Storytelling for Better Problem Solving

Apr 13, 2015 | Everything Else

Crafting business stories today

The title of Alina Tugend’s excellent article is “From Bedtime to the Boardroom: Why Storytelling Matters in Business.” Here’s the opening paragraph.

“It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in business—storytelling—and it’s how savvy companies are satisfying the public’s never-ending hunger for content. With compelling characters, relatable plots and, most important, authenticity, these innovators are connecting with consumers, colleagues and investors on an emotional level.”

That’s one way to use storytelling in business. You create a story to help achieve some business purpose. Then you work on it, crafting the story and your telling of it until it’s as good as you can make it.

Natural stories

One reason that stories are powerful is that they’re something human beings do. Most of the stories we tell in life aren’t “crafted” consciously and then told and re-told to get them just right. Most of our stories are natural stories.

Natural stories are the ones where we describe how things happened in life. You might tell the story of your auto accident to explain the cast on your wrist. Or, you may explain why you do things a certain way in the kitchen by describing how your grandmother taught you to cook. Stories like that can improve your business problem solving.

How we analyze problems

We analyze most business problems using formal methods. We consider the statistics. We consider when the problem occurs and when it does not. Those methods are helpful, but they can be more helpful if we use stories, too.

Ask: “What’s the story of this problem?”

Get the story of the problem. How did we wind up in this situation? What happened first and when? What did we do next?

Putting things in narrative form and telling the story of the problem has several benefits. People bring things up in the context of a story that they wouldn’t think of during a formal analysis. Telling the story of the problem also gives you some idea of the people involved. And using a story helps deepen the memory of what happened in a way that pure analysis can’t.

Ask more than one person for the story of the problem

Don’t stop with one story of the problem. Ask several different people for their story of the problem. Then compare the stories to identify where they agree and where they don’t. Watch for ways that one story illuminates the other. Blend the stories into a single one that gives you maximum insight.