Insight article

Struggle and endeavour

What makes a great story: #1 Struggle and endeavour

We’re often asked why a good strategic or change narrative can be so compelling, why its cut-through can be so dramatic and fast, and how it can shift mindsets and inspire belief and confidence in the future. What, for example, compelled employees at two companies we have partnered with, to retract their resignations once they’d heard their internal narrative? What was it about the story we crafted for a major building society that prompted a frontline IT employee to say “this story has been life-changing”?

A good story, like any Hollywood movie, involves an element of struggle and endeavour. Our flawed hero(es) (in the business world, employees) need a challenge to overcome. They need to collectively set out on a journey to resolve that challenge and, in doing so, transform. But the threat that lurks needs to be real and ever-present – it makes the story authentic, and gives us a reason to come together in response to a call to arms.

It’s no good creating a story that merely paints a rosy picture of the company and its future. That’s simply PR spin, lacking in credibility, authenticity and a recognition of what needs to change – and what we need to do to respond. It’s threat of what MIGHT happen, if we don’t take action, which triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing hormones which create empathy and trust as we will our hero to succeed against the odds. Remember that rickety old boat in the movie JAWS, where Quint, Brody and Hooper set out to find the man-eating shark, complete with duh-duh-duh-duh music signalling a potential imminent attack to heighten the threat? Remember that feeling of tension? Great storytelling, even if the shark wasn’t particularly believable!.

Leaders can inspire trust and followship in their teams using the same storytelling techniques, especially if their personal leadership story has an element of struggle and endeavour (humility is a strength, not a weakness). It can create a powerful, visceral response. If you’re not championing storytelling as a leader, you may be missing a trick.

Alison Esse

Co-founder and Director