December 23, 2021

Storytelling: A Tale of Two Business School Perspectives

Chicago Booth and London Business School each recently explored storytelling’s impact to the business community and your own career journey.


First, Chicago Booth, in a series called Meeting of the Mind, featured two professors, Guy Rolnik and Vu Tran, discussing the role of storytelling in our professional and personal lives:


The Constant Presence of Storytelling

Tran dispels the perception that people generally don’t think of themselves as storytellers.  “Every single day when you interact with people, you’re telling a story about yourself—the way you dress, how you talk, how you gesture.”


Rolnik describes storytelling as a way to support decision-making in a world of information overload.  “You use storytelling to get a job,” Rolnik said. “You use storytelling to lead your team.  Storytelling is critical when you want to introduce change to any organization.”  Rolnick says there’s a general myth that stories need to be broad to appeal to a mass audience.  The opposite is truer – the more specific the story is, the more people gravitate towards the details of the story and visualize their own struggles.


Tran’s perspective is that bias and manipulation are not inherently bad.  “I think that’s perfectly human. You have to have bias…the difference is whether your bias comes from an informed and unprejudiced source or way of thinking.” The ethical challenge is how technology can decide which stories get told and exposed to audiences.  These algorithms have the potential to be manipulative and both professors agree it is vital to understand where information is sourced.


London Business School’s perspective on storytelling notes that the subject was all the rage about a decade ago but more recently has been consigned to an elective topic at many conferences.  Nevertheless, according to John Dore, LBS’s Program Director of the Senior Executive Program storytelling is an element in LBS’s Executive Education programs:


Use Stories to Explore Strategic Problems

Using familiar stories rather than strategic business frameworks can help teams think about a business challenge in a different way.  One example to ask your team: “What if you had Harry Potter’s magic wand and three spells you could cast, what issues, fixes or gaps would you choose to use them on in your business?”


What Do You Learn from the Stories Your People Share About Your Organization?

When Dore joined HSBC in 2005 HSB’s chairman was less known for aggressive acquisitions than for his habit of turning out the lights on the upper floors of the building as he left late each evening.  That story, even if myth, told a deeper story about HSBC’s culture of internal obsession with the cost of everything.


What Can You Learn from the Stories Your Customers Share About You?

Dore notes that several years ago before Twitter provided a real-time feed, Barclays had an internal engagement campaign called Everybody Counts.  It sourced real stories from employees, customers, suppliers and partners about the best customer success stories.  The stories were not only cause for celebration but built a better understanding of the problems that absorbed employee’s time.


For the full Booth article, click here, for the LBS article click here.  If you’re interested in applying to business school, contact Admitify today!