The essential benefits of storytelling
Stories have the power to grab attention, transfer knowledge, and influence beliefs and behavior. We all recognize a good story when we hear or see one. But for many people it’s hard to create a story that can hit the mark for a specific business purpose, whether it’s to find common ground with a contentious stakeholder, connect with a customer, lead a team through transformation, or simply reach a personal goal.
This course is designed to help you become a better business storyteller, particularly in the context of Microsoft CSS and the Customer Experience Framework.
Storytelling is increasingly being recognized as a powerful force for influence and change in the modern business world. While it’s tempting to regard storytelling as a “soft skill,” the fact is that if offers a proven way to engage people, encourage collaboration, and drive transformation. Microsoft, like many companies, is investing in storytelling as a way to empower teams and individuals, and realize better outcomes with customers.
To begin the process of becoming a better storyteller, let’s first define what a “story” actually is.
First, what a story is not. Importantly, a story is not a description of something you’re selling or a project you’re managing. This is sometimes shocking, as we are often asked to “tell the story” about a product or service offering.
A good story is a unique influence model. It offers the special power of helping you make a connection with another human being, the importance of which can hardly be overstated. Once established, that connection lets you transfer knowledge – i.e., to educate and enlighten – and finally to win hearts and minds.
Functionally, a story is a way to share a meaningful experience with another person. A functional definition is “a story is an experience of human transformation.” This means that when you’re telling a story, you are in the experience-generation business.
If we ask what value we get from good storytelling, the answer is threefold: stories confer meaning, stories establish context, and stories create value.
Workshop video segment: Stories create meaning, context, and value
How stories engage us
In a world of information overload, constant distractions, and endless noise, storytelling offers a unique
Recent advances in science and sociological research illuminate the neurological and biological dynamics of the storytelling process.
Let’s take a tour of the brain as it lives the experience of a story…
Research also shows how our blood chemistry changes in the experience of listening to a story, specifically in the production of the neurochemical oxytocin (which is related to empathy and love) and the stress hormone cortisol (which arises in the face of conflict) – a powerful mix correlated to changes in behavior related to activities such as charitable giving. Collectively, these dynamics reveal the power of storytelling to engage attention and generate profound activity in the brains and bodies of listeners, viewers, and readers.
These unique attributes are rooted in our evolutionary history. The human animal was blessed with a brain that featured the advanced and wholly unique capabilities of language and imagination. Combining these, in the context of mortal struggle and constant motion, our early ancestors discovered that knowledge of the most important kinds could be sustained and shared over time and space. It meant that a mistake need not be repeated, and that the experience of one member of the tribe could become an experience shared by all. It meant that knowledge could be pooled, that wisdom could be scaled and built upon. This unique brand of intellectual and cultural development was fostered by story above all.
The stories told by early humans were grounded in a few key areas of intense interest, central to every creature, specifically: how to survive, how to solve problems, and how to thrive and reproduce. These are, in fact, the roots of what we earlier discussed as meaning. In them are embodied most of what we know and care about as humans, the essential insights into either triumph or disaster. If an experience was not rich in at least one of these critical concerns, it lacked practical value to the tribe and thus was interesting and did not endure as a story. The same criteria still hold true, as we look to tell impactful stories in business.
Storytelling at MS and across CSS
At Microsoft, storytelling is emerging as a powerful driver of customer engagement and success.
The Microsoft brand is based on our enduring promise: “We empower people to achieve more.” This promise is nurtured with storytelling that focuses on “People of Action” – the customers and partners who are doing amazing things with Microsoft technology (examples include creating inexpensive prosthetics for disadvantaged people, saving endangered species through interactive technology, and developing solutions that improve the environment).
The stories we tell at Microsoft fall into two categories: transactional and transcendent.
Workshop video segment: Transactional vs. transcendent stories (with video)
Within CSS, storytelling plays a key role in bringing the Customer Experience Framework to life for our customers. Within each pillar of the framework – Empower Me, Help Me, and Advise Me – there are clear directions on the types of stories we can tell and the types of outcomes we want to achieve. Follow the steps in the remainder of this learning module to build your original story.