication on within the organization. But to say that storytelling is the panacea of all business problems is flawed.
Author’s narrative in the book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling does not really make it an interesting reading. It is more like a research report. My concept of storytelling says the story must have ‘Rasa’. I do not know if there is an English equivalent of Rasa. But it means the story has an emotion. And it lets both the storyteller and the listener establish ‘connect’ with the story. Bringing them together at the end of the story. This book is completely devoid of this Rasa. Something that is very basic. Something that I expected to be an integral part of the book on storytelling.
The book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling completely misses out on the most important party in a storytelling session, that is the audience. How to change the narrative according to an audience? How to judge if the audience is believing in your story or not? Reading the feedback built in the audience responses, involving the audience in the story, provoking or inspiring them to join in and tell their stories. Storytelling can be turned into a two-way session where the teller and listener exchange places and storytelling sessions become knowledge sharing sessions or something similar.
What you can do use this book for is to understand the aspects of a story that you decide to tell, when to use which aspect, to be able to understand the purpose of the story that you are about to tell and narrate your story from there.