How Good Storytelling beats Good Ideas

About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.

The 5 Rules of Storytelling I Teach Our Podcast Clients:

1) People follow People not Brands
2) There are no bad ideas in business, only bad stories.
3) You don’t need a finished book to have a story worth telling
4) The best stories take your audience on a journey
5) Think Agile. In storytelling, Optimal beats Perfect. Find your “start” rather than your “why”

Tony’s Story

When I recorded the podcast with Tony Fernandes, we talked for 40 minutes. Not once did we deep dive into the idea of The Digital Transformation on the Airline. That’s the idea Tony Fernandes pitches on stage at conferences. But, the world is full of ideas.

Instead, in this conversation we talked about:

  • The legacy of his mother on his approach to business
  • How AirAsia was the first in Asia to employee women pilots
  • Taking risks like buying AiraAsia for 1 Ringgit (US$0.30)
  • Growing up as a foreigner in an old fashioned white town in England in the 70s

What do these stories have to do with business you might argue?

To which I’d say, Everything.

You see, people follow people not brands.

And I’d like to extend that statement for the purposes of this article to:

People connect with stories not ideas

The impact of leaders like Fernandes, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Jack Ma is not measured in their ideas, but in their ability to package those ideas in stories that engaged us. There are a billion ideas out there, and most of them are knockoffs of each other. What matters is how you communicate them.

Podcasts are Effective Platforms to Evolve Business Stories

In this article, I discuss how we need to shift our approach to Communications from one of perfection to optimal delivery.

  • In the modern, noisy, communication landscape, attention is our biggest cost
  • Add to this an increasing demand from business partners and clients to see and hear the human voice of organisations.

Podcasts offer an agile, authentic delivery channel:

  • Podcasts give Comms Leaders a tool to help humanise their leadership within controllable guard rails and guidelines
  • “Giving Your People a Voice” isn’t an invitation to communications anarchy but, rather, a step forward in unlocking the human potential of your brand

Define: Human Communication Interface

Podcasts are Leadership what Websites are to Business – a more effective and authentic communication channel than what existed before. human communication interfaces

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Podcasts are Human Communication Interfaces not Social Media. Podcasts are to Business Leaders what Websites are to Businesses – a more effective and authentic communication channel than what existed before.

Podcasts are a Channel for Authentic Storytelling not more Social Media

And, with any disruptive digital technology, there is a key difference between “doing digital” (digitalisation) and “being digital” (digital transformation).

“Doing Digital” for Brands is taking a podcast and treating it like more social media real estate (i.e. another channel to pump out reformatted content). This is the equivalent of brochureware back in the 1990s – when the first internet websites were simply scanned brochures made available online.

“Being Digital” for Brands is taking the Podcast and using it to give their Leadership a Voice, and with this comes a shift from control to curation, from gatekeeping to enabling.

The old command-and-control model of Communications needs to evolve from controlling the flow of ideas to curating human conversations within the organisation. For more on the strategic framework for this, see my articles on The Storytelling Organization.

For now, let’s look at how Stories beat Ideas.

How About Cockroach Sushi?

Imagine you have the worst business idea in the world.

What would that be?

  • Selling bikinis in the Antarctic?
  • A heart attack museum or
  • Cockroach sushi

You’d think that these businesses are dead in the water. But, what if they weren’t? What if you had to make them work? That’s the challenge Tina Seelig, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Stanford University, set her students in the book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 -: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World

  • Bikinis in the antarctic becomes a health bootcamp in challenging conditions.
  • The heart attack museum becomes an interactive journey into health and preventative medicine.
  • And, cockroach sushi becomes a go-to destination for adventurous diners.

There are no Bad Ideas… only Bad Stories

What we learn from this exercise is that there is no such a thing as a bad or good idea. There are just ideas and good or bad execution.

That’s why Podcasts are a powerful tool for leaders to convey the story. You see, stories take time. In many ways, stories are half-baked. But if you follow the Agile Storytelling method I teach our Podcast Clients, you don’t need a finished book to have a story worth telling.

What holds leaders back is the wrongly misplaced belief that Corporate Communication needs to be Perfect. In the modern digital communication landscape, Optimal beats Perfect every time. Consider how leaders like Tony Fernandes (AirAsia) and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) appear in the public consciousness:

  • Flawed
  • Vulnerable
  • often imperfect

They are not without their critics or detractors. But, while they are not afraid of “daring to be vulnerable”, their imperfection wins them both Fans and forgiveness.

Fernandes and Musk have plenty of ideas, but their strength is presenting a human, authentic story that we all connect with. Compare how, for example, Tesla and Google have approached the challenge of autonomous vehicles. Google with all its data spent years perfecting the model. Tesla, however, deployed small and early. All the data they collected from their drivers became feedback to improve the model.

In Communications, we face the same challenge. Today, authentic beats efficient. Better to communicate a raw something to somebody than a polished everything to everybody.

For everyone of Fernandes and Musk there are a million wannabes who are working on perfecting their ideas.

Commit to Agile Storytelling

Often, stories are work in progress:

  • The more you commit to publishing that story via a regular podcast episode
  • the more you get feedback
  • the more you can recalibrate the narrative that you, your team and your network will engage with.

This is what matters – context rather than content.

Define: Agile Storytelling

Agile Storytelling – you don’t need a finished book to have a story worth telling. The best stories are journeys which engage and invite the audience to take part, evolving as they add key talking points and refine their thought architecture. agile storytelling

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Traditional vs Agile Storytelling for Corporate Leadership

In the Traditional Storytelling approach you need to complete a published body of work to have a coherent thought architecture through which to lead conversations. In the Agile Approach, the focus is on constant evolution of the narrative – the optimal as opposed to perfect pathway.

A Podcast for a Corporate Leader is an optimal platform for Agile Storytelling:

  • She doesn’t have the time to write a book
  • Most of her value is store in experience and relationships with partners and clients as opposed to domain expertise
  • Her value is often locked in conversations that happen behind closed doors (and will never air for the greater benefit of the ecosystem

Comparison: Traditional vs Agile Storytelling

Podcasts to Keep the Conversation Going

You can have a body of research like white papers or reports but even with these finished articles, you need to keep the conversation going. We live in a noisy world where attention is your biggest cost. McKinsey Asia publishes the thought leadership research “The Future of Asia” detailing the rise of The Asian Century, but even with McKinsey’s global reach, they need to keep that conversation going. That’s why McKinsey invests in the Future of Asia podcast series to build on The Future of Asia reports as a living, breathing document that is evolving and expanding.

The half life of every message is half what it was just a year ago.

You’re competing with new channels for attention – from ClubHouse to Tik Tok to who knows what will be the “it girl” of next season. So, rather than compete with the social media Firehose and constantly pump up the communication volume, instead focus on building a base of 100 True Fans who “get it”. They relate to the narrative you’re telling, and rally round the flag you’re planting.

Every picture needs a frame and every idea needs a narrative for people to understand it.

Don’t get hung up on finding the perfect idea, it doesn’t matter anyway. In time you’ll refine it.

Stop wasting time sitting in board rooms strategising or ideating.

What matters is execution.

There are no Bad Ideas only Bad Stories.

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About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.
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