How to Use Stories of Your Future to Enhance Your Business Brand
An organization’s future story is the story of the future that you and your business’s customers, by being in relationship with each other, create to bring about a difference in the world. It’s a story of the better future that you’re advancing together, along with what you’re doing now to achieve it.
Here’s how Karen’s future story for her firm Just Story It came to be:
For many years I’ve helped individuals and companies find, craft, and tell their future story. But I kept asking myself, Hey, Karen, what’s your future story? What’s the future that you and your clients are creating together?
For close to two years, I kept asking clients, What’s the future that we’re creating by doing this work together? And then I’d ask myself, And what are you so passionate about in this work?
I’d try my thoughts out on friends and colleagues. They’d share their thoughts and give me feedback, until finally one day I was sitting at my desk working on a client report when out of the blue, my future story came to me.
My thoughts were so strong and coming so fast that I immediately stopped what I was doing for the rest of the day and furiously began writing down all the images that were flooding my brain, resonating in my body, and getting me very excited. In the end, I created a document called "My Manifesto: The Future We Create Together".
When clients call me it’s because they want to make a difference — at work, as leaders, with customers, and within their businesses. They want to influence others and change the world in some way. But they’re frustrated time and again because they only seem to get so far. My clients and I work together on their stories.
Like archeologists, we have to find them first, so we go on a hunt to find the treasures. We bring the treasures we’ve unearthed into our lab where we hone them, craft them, and polish them up.
As we shape these jewels, we continuously discover the wisdom in our personal stories that help us navigate the world and do the human dance a bit better. Our understanding of each other and the world becomes greater than the sum of the parts through this process.
By the end of our journey we’ve created a world where people are so authentic and engaging that the stories they share automatically pull other people in.
But that’s not the end of the story! We also listen to people’s stories in return in an ongoing dynamic conversation that we hope touches hearts and builds strong relationships. Leaders engage with stories dynamically, inspiring staff and stakeholders to achieve incredible goals — where businesses or nonprofits engage through stories and customers fall in love with them to achieve amazing results.
Strangers become friends; aliens become customers; barriers continue to break down. And throughout this journey, we’re able to experience and witness each other’s magnificence. In the end the world, not just the organization, becomes a better place to live in. This is what I do every day, and this is the future we build together.
Sharing your firm’s future story helps people collectively imagine a future that’s both achievable and worth achieving. It helps staff, customers, and prospects understand what you’re working toward — and that they could be working with you on it now to collectively realize it.
Karen says, When I share my future story, I include the story of how it came to be. Otherwise it’s a manifesto, not a story. I also tell them that I can see excitement in other people’s eyes when they hear it. This excitement sparks a conversation about what storytelling work means to them personally or to their organization, and how it all ties into the future they’re creating.
Karen also states that when she adds the ending about how other prospects react, she quickly finds out whether a new prospect is a potential client who wants to make the same kind of difference she does.
In Corporate Vision Videos: Telling the Story of the Future, Jim Kalbach states that the intent [of vision videos] is to demonstrate a concrete hypothesis of the future that not only drives initiatives and investments, but also provides inspiration. . . . They explicitly describe a proposed future experience for humans. . . . [and] provide a common view of a future that teams and entire companies can rally around.
You can use vision stories to aspire and align stakeholders, accelerating goal attainment.
Given that the world we live in is fraught with uncertainties, it also behooves organizations to explore a variety of scenarios around issues that are critical to their future existence.
A collaboration among Ontario, Canada’s creative media cluster, the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at OCAD University, their project funder Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), and their corporate sponsors explored four possible scenarios associated with the question, What will our media and entertainment be like in 2020?
These groups came together to write these scenario stories in order to help multiple, related organizations to future-proof themselves — to anticipate possible shifts and changes and prepare for them by making informed strategic decisions and fostering new initiatives and types of relationships.
What can you do to craft organizational or project-based future stories, or scenario stories? Here are some ideas:
Organizational future story: This story is based on the organization’s vision, strategies, and goals coming to fruition at some future specified date in time. It expands a vision statement into a full-blown situation, with characters and conflicts that are overcome.
To aid in doing this, you may want to conduct interviews with future-thinking customers, vendors, and others who know your organization, and the difference your products and services are making and could make in people’s lives.
Project-specific future story: Similar to an organizational future story, a project-specific future story is based on what life will be like when the vision and project plan are fully implemented and operationalized.
Organizationally-based scenario stories: The 2020 Media Futures Project used a great approach. You can download several reports that outline their approach.