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Why storytelling is important for business

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We’ve all grown up with stories -we’re told fairy tales when we’re very little, then the stories continue through school – and especially when we reach adulthood. Stories are all around us. Whether that’s getting engrossed in the latest crime fiction novel, religiously following our favourite soap – or even a night out at the theatre, stories are generally seen as a device to amuse, entertain and provide a distraction from the real world.
And these kinds of stories do just that. But, just because stories are often equated to flights of fantasy and the majestic, it doesn’t mean storytelling has to be used just for entertainment, says James Richardson, business analytics strategist at Qlik.
Storytelling actually plays a useful role in informing us about some of the world’s most important events. When we tune into the evening news, are we not still being told stories?
Yes, they’re factual, but a story is, after all, the way in which we pass on information to one another. One kind of story might seem emotional and imprecise while the other seems hard, clear and exact, but they are both a means to an end – that being they are both trying to get a message across.
Thanks to the term’s long-time association with the former, ‘storytelling’ has effectively become a bit of a buzzword in the business sense, as business leaders are sceptical of its true benefits to their organisation, refusing to see beyond the whimsical nature of a story.
But the stories we tell in business – as long as they are based on fact – are extremely important to our growth.
That’s where data comes in. Crucial to the ability to tell factual stories in a business sense is the reams of data businesses now have at their disposal.
What better way to make use of this data than to analyse it and see the ‘full story’ of how a business is performing? After all, getting to the heart of the story is the only way a business leader can see where there might be operational issues and therefore decide what changes can be made to drive efficiencies and grow.
But how to make sure you are getting the most factual version of the truth? That’s where the skills of the storyteller come into question. Naturally, with any story, even with the best will in the world, all attempts to be completely factual can still result in certain biases and emotions creeping in that slightly skew the facts. So how to counter that?
If a business wants to make sure the same story is being told, the best way to do that is equip everyone across the organisation with the means to see data for themselves.
That might not necessarily mean having physical access, but it does mean making data accessible to all – presented in a way that’s easy to understand and can be readily interpreted by key stakeholders and business leaders to see the situation for themselves.
After all, these graphs are themselves telling stories, so they need to be told in a way that shows the full situation, in the most visual way possible, while coming to a conclusion that can inform a business stakeholder and help them take a course of action that will ultimately improve their business profits.
Ultimately, the idea is to create an environment where a business connects their people together with good data and this will help them create factual, data-driven stories which can benefit the company.
Critical business insight will only come from truly understanding data from all angles, and while stories and business data may seem like two disparate entities, they actually go hand in hand if you want to know more about your organisation.
Storytelling is an important business tool – not just for fairy tales – and, as long as it’s steeped in facts and data – needs to be something that businesses are embracing to help support decisions across the board.