Indranil Chakraborty runs StoryWorks, that helps organisations and leaders harness the power of stories to create and deliver impactful messages. He has spent two decades of experience leading teams and driving change at reputed firms such as Unilever, Tata Group and Mahindra & Mahindra.
He is the author of the book "Stories at Work - Unlock the secret to Business Storytelling” published recently by Penguin Random House. In our conversation, we talk at length about some of the insights in the book. Indranil first demystifies the term “Business Storytelling” and distinguishes it from other forms of storytelling. We then discuss other elements including how one should listen to stories and collect them systematically, the different applications of story telling, how story telling bridges the asymmetry that often exists due to the "curse of knowledge”, how one can build deeper relationships through stories, how we can bake in the story-telling habit in our life and more.
The lessons from this conversation could be relevant to a range of people. But specifically, This conversation is likely to be specifically relevant to four constituents. 1) Entrepreneurs that are trying to build a certain culture in their company; 2) CEOs that are trying to mobilise the organisation around a certain set of values and a certain vision; 3) HR leaders who are looking to drive change in the organisation; 4) parents who are looking to connect more with their children.
Published in Nov 2018
Indranil talks about his challenges in transmitting some of the elements of the credo he had crafted as the head of Marketing and Strategy of his organization. He underscores the risks of abstraction when we craft values such as honesty, excellence, customer-delight etc. and adorn the walls. He takes the example of a story to illustrate the point “no room for ordinary” a value they were trying to live in his company. He goes on to share how he transitioned to the world of story-telling and reflects on some of his early lessons in solo-preneurship.
Indranil distinguishes business story telling from Storytelling (that we see in Ramayana, Harry Potter or in movies). Indranil speaks about the fact that brevity and story-telling are not contradictory and it is often a false trade-off that people have in mind. He actually goes onto say that business story-telling might even be a more time-efficient way of getting complex, nuanced messages across the organization.
Indranil talks about some of the common areas in the Corporate world where we could use stories – building rapport, influencing and getting strategies to stick. He also talks about the distinction between narrating a story versus sharing something that has the structure of a story. He goes on to say that for the purpose of business story-telling, it is often sufficient to focus on the science and process of story-telling than get bogged down by the art which can be overwhelming for a few.
Indranil talks about the curse of knowledge using the example of “tappers and listeners” – an experiment conducted by Elizabeth Newton at Stanford University in 1990\. He talks about how asymmetry of information often makes us poor communicators because we are too close to the content. He talks about the criticality of understanding the context of the receiver while delivering key messages.
Indranil talks about the criticality of story-listening and how it is critical to ask the right questions to elicit stories. He speaks about the fact that we often have a propensity to ask the How, Why and What questions because we are looking for a net-view but sometimes the rich data can be found by asking the When and the Where questions when you take people back to a moment in time.
Indranil talks about how we can apply the concept of Story-listening in the context of understanding another human being. He also discusses the power of stories in a home context. He says that stories make things real. Very often we are busy communicating abstract concepts without giving our children an insight into where the opinion comes from.
Indranil talks about what it takes to build story-telling into a habit. He talks about what deliberate practice looks like in the context of building this capability. He suggests that we need to put a stake in the ground and make a commitment to ourselves. He urges us to look for low evaluative and low judgment situations where this can be experimented and we can get the ball rolling. Most importantly, he talks about the criticality of capturing the stories and tagging them appropriately so that we can recall the right story at the right time.
Indranil talks about what it takes to build the habit of story-telling within an organization. He underscores the futility of one-off programmes that leave you with a high but don’t really move the needle when people come back to the rough and tumble of their daily life. He re-emphasizes the criticality of some sort of a deliberate practice programme for people to bake in the habit.
Indranil talks about some of the hidden talents that story tellers have. He mentions that a lot of them are naturals in the way they tell stories and over time they have fine-tuned that capability. He lists R. Gopalakrishnan, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos as three of the story tellers that he admires and shares a couple of his personal favourites.