At Colony, we celebrate life long learning and brain growth. As part of this, I recently went to a strategic narrative workshop to learn the value of storytelling.

Imagine if you could get 90% of the room on your side in the first 5 minutes of presenting your product vision. That’s the promise of the Strategic Narratives workshop presented by Michael Margolis, CEO and Founder of Get Storied.

Here are 5 takeaways from this 1-day intensive workshop.

1. Narrative storytelling is important.

You hear it all the time. Storytelling is important. In fact, Steve Jobs was famously quoted as saying:

The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.

And of course this message was hammered home during the workshop. But this fact is even more important for innovative companies that are ‘disrupting’ the status quo. Why? Well, people hate change when it is out of their control. So they are naturally resistant when you tell them that their lives should be different.

Instead of just telling them that you are going to change their lives, you need to get them on your side and share your vision of the future. And the best way to do that is by telling a damn good story.

2. You can’t separate the message from the messenger.

In today’s world, you’ve been googled or facebooked or twittered long before anyone has heard you talk. They know your backstory even if you have not intentionally put it out there. But it may not be the story you want.

That’s why writing your origin story is so important. It tells your audience who you are and why you are doing what you are doing. It’s a bridge that lets them know your deeper motivations. And yes, they care.

What’s your origin story?

Think of it this way, every super hero has an epic origin story. So what’s yours? (hint: everyone has one.)

3. Innovation storytelling is different from classical storytelling.

When listening to stories there are two hormones that are released in your brain. In classical storytelling, the story was a device used to teach life’s crucial lessons. So they start by scaring you — watch out for the big bad wolf — which releases cortisol, the fight or flight hormone. Then they end the story with a happy ending, which releases oxytocin, commonly referred to as the belonging molecule. When released, this hormone makes you feel connected to your fellow humans.

This is your brain on stories.

In innovation storytelling, you do not want to follow this pattern. Your audience is already resistant to change, so you don’t want to start by presenting the giant problem you are trying to solve.

So instead, start with the possibility (oxytocin) and then present the obstacles (cortisol).

Just by flipping your narrative from Problem / Solution to Possibility / Obstacles, your audience will be much more receptive to hear your vision.

4. Make your user the hero.

Many startups want to show off the results of their hard work. So they easily fall into the trap of making their product the hero of their stories. They talk about all the cool features and whistles that they built. But the Karpman Drama Triangle explains why this is a poor approach.

Karpman Drama Triangle

It basically says, once you have a hero in your story, then you also have a victim and a villain. While this framework doesn’t map perfectly to innovation, it’s a good to keep in mind. By making your user the hero, you ensure that they don’t become a victim or villain in your story.

One example that comes to mind is the iPod silhouette commercials. They don’t talk about the engineering or specifications of the iPod. And they don’t brag about the hard work that went into creating this innovation. But they focus on you, the hero, the hip dancer bouncing around the screen.

5. The undeniable story framework.

The key framework that the workshop teaches is the “undeniable story” framework. It goes a little something like this:

See it.

Start with the 50,000 step view. Start by telling your audience the category you are working in. Then tell them what ordinary thing you are re-thinking. And finally, tell them the possibility of how the world could look after you have re-imagined it.

Feel it.

Then zoom in to a specific example. Introduce a user (or user persona). Tell your audience what your user wants to accomplish. And then tell them the dilemma your user is facing.

(At this point you can tell them how you are going to solve this dilemma.)

Believe it.

Finally, you are ready to show your audience the data that backs up your story. At this point you have primed them to be receptive to the facts. Instead of them wondering how this data fits into their old mental model of the world, they will use the data to validate the vision you have painted. If done correctly, they might even be excited to see the facts that prove you right.

Final thoughts

Being a good storyteller allows you to multiply your influence throughout your company and beyond. That’s why major companies like Facebook, Google, Deloitte, and Greenpeace have asked Michael for his expertise.

But becoming a good storyteller takes practice. You are not going to become a good storyteller by reading a blogpost or going to a one day workshop. It’s a mindset and can be approached like any design challenge; prototype, test, get feedback, and iterate.


Many thanks to Invision and DesignBetter.co for putting on a fantastic day. Thank you Michael for all the great learnings. And finally, thank you to Colony for sending me to this amazing workshop.


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