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“As usual these two future-finders have their fi ngers on the pulse of what’s happening--and what we need to know about. In every business, in every organization, the seven most important words these days are: ‘But wait! A story goes with it!’ You need to read this book to fi nd out why.”
—Alan Webber, Co-founder, Fast Company magazine
“A great story sparks our imagination, challenges us to think, and resonates with our collective conscience. Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker’s story about telling stories does exactly this. It is an essential guidebook for capturing and conveying the essence of corporate identities and enriching brands.”
—Paul A. Laudicina, Managing Officer and Chairman of the Board, A.T. Kearney
Storytelling is the universal human activity.Every society, at every stage of history, has told stories–and listened to them intently, passionately. Stories are how people tell each other who they are, where they came from, how they’re unique, what they believe. Stories capture their memories of the past and their hopes for the future. Stories are one more thing, too: They are your most powerful, most underutilized tool for competitive advantage.Whether you know it or not, your business is already telling stories. What’s Your Story? will help you take control of those stories and make them work for you. Legendary business thinkers Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker reveal how to craft an unforgettable story...create the back story that makes it believable...make sure your story cuts through today’s relentless bombardment of consumer messages...and gets heard, remembered, and acted on.
Use Storytelling to Gain Powerful Competitive Advantage in Today’s Increasingly Skeptical Marketplace
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RYAN MATHEWS, founder and CEO of Black Monk Consulting, is a globally recognized futurist, speaker, strategist, storyteller, author, consultant, and the pioneer of the field of corporate cultural ecology. Wired magazine has called him a philosopher of e-commerce, and American Demographics named him “the futurist to watch” in a study of the 25 individuals who have made the greatest contribution to futuring. Red Herring said it was Mathews’s job “to ask the tough questions.” With Fred Crawford, he coauthored The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything, which appeared on business best-seller lists at The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek and was honored by Amazon.com as one of the top twelve best business books of 2001.
Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of Federal Express, has called Mathews an “exceptional strategic thinker.” He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationships to brands, products, services, and the companies that offer them.
WATTS WACKER is one of the most celebrated and influential minds in modern business. Wacker--lecturer, best-selling author, political commentator, and social critic--has served as futurist at SRI International, the legendary Menlo Park think tank, and spent ten years as resident futurist at the preeminent social research organization, Yankelovich Partners. He now directs FirstMatter LLC, a new kind of think tank designed to “bring the future to your organization.”
Wacker’s first book, The 500 Year Delta, was an international bestseller translated into ten languages and an Editor’s Choice Top 5 selection at Amazon.com. His next book, The Visionary’s Handbook, is required reading at many of the world’s top business schools. His third book, The Deviant’s Advantage--authored with Ryan Mathews--has earned raves from reviewers ranging from TIME to The Harvard Business Review. He has been recognized as “one of the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world” (Financial Times)...“one of the 21 best speakers in America” (Successful Meetings)...“the inheritor of the Marshall McCluhan tradition” (Fortune)...and “one of 21 socially important people we selected to make a prediction for the 21st century” (The Science Channel).Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
What's Your Story?
Long before the first formal business was established, before the first deal, the six most powerful words in any language were Let me tell you a story. And, if there is ever a time when the last deal is done and the last business closes its doors, those six words will still be the most compelling anyone can utter.
Businesses tell stories all the time. In fact, we've invented a whole vocabulary just to deal with the kinds of stories we tell. The stories of business are all but endless, but the process of business storytelling is anything but organized or consistent. Let's take a look at the kinds of stories businesses—including your business—tell every day.
There's branding (the stories of our products and services), marketing (the stories of how customers respond to our offerings), and promotion (the stories of how sales of our offerings can be increased). We also use stories for recruitment and, perhaps to a much less-effective end, for retention. Privately held companies often tell stories to bankers or other investors, and one of the most important jobs for a chairman, president, CEO, and CFO of a publicly held company is to tell effective stories to Wall Street, or The City, or whatever their community of financial analysts is called.
There are also the stories businesses tell the media, often in response to stories the media creates, or is in the process of creating, about business; stories businesses tell each other during the merger and acquisition process; and the sad, plaintive stories that less-than-successful businesses tell the courts during bankruptcy proceedings. Businesses tell stories about their past and their futures. The shelves of the Business section of any large bookseller are jammed with the stories of sitting or recently retired executives and the leadership, management, and sales "secrets" of everyone from Santa Claus and Attila the Hun to Jesus and Billy Graham and Colin Powell and Richard Marcinko's "Rogue Warrior."
We said that the process of business storytelling is often unorganized and inconsistent. Let's go over a list of some typical business stories again with an eye toward common inconsistencies:
We launch a product with a story of how it's the perfect solution for a customer's needs, and then months or years later we "relaunch" it with a story claiming it's now "new" and "improved." What the stories can't explain is how something that has existed for years can be "new" and how you can "improve" on an already perfect solution.
We go into bankruptcy court and tell a story that "explains" how a company that can't pay its bills in the present has all but unlimited potential in the future.
We fill the pages of the financial press with stories of how our new CEO will transform the enterprise, and when he or she fails to produce the expected results, we plant a library of stories about how the company will be better off under new management.
We tell our customers stories about how pricing will never be better, and then six months later offer deeper price cuts and perhaps additional purchase incentives.
We tell anyone in earshot how good business is, how strong sales are, and how much the customer loves our product or service. We then tell our employees stories of commercial hardship, the necessity for belt tightening, and the inevitability of outsourcing and plant closings.
For years, both together and individually, we've studied, worked with, and consulted with a wide number of businesses across a broad portfolio of industries in dozens of countries.
Our goal is simple: The next time somebody says to you, "So what's your story?" we hope you will have a better answer than you did before you read this book.
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