Organizations have been using storytelling in their marketing efforts for years. Now organizations are looking inward to see how digital tools can mine data for story creation to support a digital transformation.
— By Esther Burt
Scientists have long known that storytelling is a powerful tool for conveying information, but its real power has only recently been discovered by scientists. Storytelling can affect attitudes, perspectives, beliefs and behaviours. It is a vehicle for change by enabling people to consider alternate realities and understand different perspectives, and it can drive collaboration, cooperation, and creativity.
As technology invades every aspect of business, organizations are using digital tools to drive internal transformation and affect strategic change. Technology enables story mining, turning data insights into stories about where the business is heading, the role of employees in innovating, and the desired behaviours that will contribute to company success. It is a new way to empower the workforce to envision a digitally transformed organization.
The Power of the Story
During college football games, Dr. Pepper introduced Fansville, an ongoing series of video commercials in which each installment shows actors in a variety of situations but always with Dr. Pepper products involved. The sentiment rating, one of the attention and performance analytics used to measure effectiveness, is very high. People love stories and all they may contain – characters, a slice of life, humour, and inspiration.
Author, entrepreneur, and scientist Paul J. Zak has done extensive research on the power of storytelling to elicit a physiological response and behavioural change. When people tell and listen to stories, various regions of the brain are activated. The story can focus attention, increase retention, enhance feelings of trust and empathy, and help a person understand the world around him or her. They also enable a person to imagine a different reality, and drive the person to reach that desired reality through behavioural changes.
In the workplace, storytelling can help employees navigate uncomfortable circumstances (i.e. change) in a safe manner. People who are more emotionally invested in the story experience a powerful emotional response that includes a willingness to embrace the information presented. Simply showing people data and facts and abstract situations is more likely to lead to what is called deflection, a natural response to explicit instruction. They need stories.
Adding the Human Element
Presenting data for data's sake is not an effective way to promote change. As businesses work to transform themselves into digital organizations, they need a way to convince employees to embrace the change and motivate them to behave in a way that moves the business forward.
In the workplace, storytelling can help employees navigate uncomfortable circumstances (i.e. change) in a safe manner.
Ironically, technology can produce trillions of data bits, but their effectiveness in helping people learn and change is found in using digital tools to turn data into stories and as the means of presenting stories that can reach the workforce.
A screen full of data is only interesting to a programmer and does nothing to help the rest of the workforce make sense of what often seems like a chaotic workplace due to the pace of change and volatility in the business environment. Digital tools like videos and social media can add the human element.
Story Mining for Inspiration
To understand how storytelling can work today, consider The Comms Lab. Founded by two people who believed the advertising industry needed to take a purpose-like addressing climate change, The Comms Lab works to drive change. The systems change organization maps the "green shoots" of change happening across the industry and uses them to produce stories of media companies in the industry embracing purpose. Reports are published that have mapping stories of cause-related innovation, and events are held where innovators share their stories of change. Individual stories are weaved together to create a larger narrative that builds a movement of change.
Other groups are also showing how to use storytelling to bring change, like the Finance Innovation Lab that builds awareness of alternative models and ideas emerging in finance.
Data collection and mining are the way to getting insights to create relevant stories for engaging employees in the digital transformation. Data mining is the process of finding patterns, correlations and anomalies to predict outcomes. Story mining is using the data mined to extract insights for creating content that utilizes the principles of storytelling.
Data can come from internal and external sources, and it is analyzed to lead to stories about past successes, project teams, individual employees, organizational growth strategies, market successes, products and services that have contributed to environmental sustainability, and quality-of-life improvements.
Storytelling can include advances in technology; the company's progress in its digital transformation process; and how employees have embraced various technologies to produce innovation, improve workflows and operations, and build careers. Story mining can inspire people to envision where the company has been and where it is going.
Digital-driven storytelling is not just visualization. It is data combined with human communication. The creative content of a story can reinforce right and wrong, success, and the high stakes of failure – all concerning the digital transformation process. The digital transformation will fail if employees refuse to accept new technologies, new digital tools, or new ways of doing things.
The digital transformation process needs a high level of employee buy-in, and storytelling can reduce the resistance to change. Employees need to embrace company goals, be committed to reaching them, and perceive the digital transformation as something only they can make happen. The stories can begin at the top. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is well–known for telling stories that make employees feel like they are part of something bigger.
However, managers must be adept at storytelling also, contributing to the content to create an authentic relationship with team members. Employees must have opportunities to share their stories, and the positive stories should be published to influence others. They may have stories about their work and how adoption of new technologies improved workflows or personal experiences with digital tools. The idea is to make all employees feel personally invested in the digital journey so their perspectives and behaviours drive the change process forward.
Technology is often viewed as a sterile and sophisticated source of automation and data/data analytics, but it can also be used to personalize the digital transformation.
People have always embraced storytelling as a means of communication because it appeals to the emotions as well as the intellect. It no longer has to be only face-to-face because technologies like videos, social media, eLearning, websites and other tools have become the digital version of the fireside chat.