Whether in marketing, sales or inspiring employees, great stories can be an entrepreneur’s secret weapon. To talk about the power of storytelling, I turned to master storyteller Liz Strauss. Liz is a speaker and author of the new book Anything Your Put Your Mind To (which is, of course, a parable) about how entrepreneurs can harness the power of a great story to amp their success.
CR: There have been a few great business books as parables — The Go Giver, Who Moved My Cheese — but they are few and far between. Why did you decide to write your book as a parable instead of going the traditional non-fiction route?
LS: From our youngest days as children, we learn about the world through stories. No matter our age we know how stories work.
The power of a parable is that we can see the power of the lesson and be entertained at the same time. For me, the flexibility of being able to step out of the parable to share an insight made the overall experience seem so much more natural, as if opening a book and finding a deeply meaningful conversation with a dear friend inside.
CR: Why do you think stories are so powerful in helping you to be successful?
LS: Stories not only help us make sense of the world; they help us define who we are. When we share our past with others, we link events together in a narrative — a story. I have my story. You have your story. Everyone has their own story that explains the events of our lives.
We can all experience the same event, but our retelling of the same facts will differ. Our stories will reflect what we believe, what we brought to the event, what we use to interpret what occurred. A roomful of people who are celebrating and telling stories of our accomplishments can have little positive effect if we believe our own story — that people only pretend to be glad for us when we win.
The stories we believe about ourselves can power up or truly limit our ability to reach success. We all have old stories that hold us back. Changing our life is as simple as recognizing the power of those negative stories and deciding to no longer believe in them. Though the rest of the world might tell stories about us, we alone hold the power to decide what is our true story. Not choosing to decide for ourselves means we are turning over our lives to other people’s ideas.
CR: How else can entrepreneurs use storytelling to grow their businesses?
LS: People remember stories, because stories reveal not just the facts, but also the heart, the humanity that drives a business. When I tell the story of my dad’s business, that he quit school and left home at age 12 to help his single mother and brothers and sister when Prohibition hurt my grandmother’s saloon, people also hear that family values are important to both my father and me.
When I say that he and his partner opened their own saloon on the day Prohibition was repealed — the day customers could buy a drink again – people learn that hard work, perseverance and great timing are also important values to us.
CR: What about entrepreneurs who think that they are bad story tellers or don’t have any interesting stories to tell — what tips can you give them to become better story tellers?
LS: A good story is smart, fun and meaningful. It’s easy to share. And it makes someone sharing it feel great for passing it on.
One of my favorite business stories is about the plant nursery in Austin that covered the hillside in front of the business with hundreds of pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Quickly enough, the nursery became a landmark. “Take the exit by the pink flamingos,” people would say. So much so, that even though their name was Pots and Plants, they were called the Pink Flamingo Nursery.
Though, a few years ago, the nursery decided to give up their physical site and move entirely online. Their home page is plasticpinkflamingos.com and it sports a photo of the flamingos from earlier days.
I shopped at many plant nurseries when I lived there, but I left Austin in 1994. And I’m still sharing their story because it’s smart. It’s meaningful. It’s fun. And it makes me feel great for sharing it.
CR: Anything else that you would like to add?
LS: The next time you’re about to share a story about yourself or your business, stop and ask yourself if it’s still true, if it’s relevant, and most of all if it’s a story that people will feel good about sharing. Go for the story with the happy ending, especially the one that makes us laugh. You’ll always be proud of that story — and a great story leads you to success.
You can order a copy of this wonderful book here.