Why We Should Master the Art of Storytelling

How to Be “Successful” & “Relevant” in a Digital Age

Last week, I visited several companies in the areas of energy, sustainable materials and laser technology. The main objective was to assess their “investment readiness” and help boost their growth potential.

I love these visits and face-to-face discussion with the leadership teams. The creativity, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit always inspire me.

The technologies I saw on this last round of visits were just mind-blowing. It wasn’t surprising that the entrepreneurs had won numerous grants, attracted government support and had been portrayed in national and local newspapers as innovation leaders.

Of course, business success depends on many factors, including a dose of luck. But there is one thing that many — perhaps even most — companies could do to attract (more) investors, become (more) relevant to corporate partners and eventually improve their performance.

Everybody needs to master the art of “storytelling”

Founders tend to focus on the details of “their” technology, product or service. The best ones are able to explain, in great detail, the specific innovation that they have made and its benefits compared with their rivals. They understand their particular market, know their competitors and have a pretty good idea about potential partners.

All too often, however, what is missing is the ability to tell a bigger story about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

What these visits have taught me is that technological innovations should not be considered in isolation, but need to be connected to a broader and more engaging narrative about the business and its role in a digital age.

Think about it, investment decisions and valuations are usually based on numbers and balance sheets. More vague concepts, such as “passion”, “innovation” and “teams”, also appear to play an important role.

But this information is meaningless without a story that connects the dots.

The capacity to offer a visionary narrative and get people to buy into that vision matters, even for B2B technology companies. Visionary stories have always been built around “big picture” values and themes.

Storytelling becomes even more important in a digital age

To understand why storytelling matters more than ever, it is necessary to think about some of the key features and values of today’s world.

Three of the key features of the “digital age”

A Digital Age

#1 — The exponential growth of new technologies

Over the last half-century, the exponential growth of digital technologies has changed the world. No field of human activity remains unaffected.

The proliferation of technologies has driven the creation of a digital and automated economy with intelligent, reliable and connected machines and smart applications and infrastructures.

#2 — Constant evolution

The digital age is characterized by the speed of life and the fast pace of change. The rate of evolution is unprecedented and can be felt in every area of culture and society.

Traditional concepts of ownership, possession and status seem much less important or relevant. In a digital age, convenience, connectivity, and authenticity are the dominant values.

And we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Everybody is now an entrepreneur, not hampered by a lack of experience or budget.

#3 — Open ecosystems

The growth of disruptive technologies and resulting social and cultural changes have had a tremendous impact on the organization of businesses:

  • “Bosses” are being replaced by “visionary leaders” and “conductors”.
  • Established hierarchical and static business processes are being replaced by a “best-idea-wins” culture and smart “data-driven” decision-making.
  • “Middlemen” are being replaced by software and artificial intelligence.
  • Businesses form more fluid and dynamic relationships with customers, investors and other stakeholders.

The result? The emergence of open “business ecosystems” in which numerous stakeholders interact and share knowledge, experience and resources.

The Importance of a Story

In a digital age, it becomes necessary to create an inclusive dialogue with the market. This dialogue needs to include customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Even end-users need to be engaged. And, this is important for everyone, even for B2B businesses.

In an age of constant disruption and more open organizations, iterative storytelling becomes vital.

There are several benefits to this kind of storytelling. It builds relationships between stakeholders in a business. A shared story can function as a “glue” that binds people together in an uncertain and fast-changing world.

Telling a story also allows a business to receive important feedback on what they are doing and how they are received. This kind of feedback is crucial, both in adjusting the technology and revising the story about what it is that the business is about. A business can develop — possibly in unexpected ways — as a result of this kind of process.

Businesses need to pay particular attention to the content of their story

These stories need to answer at least the following questions:

  • Why is this technology, product, or service important in a digital age?
  • How can it improve the experience of life in a digital age?

Of course, there are not always easy or clear-cut answers to these questions. But, the process of thinking about possible “digital age” applications, or understanding the value of the technology, product or services, can only help a business.

One final thought

Don’t be mistaken in thinking that the “digital age” is just hype or that it is only relevant for social media or platform companies (engaged in buzzword technologies).

The digital age affects everyone

Let me give an example. My wife runs a restaurant business, and — at first sight — restaurants and storytelling in a digital age seem disconnected.

Yet, nothing is further from the truth.

Restaurants also need to embrace storytelling and the values of a digital age. This means that restaurateurs need to use social media to connect and interact with existing and potential guests. In this way, they can use technology to increase the “convenience”, “authenticity” and “connectivity” factors that are so important in a digital age.

They should embrace these features in building their story. This will only increase the authenticity of the guests’ experience, as well as building an inclusive ecosystem in which suppliers, guests and other interested parties all participate, interact and engage.

Mastering the art of storytelling has never been more important

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