The Power of Story in your Work
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Story”? Chances are you might think of fiction or drama or a movie. Media folks think of it as something to report or write about. Harvard University Professor Tal Ben Shahar calls the story a powerful tool in psychology. He in fact calls Storytelling as a unifying theory of Psychology. Need some convincing?
Think about Leaders. What do they do? They tell Stories. What do you remember cognitively: numbers, charts, details, or stories? People recall and remember stories way better than anything else. Have you ever been to a psychiatrist? If not, you can check with people who have gone into therapy. When you go into therapy for 60 minutes, you feel better because you have just narrated your story. The very act of telling something personal to someone makes you feel better. Even the Valuation Guru and NYU Stern School of Business, Professor Aswath Damodaran has written a book Narrative and Numbers. In short, numbers have no meaning without the narrative or story. Thus, whether it is business, valuation, or life, you will encounter stories everywhere.
Yes, stories are everywhere. Your body tells a story. The smile or frown on your face tells a story. You have a story about your work, family, marriage, friendship and so on. You even have one with your clients, friends, colleagues, food, alcohol, sports and so on. The truth is there will be a story around your death too. It is also not only individuals who tell stories about themselves. Companies, Countries, Universities, Political Parties and Religions – everyone has a story. Thus, stories are so powerful that you can only ignore them at your own peril. I believe I have set some context for you to take stories and storytelling seriously.
Jim Loehr in his book “The Power of Story” writes “By story, then, I mean those tales we create and tell ourselves and others, and which form the only reality we will ever know in this life. Our stories may or may not conform to the real world. They may or may not inspire us to take action to better our lives. They may or may not take us where we ultimately want to go. But since our destiny follows stories, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to get our stories right. For most of us, that means some serious editing.”
Ask yourself the following questions and think about it. You do not have to do it right away but set aside some “me” time and do some journaling around these questions.
- What is the most important story that you are telling yourself about your work now?
- What is the most important story in your life right now?
- What is the story that you want to be able to tell people 3, 5, 10 and 20 years from now?
- What is the story you want people to tell about you after you are gone?
An example of a story an IFA is telling himself (privately in his head) is “I have been in this industry for the last 20+ years. I have worked so hard and built this firm. However, everything has become so difficult with the change around us. I see no hope for this industry or profession. It is difficult to sign up new clients. Regulations are changing. It is no longer remunerative for someone starting new. At least I have existing assets. I will continue as long as I can, but I see no hope.”
On the other hand, I say to myself “I started in this profession in 2005. I struggled for the first 3 years when the whole industry was cruising but I laid a very strong foundation for a world class firm. I look at change as an opportunity and in 2015, I laid the seeds of our global fintech venture and today it is easily one of the finest products, platform, and ecosystem. We are going to make a HappyRich difference in the lives of every Indian Financial Professional and Investor through the work we are doing. I see amazing opportunities in this profession and there could not be a better time than before. I am also helping other professionals see this and will transform the investing/financial planning landscape in India. In short, we will change the way India Invests.”
Your life is the most important story you will ever tell, and you are telling it right now, whether you know it or not. Everyone has a story and according to Jim it is our profoundest gift. Use this gift wisely in the service of others and you would have written a remarkable story for your life. The work that we do transforms lives and helps people write the best stories of their lives.
My colleague Mahesh took Sunita (a financial professional who recently signed up on HF) and her husband Rahul through our initial client experience. Rahul was so impressed with the experience that he told Mahesh this verbatim “I used to hear a lot about investing, financial planning, products, markets, and economy from Sunita. First, I never understood much and second, I used to get bored with the technical and financial details. This is the first time I actually enjoyed the process and understood everything that you said.” Mahesh then responded by saying “You understood and enjoyed it thoroughly because it was your story. It was not my story or the story of the markets or economy. It was very personal, relevant, and engaging.”
Such is the Power of Stories. Thus, there are 2 things that you must get right (Keep working on it and editing it) as a real professional: Your Story and Your Client’s Story. Both are linked together in the workspace. If you can help people write their awesome stories, yours will automatically be written as a part of their success.