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The Power of Storytelling

That’s me above telling an original story at Busboys and Poets just last month. I am a lover of a good story well told and enjoy listening as much as performing.

I was fortunate to contribute to the investigation of storytelling as a serious business tool during my time at the World Bank. Through a series of think tanks that involved Disney, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, Eastman Chemical (our sponsor), and the International Storytelling Center, I worked side-by-side with leaders to identify the value of storytelling in a modern business context.

My good friend and boss at the time, Steve Denning, was also a sponsor, working through his position at the World Bank. We worked together to practice and learn from the power of storytelling. Steve successfully identified the attributes of one of the most powerful types of stories, the Springboard Story. This is a story that sparks action. The kind of story that every leader wants to use.

Springboard stories compel people to act. They provide insight into the success that can be transposed and repeated, motivating the listeners to give something a try themselves.

One of the most remarkable aspects of storytelling is how short an effective story can be. We all have memories of a relative or bore at the bar who launches into a much-too-long account of interest to no one but himself. But, that is not how effective stories deliver their punch. The Springboard Story we used at the World Bank, for example, could be recounted in less than a minute. And they are easy to learn. I have taught them to executives at the USGS, FEMA, CIA, NASA and others, in less than an hour.

Do you have stories you tell to spark action in your listeners? How effective are you at recounting experience to help others see their way through challenging circumstances or to seize potential opportunity?

Consider telling a story that inspires another this week. Slip it in without any fanfare and see how it works. Remember that stories are adapted to the setting and the listener. See if you can evoke the power of storytelling!


“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. “
Hannah Arendt