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Harvard Business Review – The Indispensable Power of Story

Harvard Business Review

April 18, 2014

By Anthony Tjan

TjanSome people have a way of making the complex clear.  They know who they are, why they do what they do, and where they want to go. Because they have internalized all this, they are able to sharply crystallize ideas and vision. They speak in simple, relatable terms. And they can get a lot accomplished.

Making your words understandable and inspirational isn’t about dumbing them down. Instead, it requires bringing in elements such as anecdote, mnemonic, metaphor, storytelling, and analogy in ways that connect the essence of a message with both logic and emotion. Almost everyone leading or creating has a vision, but the challenge is often expressing it in ways that relate and connect. Quick, think of some former Presidents of the United States and presidential candidates. Which ones are most memorable? Which ones are most likable? Which ones won?  The leaders who stick in your mind are likely the ones who humanize their message and deliver it in ways that connect with everyone at some level, in turn inspiring others to relate to them while better appreciating the mission at hand.

I have enormous respect for poets and writers who are able to touch our souls and enhance our understanding of concepts and ideas by writing simply and straightforwardly. Take, for example, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman — the tale of a tragic hero, Willy Loman, whose fallibility lies in his lack of self-awareness. The play’s enduring power comes from its straightforward telling of the human story — our aspirations and disappointments and how we deal with them. There is something in it for almost everyone to relate to.

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