Book Review: 'Powered by Storytelling: Excavate, Craft, and Present Stories to Transform Business Communication'

Powered by Storytelling: Excavate, Craft, and Present Stories to Transform Business Communications by Murray Nossel. McGraw Hill, 2018. $25. 226 pp.

Reviewed by Jonathan Groner

We often speak of defining our value in business by telling our personal story. Stories are indisputably at the root of self-understanding and of understanding others. Anthropologists have theorized that storytelling probably began around the campfire, with older members of a tribe telling the well-honed stories over again with some twists that bring them up to the present and make them relevant. Trial lawyers say that the winner of a trial is likely to be the side that told the jury the most convincing story that accounts for all the facts and makes the most sense.

In this new book, Murray Nossel, the founder and director of Narativ, a consulting firm that specializes in storytelling training for business, explains the relevance of stories to life on the job. His key principles are that:

  1. humans are hardwired for story,
  2. everyone has a story,
  3. everyone can learn to tell his or her story better,
  4. everyone’s story will evolve,
  5. storytelling is every person’s access to creativity, and
  6. there is a reciprocal relationship between listening and telling.

Nossel explains how storytelling can be used both as a personal exercise in self-understanding and in succeeding in business, and as a tool for internal communication within a business or a team. Probably his most memorable concept of storytelling is what he calls the Grandparent Exercise, in which a person tries to inhabit the role of one of his or her grandparents and to tell a three-minute story based on what she knows of that grandparent’s life.

“Storytelling has the power to transform,” Nossel writes about the Grandparent Exercise. “Some of that power lies in how it restructures our communication through our becoming aware of the reciprocal relationship between listening and telling. Some comes from the stories themselves. Stories offer us a bridge to a new relationship with our colleagues at work.”

Nossel gives the example of a global general counsel of a luxury brand company who had found that there were significant stumbling blocks to communication within her team that hindered her team’s performance and its influence in the company as a whole. She felt that personal storytelling by the lawyers would give them greater insight into each other and build a better foundation for the counsel’s office to serve the company and gain influence.

One of the lawyers in the group, Nossel reports, not only successfully explained himself to his colleagues as a result of storytelling training but also “became a different person to himself” after telling his personal story. “What allowed that to happen was the fact that his colleagues had securely held out a wide-enough safety net of listening by suspending all judgments and opinions, listening only for what happened next,” Nossel writes.

This book has a good deal to contribute to our understanding of the role of storytelling and of how business teams work. Unfortunately, like many books of its type, it is frequently repetitious, sometimes to the point of boring the reader, who wants to move on to a new concept if there is any. This book could easily have been reduced to two-thirds of its length. Still, the storytelling exercises that Nossel recommends comport very well with common sense and can easily be used within our profession to promote team-building.

By Jonathan Groner, Freelance Writer and Public Relations Consultant, for the Third Quarter 2018 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter

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