Stories are critical in society; they are the foundation of what we teach our children, the magical glue that holds together family values around dinner tables, the link of interest or empathy that brings together students in campuses. Storytelling has been an accepted practice in our life, but they have not been prevalent at work. Workplaces and business leaders tend to use data and analyses more to get their messages across. But author Indranil Chakraborty wants to change that traditional approach, delving deep into another way to usher in meaningful changes - through stories.
Of course, business stories are entirely different from what you tell your family and friends. The context and the facts must be there, and it must be said in a way to create a lasting impression on your audience. Chakraborty, who was a former colleague in Hindustan Lever (I have decided to make this disclosure early in the review) and worked in other storied companies such as the Tata Group and the Mahindra Group before starting up as a consultant, has conducted numerous storytelling masterclasses. And Stories at Work is a successful depiction of his wisdom and experience gathered over the years. "The book eggs us on to get back to storytelling and use it in everyday business," says advertising guru, Piyush Pandey, in his foreword.
The author has stories for every occasion - from building rapport and credibility to overcoming objections, from delivering strategies that stick to getting values understood to driving emotional, meaningful transformation in tough situations. He builds his cases strongly and gives readers enough examples and practical inputs to hone their storytelling skills. Chakraborty also illustrates the implications of data and how to create a story around it through a delightful narrative on the decline of the West Indies cricket team and the rise of India. Then again, there are superb examples of why a story touches people and becomes personally meaningful.
As is the wont of many trainers, the writer has organised the content like an excellent workbook, and the science of storytelling has been discussed step by step. He also lists three best ways to start a speech. First, start with a story linked to the topic; second, start with statistics or a factoid that shocks and third, start a speech by using an 'imagine' scenario. And what are the three worst ways to start a speech? No. 1: By introducing yourself and the topic you will speak on; No. 2: By clearing your throat; No. 3: By thanking the people who have invited you to speak. In fact, the best way to understand how you are carrying your stories is how someone introduces you. Are you telling a story or is someone telling a story about you, out of his/her accumulated experience with you?
But eventually, it is the human element that matters. Business concepts like customer satisfaction would only come to life when you hear how a customer service executive had gone to great lengths to delight consumers. No data can bring out the heroics and the emotion involved in such work. Then there are stories to show how sociopolitical issues can be solved. The author narrates the story of an American General in Tikrit, Iraq, who noticed the correlation between crowd build-ups and riots. By observing the town square behaviour, the General decided to withdraw the food carts from the square. This simple action led to a 60 per cent reduction in riots.
The book has been primarily written for corporate heads and their cohorts, and its format and treatment make us hopeful that India will soon see a whole new bunch of more influential leaders if the people concerned practise this art better to engage and inspire. It should not be too difficult, though, as Indians are natural storytellers. We can easily distil concepts, convey emotions and track cause and effect when relating to people and data we work with. But corporates apart, the book has a broader appeal and a must-read for anyone working with any institution as it helps deal with critical issues like people persuasion, change management and inculcation of values."