By Martin O’Connor – Storytelling has been around since God was in short trousers. From the earliest known examples of cave paintings, through the oral epics of Homer, the Arabian Hakawati, the Shuochang in China, to the Biwa Hoshi of Japan and authors such as JK Rowling today, storytelling continues to play a huge part in the development of our world.
Are there differences today in storytelling around the globe? Yes, of course. Indeed, thousands of books and papers have been written on this subject. Are these differences important? I believe – while there are certain cultural variations and boundaries – the answer is no. As humans, we all share many more common emotional experiences than we sometimes imagine.
Successful businesses engage, motivate and influence their communities by exploiting personal human emotion.
This is never truer than here in Asia. Let me give you one very simple example. In a previous life working for BT (British Telecom), one of my responsibilities was to present to prospective joint venture partners in Asia as to why BT was the best partner; the region was beginning to open its telecoms markets and the opportunity for growth and innovation in service was huge.
For my presentation at my first meeting, it would not have been inappropriate for me to talk about BT as a leader in liberalisation and privatisation, the massive R&D capability at our disposal or the financial stability of the company. Important? Yes, very. A good kick-off tool for a relationship and engagement? Probably not.
Instead, I talked about school children who could read books and access information anywhere in the world in any language; of doctors who were saving lives through direct links to expertise and experience sitting thousands of miles away; of dads travelling on business, who were able to see and say goodnight to their children; of a grandfather in hospital being able to watch his granddaughter’s graduation ceremony.
In post-meeting ‘socials’, I’m often asked to re-run the stories and share some more.
The above is such a simple example and I believe this is the point. Why look for a complex way?
Culture is complex enough and in all cultures – but particularly in Asia – storytelling for engagement and motivation is the most powerful relationship building tool I know.
So the point? If you are going to do one thing differently for your next Asian meeting or presentation, start with a story. People still find intense personal meaning and emotional engagement in the stories of Homer today – 2,500 years after they were first told. Nothing brings us together more as humans than a really good yarn. And that’s not going to change any time soon.