Business Gets Personal: All Star and the Art of Storytelling
It’s surprising the things you learn about your co-workers when you take a Business Storytelling class together. Yesterday, I joined most of our sales team (and a handful of non-All Star folks) for a full day at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, where we practiced the art of business storytelling— starting with ourselves.
Right off the bat, instructor Cynthia Hartwig—a seasoned advertising pro and creative writer—promised that “this won’t be like any other class you’ve taken.” And she was right. By noon, I had learned about one classmate’s painful divorce, another’s petty revenge-taking against a former boss, and yet another’s naked bike ride through the streets of West Seattle. (None of these three were All Star employees, by the way.)
Humans are hard-wired for stories, as Cynthia reminded us throughout the day. We started with a heavy hitter: Kathryn Schultz’s TED Talk about regrets. From there, we compiled lists of our own favorite storytellers and shared their greatest hits with our classmates. The short list ranged from family members to Maya Angelou. The common thread? Each teller had touched our hearts in some way—and each knew how to deliver a solid story with a clear beginning, middle and end.
Soon it was time to mine our own pasts for stories. Cynthia’s challenge: “Reveal something about yourself.” Honesty (and good storytelling) requires vulnerability. The students were game, generating in-class material that ran the gamut from struggles with obesity to disappointing dates to an impulsive decision to sell furniture on a street corner.
But this was no encounter group. By afternoon, we were weaving our own stories into nascent business presentations. Senior sales manager Laura Thramer talked about letting go her plans to attend law school in order to stick with All Star and the great crew of people she found here. Associate account manager Lala Gusakov shared about the value her immigrant family placed on education, watching her father earn his degree as a post-traditional student. I drew groans when I revealed that, when I was seven years old, I cried because I couldn’t go to school on the weekends.
Ours is a data-driven business, and we’re proud of the powerful All Star technology that helps us connect students and schools. But two things are in danger of getting lost when we rely only on charts and graphs to share the business picture: our hearts, and our students’ real-life struggles to continue their educations.
When next you meet with your All Star account manager, don’t be surprised if you hear a personal story about how she or he was drawn to this business of connecting students to their dreams.
Photos courtesy of Cynthia Hartwig