by Simon Hodges

The most transcendent ideas are the ones that carry the most risk. We feel them because they stretch the possibilities around us, and this potential itself can be scary. We withhold our most passionate thoughts – ones that can truly inspire and move a room.

A storyteller’s skill lies not in having good ideas, but in how to treat them. Storytelling could even be defined storytelling bringing inspiration into contact with real life. We look at a business situation – which could be a five-year plan to management, or a conference speech – and see how to bring more imagination, emotion and energy to it. We look to couple a sharply honed business sense with opportunities to make the audience feel more human. And this means bringing energy, imagination and emotion to high quality business communication.

But rather than rely on pre-set models, this requires us to take the bigger risk of trusting our own judgement. We may trust ourselves when it comes to strategic or organisational decisions, but creative ones are another matter.
Moreover, the mindset that allows for rational decision making is not the one that brings transformative ideas into the workplace. Because of it’s increasing complexity, the modern business mind must become integrative – to handle emotion and rational with increasing frequency. This means that while we’re breaking into the creative mindset we need safe spaces to play. We need areas and support that allow us to be more imaginative, and sense what it is like to commit to an almost impossible idea. Then have the space to hone it to make it more probable.

Storytelling may be an art, but its mindset is a habit. This can be learned by anybody and applied to their own unique skill set. With the right support and encouraging environment, our ideas take on new dimensions of thought and feeling. And both of these help us communicate our ideas better. What excites me as a storyteller who desires not just art but impact – is that these mindsets can then radiate back into and change our work. A more emotional appreciation, for example, may help us see which relationship can serve us the best. Or sharing a meaningful experience can make us aware of why and event was so important to us, helping us to we navigate our own life decisions better.

A storied mindset is not just one that tells good stories, but allows our own deeply held story to take place in with increasing frequency. We add to imaginative experiences our own values for a better world meaning more of our inspiration is brought into our work. This is what Stephen Covey named as the 8th ‘Master’ habit. When our own voice is liberated, we liberate others voices around us. Our story does not just take up space, it creates it – surely that is a risk worth taking again and again.

There are two stages of a good story: preparation and performance. The preparation phase begins by noting down all the fuzzy ideas we have that get us excited but we can’t yet articulate. Theatre director called this following the formless hunch. Gradually, we connect the dots of what is taking shape. Note our trust in the idea itself. We are not yet looking at context, or audience. We’re just trying to chart where our own inspiration lies. As the late musical great Glenn Campbell said: “I never tried to be big, I just wanted to write a good song.” Here we’re just looking at the quality of our story, before thinking about how to bringing it into a room. Gradually we draft and redraft the idea to bring into closer touch with the people we need to communicate to. Doing so means we take a deeper stake in our ability to judge the quality of our ideas. All of us have a genius of some kind: a way of grouping ideas or combining perspectives that others simply can’t grasp. Trusting how not just the ideas of this genius, but how it wants them to be expressed is the shift between offering intelligence and inspiration.
Preparation of course, involves testing our ideas with collaborators we trust. We create safe spaces and relationships where ideas are judged on their merits not their pitfalls. Once the presentation has taken shape we check it to see whether its information translates into lived experiences, whether it carries real emotion , and whether it is really making contact with the people we want to talk with. These three factors are not just storying up for entertainment’s sake, but bringing a project, an idea or proposition into reality.

This trust in our own ideas means not just trusting what we see, but what we value. While meeting the world as it is, our storytelling becomes an expression of how we would like the world be. Work does not have to be the place we do things, with our real selves given space outside. Our stories can make work the place of inspiration itself.

Simon Hodges is our trainer for STORYTELLING – Great leaders tell great stories.

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