For Blockbuster Success, Bring Storytelling in Your Practice
CAUTION: If you haven’t seen the movie Avatar yet, this article may spoil it for you. There was a lot of hype before Avatar was released. I tend to be a skeptic about marketing efforts. The reviews were mediocre and I’m not a big science-fiction fan either. Yet hearing it was the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time (at the time this article was written) and having earned more than $1 billion in less than three weeks of its release, I decided to see what the fuss was all about. It was then I understood why this movie is making an impact at the box office and all over the internet.
Indeed the film has incredible special effects and its technology will change the way movies are made. Certainly that is a factor. Still, critics devalued it claiming it was predictable. It was the same old story. Trite and clichéd. A broken soldier who finds companionship then meaning in the company of his enemy. A more advanced culture comes into conflict with a lesser, supposedly weaker society. One of the aggressors disguises himself to learn about the other side, yet in trying to understand them he falls in love and aids them in their conflict. They said it was another Dances with Wolves, Enemy Mine or a remake of Pocahontas.
What the critics don’t understand is that the very best stories - and James Cameron is the master of storytelling - are stories we all know. And the critics misunderstand something fundamental about storytelling. The very reason why certain stories have been told over and over for thousands of years is that they work! They resonate with us, down to an unconscious level. Everyone has traditional oral stories that should be handed down. When you tell a story, it’s a great way of carrying on traditions and bonding. It can also be a good way of opening up conversation. In short, there really are no new stories, just creative alterations of the originals.
Keep in mind that Google was not the first search engine. eBay did not invent internet auctions, nor was Microsoft the first operating system. The first gaming console was not Nintendo. But these companies were the first to perfect their version of the story. Storytelling can inspire people to act in unfamiliar, and often unwelcome, ways. Marketing research shows that we tend to buy products and services because of the stories associated with them. A lot of times being the newbie startup has HUGE advantages because you can do things that others can’t. Gmail started with 1GB accounts while Yahoo and Hotmail had 15mb limits.
Don’t mistake the simple for the inferior. The best stories are often the ones we know by heart. Timeless tales you’ve heard before and will hear again. They come from myth. Just like “coming of age” or “the hero’s journey” or any of the other fundamental structures hardwired into our primate brains. The story of Avatar has been told since we lived in caves. The details change, but the story is eternal.
Stories take hold of us. They remain with us and we never grow weary of the experience. Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning. Stories have been used throughout history in many different ways for development of character and virtues. Leadership is about storytelling. This includes motivating others to action. Enabling others to put their trust in you. Branding your practice. Transmitting your values. Getting others to work together collaboratively. Sharing knowledge. Taming the grapevine. Creating and sharing your vision. Transforming your business.
Whether you are building a new practice or trying to expand an existing one, share stories with your staff and your patients. Be sure to include details that bring your stories into the listener’s frame of reference and help them imagine themselves in the story. A good story doesn’t just create a connection between you, your employees and your patients. It’s also something they’re likely to share with others.
Examine your practice. What’s special about your office or how you treat patients or how you do business? Turn those into engaging stories that will stick in people’s minds. Look around and you will see stories in action everywhere you go. Take these stories for inspiration and draw from their knowledge. When you find ways to incorporate storytelling into your practice you’ll benefit from the results.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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