How Storytelling Can Grow A Business by [email protected]

The business world is always looking for that great new idea, but what if the next big thing was something as old as humanity?

Great storytelling has been around for eons, but prowess in that skill can propel growth in a company or brand, attract new talent and boost employee morale. Carmine Gallo tells this story in his new book, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t, on the [email protected] show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111.

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

[email protected]: What was it that got you started on this path?

Carmine Gallo: I’ve been studying communication for 25 years, and I was a journalist. I was a CNN journalist for quite a while. Today, I still write for Forbes and Entrepreneur, and a bunch of other outlets. And I’ve appeared at Wharton and Stanford and other business schools as well.

And what I keep hearing — over the last few years especially — is this lament that many business students and business professionals cannot communicate as effectively as they should be communicating. But what does that mean, to be a better communicator? The word “storytelling” seems to be coming up time and time again. So I wrote The Storyteller’s Secret, not because it’s something that I thought was important, but because this is what I heard.

It’s almost like I had to [write it, especially] when a person like Vinod Khosla, billionaire venture capitalist here in Silicon Valley, where I live, tells me that the biggest problem he sees is that people are fact-telling when they pitch him. They’re giving facts and information and he says, “that’s not enough, Carmine. They have to do storytelling.”

When Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, another big venture capital firm, tells me the most underrated skill is storytelling, or when Richard Branson, who I interviewed, said, “entrepreneurs who cannot tell a story will never be successful” — at some point, I have to agree that maybe they know something I don’t.

[email protected]: It’s not that this is really a new concept. But the key here could be that maybe storytelling, at some level and among some people, is not viewed as an important topic.

Gallo: I think many business professionals today understand that they need to be doing this. They just don’t know what it means, because if you think about it, it is a somewhat esoteric or abstract notion: storytelling. Storytelling in books? Storytelling in movies? What does that have to do with my next business pitch? What does that have to do with employee engagement? I think some people understand — at least, the folks who listen to your show, they get it. They’ve heard of it. They understand that narrative is important. I’m just not sure they know exactly how to do it.

In The Storyteller’s Secret, there’s a whole chapter on Steve Wynn, the great Las Vegas hotel mogul. And we talk about storytelling in hospitality. Now, here’s a guy who has made an incredible success in hospitality. But he said he only discovered in the last five years the secret that has changed his business and his life was storytelling. And what he means by that — and this is something that applies to all of your listeners today — is that if you can get all of your employees and your management to begin sharing stories of great customer experiences, and what that means and how to do those better, that creates much more emotional resonance with the people.

“Many business professionals today understand that they need to be doing this. They just don’t know what it means, because … it is a somewhat esoteric or abstract notion: storytelling.”

[email protected]: That obviously has a positive effect on the back end, where the feeling around the company is much more positive overall.

Gallo: At first I thought that would be hard to find empirically. But as I did my research over the last couple of years, it’s actually not. There’s plenty of empirical evidence to prove what you just said.

Southwest Airlines is a storytelling culture. As Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, had to move out of his position — he was the charismatic leader who started the company – they wondered: How do they keep his mission and values alive? Those were all about taking care of each other, and taking care of the customer and the passenger.

So they created what’s called a storytelling culture, where every week the HR teams go out, and they take videos of real passengers who have had a struggle, or have maybe almost missed a funeral or a birth, or a life-changing event, and stuff like that. But they were able to do it because of Southwest. Most of these are heart-wrenching stories. I’ve seen the videos. They send the videos out constantly, every week, and then they try to solicit more employees to be heroes of their own stories. So it’s almost like you’re taking employees and turning them into company crusaders. That’s where you see profits going up, and productivity [rising] higher, and higher employee engagement. But it all starts with narrative and storytelling, and getting people immersed in that culture.

So we’ve got Southwest. We’ve got KPMG. We’ve got Whole Foods. We’ve got Apple. Now Wynn Resorts. Many of these companies are examples of storytelling cultures.

[email protected]: The interesting part about that is realistically, to push that needle doesn’t cost a lot. That’s the investment that people make in themselves, in their co-workers. That can be the best way, sometimes, to make a company’s message resound more strongly with consumers.

Gallo: Ritz-Carlton was one of the first to do this, and they’ve done an extraordinary job of elevating that customer experience to a gold standard.

They’ve been doing storytelling forever. What they did – and this is what I try to tell other companies to copy, because it’s free — in a Ritz-Carlton hotel, every day, every department meets for 15 minutes. It’s a group meeting. And instead of just going over the day’s events, here’s what the housekeepers need to know about this floor, or whatever, they start telling stories. And they ask the question of the employees: “Is there a great customer experience that you’ve been a part of, that you can share with the rest of us?” I was part of one of these. I checked it out. It was really fun. They start sharing stories with one another, and then they start competing for who has better stories. They get recognized publicly. That was the key. The president of the Ritz-Carlton said, “The key is, you are recognized publicly for being the hero of your customer’s story.”

And I remember leaving the Ritz-Carlton after I studied that, and saying to myself, “Wow. That was free.”

And how do you replicate that emotional engagement other than narrative? You can give perks all you want. That’s fine. But it’s very difficult to replicate that deep emotional connection with the brand.

[email protected]: When you think of storytelling in general — not in strictly this business sense – it’s something that is, in most families, passed down. Your mom and your dad are going to tell you all kinds

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