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Let me Tell you a Story


Storytelling Are you sitting comfortably? Preethi Nair talks about the value of creativity and how she uses storytelling techniques to inspire creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Once upon a time I dreamed of being a writer but I became a management consultant instead. It’s not that I was unhappy in my job, I just thought there was more out there and felt that my creativity wasn’t being used. So every day on my way to work, I began writing. After three years and having completed my first novel, I handed in my resignation. "I’m going to be a novelist," I declared, sending out jiffy-bagged copies of my manuscript to publishers.

As my leaving day loomed, all of the manuscripts came back rejected and I wanted to tell my boss that there was some terrible mistake and my decision had been made in a moment of madness but I didn’t want to loose face.

The value of storytelling in an organisation

1. When you access the imagination, anything is possible.

2. Good storytellers have the power to influence – people do not remember facts and figures, they remember a good story.

3. Good storytelling builds teams – exchanging stories encourages a sense of belonging.

4. Storytelling builds the knowledge base – people are more likely to retain information exchanged through coffee than pouring through a corporate handbook.

5. It promotes innovation.

6. It encourages fluid communication.

7. Good storytellers are agents for change.

To cut a long story short, I set up my own publishing and PR company, hyped my novel under an alias, got it into the book charts and then sold it off as part of a three-book deal to HarperCollins.

Having used my imagination to accomplish what I set out to do, I understand its value and now take creativity back into organisations because I believe it is hugely undervalued as a resource for innovation and problem solving. The two ways I do this are through creative visioning and storytelling.

Creative visioning
You have to have a clear definition of what the end looks like. Within a team (in an organisational context), it may be difficult to come to an agreement on what that end frame looks like due to incongruent views. Creative visioning enables people to take themselves out of what they normally do and play with the imagination where pretty much anything is possible.

For example, I did some work recently with an investment bank; they are used to dealing with a left logical brain and hard facts. I first took them through a stream of consciousness exercise to engage with their right brain and then asked them to write their personal vision.

After much resistance, they got into the exercise and once this was completed, I asked them to individually write the story of the group vision and tie in one value from their personal vision. This was so they would have a vested interest in making it work. They then shared their points of view and came up with an action plan or 'plotted the group story'. It broke the deadlock and worked because they were in unfamiliar territory on an even playing field.

How to tell a good story
Another way I work is through storytelling. I teach people how a master storyteller does it, then I apply this in a business context; so it could be anything from making better presentations to pitching succinctly.

Good storytelling is all about getting your theme (intention) across in a way that is engaging and emotionally resonates with the listener/reader. Before you even begin to tell a story you have to know your intention – what is it that you want to convey to the listener and how do you want them to feel?

Summarise this in one concise sentence and then build around this. A storyteller does this by using every available device to get the theme across. If it is not relevant, leave it out.

Story telling can also be applied to problem solving – in one sentence, where is it that you want to go? Look at the resources available to you (characters, people, setting, language, time frames, perspectives) and use all of them to help you get to that one place. Do it with focus and vision, engage with the imagination and know that anything is possible. The end.

About the author: Preethi Nair worked as a management consultant but gave it up to write her first novel. She subsequently signed a three-book deal and has set up company to take creativity back into organisations. Her clients include the BBC, Citigroup and the British Chamber of Commerce.


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