Business Storytelling For Dummies
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To move people to action, a future story (also called a vision story) needs to be based in imagery, not business speak and highfalutin’ concepts. This imagery must create a picture in the mind that connects both emotionally and to the human spirit.

There are several ways to generate a future story. In The Story of the Future, Told in a Day: Building the Energy to Achieve the Future, executive management consultant Madelyn Blair, PhD, shares a group process that links the past to the present and then the future.

Or you could create a story grounded in the future that looks back at current reality, what technology futurist Daniel Burrus calls FutureView. Both approaches are valid. Your organizational culture will influence which one you elect to use.

How to use present-future structure

How do you construct a powerful future story that moves an enterprise or a group from current to future state? Go back and forth several times between painting the picture of the present and that of the future, as author Nancy Duarte explains in her article “Structure Your Presentation Like A Story.” Doing so creates clear contrasts between the undesirable present and the more desirable future — a classic storytelling technique.

This story structure makes use of the opportunity-problem approach. The difference is that it does so repetitively:

  1. Start out by painting the picture of the current reality.

  2. Introduce the first turning point — the urgent call to do things differently.

  3. State what could be.

  4. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).

  5. State another example of what could be.

  6. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).

  7. State another example of what could be.

  8. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).

  9. Introduce the second turning point — the call to action — and articulate the finish line and problem resolution.

    These are action steps that’ll resolve shortcomings in the current reality and bring about the future.

  10. End on a higher plane.

    Have proof of a happy ending to share so folks know their hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance will pay off. They’ll have a greater commitment to taking action knowing it won’t be easy, but worth it.

How to embody the future story

There are many ways to symbolize a future story. Here are a few to explore:

  • Graphical illustration of a co-created vision story: To help employees embrace a new high-end growth strategy at Endevco, the enterprise translated its strategy timeline into an illustrated story map that moved from the past (shown as an old castle of grandeur) to a future based on technology yet to be invented (depicted as a space-age metropolis).

    Representative employee input was captured in ten discovery sessions through responses to “What do we share and care about the most?,” “What’s the vital spark that’s sustained us?” and “What do we see as the best of Endevco?” Past and present stories, as well as layoff-rumor concerns, were captured on each session’s story map.

    Later, at a company-wide town hall meeting, several poignant stories were told. Leaders also addressed employee anxieties. The various story maps were displayed in the central employee break area, along with a roadmap that reinforced the company’s strengths, mission, and guiding principles. Through story sharing, the company became more unified and committed to change while remaining proud of its heritage.

  • Collaborative painting to co-create a vision story: After four years of growth, the Ginger Group Cooperative brought painting techniques into its executive retreat when meeting to envision their future. After some prep work, each of its 15 members began painting, in silence, in response to “How do I see my world?” and “Where am I at?”

    Discussion followed. Then came a second round of painting. Each person responded for one minute to “If Ginger were a garden of paradise, what would it look like?” After this, they moved from their original painting to the one on their left. With the same question in mind, they painted on the other person’s canvas for another minute, repeating the process until each painting was its own unique collective vision.

    The debrief that followed focused on the metaphors embodied in the paintings. As Kate McLaren states in Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over (Jossey-Bass, 2006), “Painting got us out of our cognitive, explanatory, analytical headspace. We didn’t start with narrative but a story emerged from the process.”

    Marilyn Hamilton adds, “Building on that story, we’ve learned to work together. We broke through a lot of blocks. Now we know each other’s strengths and capacities.”

  • Portraying the dream or future story as a skit or play: Three leaders who were potential successors to the position of president at the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) created a joint “I Have a Dream” story. Audio was recorded, with their voices blending mid-sentence from one to the other.

    The dream was showcased onstage: The setting was a bedroom where each leader was shown journaling in their own unique way as the audio was played.

    This was followed by a three-act play. Each act was an eight-minute portrayal of a future story related to a specific strategy. The actors were the team members who had fleshed out the first year’s project plan for that specific strategy. All four were videoed for future use. The next point explains what followed this.

  • Visual meaning-making of a dream or future story: Continuing with the ALA example, following the dream and the three future stories, each attendee table group was asked to create a poster-sized collage that told a story about what they’d heard. These collages (of which there were more than 40) were placed on easels around the meeting room for viewing that evening.

    The activity helped attendees actively process all the vision-related information they had heard and gain a clearer picture of where the organization was headed over the next five years. This prepared them to articulate next steps the following morning for their state’s department and their own local unit.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Karen Dietz, PhD, is a 25-year veteran in business storytelling consulting, training, and leadership, and organizational development. Lori L. Silverman offers business storytelling training, keynotes, and consulting. For 26 years, she's advised enterprises on strategic planning and organizational change.

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