This page is older archived content from an older version of the Emerald Publishing website.

As such, it may not display exactly as originally intended.

Emerald podcasts: enjoy Emerald content on the move!

We are now offering some of our management content as podcasts.

The podcasts available on this page are specially written by David Pollitt. They are drawn from reviews in the Emerald Management Reviews database.

Podcasts are provided as .mp3 files which you can play on your computer or upload to your mp3 player. No special software is required.

Left-click your chosen podcast link, then:

  • To play the file choose 'open' (Internet Explorer) or 'Open with' & click 'OK' (Firefox) when your browser prompts you.
  • To download the files to your computer choose 'save' (Internet Explorer) or 'Save to disc' (Firefox)

We value your feedback on this service. Please send any comments to [email protected]

View transcript

The power of good story-telling simply isn't a myth.

The power of good story-telling simply isn't a myth

Everyone loves a good story. One of the oldest and most human art forms, story-telling can inspire us or break our hearts, fire our imagination or prey on our greatest fears, make us laugh or make us cry, help us both to understand ourselves better and to connect with those around us. In short, through story-telling we can make more sense of the world we live in.

But few of today's leaders harness the power of story-telling. In volume 23 issue 3 of Business Strategy Review, Freek Vermeulen describes one who does.

Stevie Spring, who recently stepped down as chief executive of speciality-magazine publisher Future plc, believes that story-telling is the most important task of a business leader. She practised what she preached by explaining the company's business to employees and the world outside, and making sure that people were captivated by it.

Of course, the story does not have to be over-dramatic and should always be based on the truth. It could, for example, outline the company's resources and describe how these combine to create competitive advantage. Or it could describe the company's values and how these can be converted into everyday working practice. Or it could draw on the company's history and demonstrate how this influences the business in the present.

In the modern business world, where the pace of change is ever-increasing, many firms believe there is simply no time for nostalgia. But a sophisticated understanding of a company's past can be a powerful tool for shaping the future.

The Winthrop Group helps clients to capture and capitalize on their history by transforming experience into insights and inspiration. In the December issue of Harvard Business Review, Winthrop partners John Seaman and George David Smith explain that the job of leaders is to inspire collective efforts and devise imaginative strategies for the future. History, they say, can be profitably employed on both fronts.

As a leader strives to get people working together productively, communicating the history of the enterprise can instil a sense of identity and purpose and suggest the goals that will resonate.

'In its most familiar form, as a narrative about the past, history is a rich explanatory tool with which executives can make a case for change and motivate people to overcome challenges,' the authors assert. 'Taken to a higher level, it also serves as a potent problem-solving tool, one that offers pragmatic insights, valid generalizations, and meaningful perspectives-a way to cut through management fads and the noise of the moment to what really matters.'

Sometimes, though, a break with the past is needed for company survival. This is most likely to be the case when firms need to reinvent themselves in response to significant shifts in the market-place or developments in technology.

In the same issue of Harvard Business Review, Clark Gilbert, Matthew Eyring, and Richard N. Foster propose that companies under assault should reposition their core business to fit the altered environment, and launch a separate, disruptive business that will be the source of future growth. 'That approach allows the company to realize the most value from its current assets and advantages, while giving the new initiative the time it needs to grow,' say the authors.

Xerox copiers is among the examples the authors cite. The business was losing market share to cheaper products from Asia. In response, the company repositioned its core by bringing in a line of copiers that are simpler, more cost-effective to produce and cheaper to operate. And it introduced a new Xerox Global Services unit, which took over document management and other processes for large organizations. By the second quarter of 2012, services accounted for more than half of the company's business.

Now that's what you would call a decent business story!