Storyboard for the Andrew Wright’s  Workshop

Stories in Business Contexts

Sunday March 6 at 18.00 CET


This storyboard….

In the room…on the screen… I am there all the time…so I am not referring to that fact below.  I am only boxing the images which appear in the display rectangle…and referring to the participants writing.

I assume once a picture or text is displayed it is left there until the next one takes over.



Grinning, nodding etc….

Hello etc….

I used to collocate with, games and  pictures but now I collocate with stories …

Slide: AW 50 years of collocations

Here are my three books about stories…the first two mainly for children but the third with David Hill for young people and adults.

Slide: 3 book covers

During the last 20 years I have worked as a storyteller and a storymaker with about 40,000 people…mainly in schools but also in workplaces, cafes and the street in about 20 countries.  In Hungary where I live all my teaching is with adults and business people.

Stories!  BBC and CNN both begin the news by saying…The top stories today are….CNN said, ‘The stories CNN bring you today are your world of tomorrow.’

Slide: After nourishment etc.

The oldest profession is that of storyteller!

Stories!  Difficulties are the seeds of stories!

Jot down anything difficult for you this morning…yesterday…big or small.  My difficulties? Well, giving my first Webinar! What were yours?  Getting out of bed?  Losing your car keys? Not facing up…again…to doing some work on your income tax forms.

They write in difficulties they have had…

Wow!  Lots of difficulties! AW comment…read out…

Slide: beans

Difficulties are the seeds of stories.  If you plant them they become stories…if you don’t they wont.

I am showing you beans here because they make a nicer picture than seeds and…

Slide: Jack climbing the beanstalk

there is a lovely connection between beans and beanstalks and stories and climbing into other worlds!

So think of your difficulties as being story seeds…with potential!

Why are stories so fundamental to our lives?  My belief is that we cannot begin to cope with the constant onslaught of infinite complexity assailing us through our five senses…or do we have even more senses which can be overwhelmed?  We make stories to give us a lit path to walk on through the swirling and storms of things beyond us.

Slide: the Plough…stars

Millions is far too small a number for estimating the number of stars surrounding us.  Overwhelming.  Dont you feel overwhelmed on a clear summers night?  Our way of dealing with complexity is to find patterns which we can name, in infinite complexity.

How do you call this pattern of stars?

They write in the name for this pattern of stars…

In the UK and Ireland we call it, ‘The Plough’.  In North America they call it, ‘The Big Dipper’, meaning it is like a big kitchen ladle.  There are different names for this pattern all over the world…but it has been identified as a pattern for all of human history.

But we have imposed this ‘shape’ on this arrangement of stars…they are at dramatically different distances from us.  Merak is 79 light years away from us and Dubhe 124 light years. And some of them are not single stars but whirling galaxies in their own right!  And I believe they are zooming in different directions!

I think this sums up all our storytelling.  We select from experience what we see and feel is important, don’t see the rest and then we name what we have decided is a pattern.

So, in my opinion, the fundamental reason for our storying experience is that the reality of infinite complexity is beyond us and would be enough to drive us mad if we tried to face it.

We don’t stop being human beings in business…on the contrary!

Stories in business contexts.  First of all, What do I mean by stories?

Slide: What do I mean by stories etc.

What do I mean by stories in business but actually in any organisation: business, government, the church, education, the family…

Non-fiction….Fiction….Non-verbal comm…..Social behaviour…

Anything from the story world…

The main thing to lodge with you is that I don’t just mean stories with a clear beginning, middle and end…and told in words.

Our main concern as language teachers is with stories in words…but lets begin with non-verbal storytelling…there is plenty to say about it IN WORDS!

Slide: M for McDonalds…

What sort of story is this image telling…please jot down your ideas…

They write down their ideas….

Informal, friendly, vigorous, warm, fun, …in the M and in the text typography.

Contrast this with the story Rolls Royce are telling… Jot down words for their story.

Slide: Rolls Royce…


They write down their ideas about the story of Rolls Royce..

Elegant. expensive, traditional, reliable…modest but extremely high quality.

In non-verbal storytelling we are affected by form and content.  Look at the power of line as form…Decide which feeling each line expresses.

Slide: Four lines

I have shown these four lines to thousands of people in 25 countries and the consensus is amazing.  Visual form is a language…the typographic form of M and RR is not arbitrary.

Which of the emotional lines is in this picture by Fragonard from the eighteenth century in France: angry, nervous, peaceful or happy?  Jot it down.  Storytelling through the lines in pictures…

Slide: Fragonard’s The Swing


They write down their words…

Nervous…frivolous…carefree.  There is only one short bit of straight line in the whole picture…only one bit of verticality or horizontality.  Can you find it?

They write down their word…plynth.  Look at the surging and the tremouring of playfulness in the foliage, in the branches.  Let the poor eat cake if they have no bread!

Contrast the playful story by Fragonard with the story from seventeenth century Holland.

Slide: De Hooch, Interior


They write down their words…

Serious. Stable. Dignified. Solid.

Just a bit of movement in the womans body and arm and in the cushion.

Couldnt you invent a ‘mission statement’ for France and for Holland?

Slide:  Picassso’s Guernica

And Picasso’s Guernica?  Think back to the four lines showing emotions!  Angularity…colourless…tumbled…anger…destruction…violence…utter lack of empathy…

Form and content work together to tell non-verbal stories.  Here is my school.

Slide: King Edward V11 school, Sheffield…

I will give you one guess at the kind of education offered in this building!  This architecture tells a story…it is not just shaped like that to keep the rain off the students.  Form and content tell the story…the form with its massiveness, its highly disciplined straight lines and regularity.  Content: its association with the Parthenon…Greek and Roman architecture.

They write down their words…

A classical education!  Non verbal storytelling.  Buildings telling stories.  What story is the building you are working in…telling? What story does your students building at work tell?  In how far does it manifest the company’s manifesto? Consider the setting, the building, the entrance, the reception, etc.

What does your business student wear for work?  What story does that tell?  Does he or she wear a suit? A dark suit?  Or something else?  A tie…something colourful…informal or formal?

They write down their words…

We could spend the rest of the time talking about non verbal storytelling in the business world: from logos, to family photos on the manager’s desk, to Charles Branson in his balloon going around the world.

What could symbolise the business world better than the bank note even though most serious business is not conducted with bank notes anymore?

Slide of a British £5 note front side

Bank note design combines the basic reality of the amount of money the note is worth and that is not a story in itself.  £5!  But the design also offers storytelling.  Look at the typeface used for the Bank of England. What story is that telling…but compare it with the word, ‘FIVE’!  No elegant tradition there just the plain fact…after all we want a reliable place to put our money not some flowery irresponsible place.  The queen?  What story does her inclusion offer? And how young she looks! Why?  And Brittannia? Why?

And the back of the five pound note?

Slide of a British £5 note reverse side

Who is this woman on the right?  Why is she there?

They write down their words…

Elizabeth Fry…the nineteenth century prison reformer.  Why tell her story on a bank note?

Compare the notion of company identity and branding.  How is your country branded on your money?  How would you like to brand your country…your town…your company.

Slide of a British £20 note front and reverse.

This shows Adam Smith the great Scottish economist who was also a reformer.  The design of bank notes really does manifest, the indivisibility of material facts and story creation in the business world.

My friend had a shop in Whitby on the North East coast.  It was one of the very first shops in England to show Indian and Nepalese and other ‘ethnic’ clothing, combined with whole foods.  The shop was in an eighteenth century house with a low ceiling and wooden beams.  Rosie said to me, ‘People come into my shop. They like it so much they buy something to take home so they can feel it is theirs and they belong to it.  And you know what Andy?  I don’t particularly want them to buy anything and to take it away because I love the shop and all its contents too!’

Here are some more quotations about the centrality of stories in business.

Slide: quotations

It is really silly that so many people assume that business is too serious for stories!  How can Denning have spent so many years of his very intelligent life not seeing how dependent business is on stories? A tree without sap?

If you want a list of books about stories in business including ones by Denning please write to my website and download them.

What kind of purposes are stories used for in business?

Slide: my working list of business purposes…

You can also get this list from my website if you want to print it out.

Now how about an example of stories in business?  Read this text and decide: Who wrote it? For whom? With what purpose? When?

Slide: first para of Nokia…There is a pertinent story….

They write down their ideas…

This is the first paragraph of a memo from CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop, writing to all employees about the disaster looming up on Nokia.  He chose to tell a story rather than just give the facts and figures.  The CEO of the biggest company in the world for mobile phones chose to tell a story.  This one example, surely, brings home the centrality of storytelling in business?

Purpose: introducing the need for the acceptance of significant change in working practice…’Burning Platform’ is a now ‘traditional’ story to use in ‘change management’.

Contrast it with the other Nokia texts which are less obviously storytelling but about the same topic.

Slide: press release Nokia and Microsoft…

Slide: Nokia disclaimer

What a contrast…and note the non verbal contribution! This is an orchestra of storytelling…not only the words giving the content but the form of typography and graphic layout!

Purpose: aggressive threat…dont try being a smart arse with us mate.

Slide: Stephen Elop

Here is Stephen Elop giving his talk about Nokia and Microsoft working together.  He is telling a story with his hands but also with his clothes…dark suit but a red tie…and the typography is also telling a story.

Slide: Nokia end of burning platform memo…last paragraph

The story offers an analogy…and the analogy is packed with metaphors.  It is a very rich activity with business clients,  underlining metaphors and discussing the power of metaphor to move people rather just to inform them.  Unforgettable rather than easily forgettable!  I am not informed enough about metaphors…I can spot a living metaphor spewing out its offers of comparison…sometimes I can recognise dead metaphors which have become so much a part of everyday language that we don’t think of metaphorical comparisons.  What I am struck by is that the language we use is like limestone…made of metaphors instead of shells.

And look at the end of his memo!  His name, ‘Stephen’…that is storytelling.

Purpose:  friendly, equality, transparency, etc.

Have we time for one more example? An analogy!

Slide: 5 February 2011…football

Just one week ago Arsenal lost to Birmingham in the final of the Carling Cup.  But even more amazing is that on February 5 Wolverhampton Wanderers at the bottom of the Premier League beat Manchester United 2-1  Man U had been unbeaten and were at the top of the Premier League.

And, on the same day, Arsenal were winning 4-0 at the interval but Newcastle finished the match with a draw.

I told my bank manager student and asked him how he could use this amazing news in the bank. This is what he said (with a few deviations from general notions of correct English).

Here is another activity…from a joke book…

Slide: Memo degradation

Here is a joke with the sequence of five memos in the wrong order.  Put them in the correct order.

With your student…put them in the correct order. Discuss whether there is any reality in this joke.  Discuss whether he or she might use it and when it might be used.


Here is my personal email address.  If you would like me to send you bits and pieces of things related to stories in business, when I find them write to me and tell me.

Slide: AW email address and invitation for more information

If you would like to have handouts to print out then please go to our teacher training site.

If you want to find out more about Mark Powell’s course with us in late August then you can find all the information you need on our teacher training site.

Slide: and offer of more handouts.

I hope you found this workshop useful please write to me about anything you like.  It would be wonderful if you sent me YOUR ideas for using stories in business English teaching.

Now…any questions or statements you would like to make?


























6 Responses to “Webinar: Stories in Business 2011”

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      I am very happy you like the site. But please tell me what you do and why you like it so much. Andrew

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