Why storytelling is an important skill in business


Dreaming big and storytelling are an important part of being an innovator. Innovation, by definition, means “trying something new”.

We encourage would-be innovators to think big, break the mould and shout their ideas from the rooftop in order to radically shift the status quo and create measurable change.

However, the reality of “innovating” is easier said than done. You can’t expect anyone to like your new idea or any changes to systems and processes that you might propose. It’s particularly difficult if you’re up against an industry with a rigid culture of traditions, bureaucracy or stuck in the ‘way we do things here’.

So what can you do to get people on board with new ideas and inspire them to want to make change happen?

The power of storytelling

Many of the world’s best innovators and influencers are also some of the most accomplished storytellers. Martin Luther King Jr. famously roused the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with his legendary “I have a dream” speech.

Steve Jobs, the revered Apple CEO, was able to paint a story of his visionary future with the now infamous presentation that launched the iPad.

JFK painted a vision of sending a man to space and returning him safely to earth:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal… of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind.”

 Humans are wired to tell stories 

Storytelling skills are absolutely key to your ability to inspire and influence other people. That’s why we help innovators develop their storytelling skills. 

Storytelling is how human beings have shared knowledge for hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists have even shown that information learned through emotionally charged storytelling has greater memory recall. Stories inspire people. They remember them, they retell them.

For you to be an innovator, your ability to tell stories could be the difference between your innovation staying on the drawing board and making it to the market place.

The structure of a story

Are you trying to convince people in your organisation that there’s a better way – or at least that you deserve the opportunity to try?

The trick to getting the ball rolling is describing problems and their solutions in a way that captivates attention and encourages action.

Every powerful story is made up of key areas, as we’ve outlined in our five-step story structure below to help the listener, in this example, engage with the new idea of automated rent payment.

1. Setting the scene

Tell the listener who the story is about.

Give them enough information to make them care what happens.

Using a character reference or real human being helps, e.g. Irene is an elderly woman, too frail and frightened to leave her house after falling on some ice. She has to struggle to the rent office every week because there is no other way to pay her rent other than in person.

2. Describe the problem

The problem on hand is that a frail, injured senior citizen has no other option but to leave her house to pay her rent in person.

3. How the solution will change you / them?

If the payments could be automated, Irene could pay her rent easily without the pain and expense of getting to the payment office and standing in a long queue.

4. Paint the vision of the different future

In this context, the innovation (automated rent payment), has made the difference.

Someone like Irene and millions of senior citizens just like her don’t have to struggle to make it to the payment office, and she has peace of mind that her rent is paid on time.

5. Highlight how the listener has a role in making the better future happen

Consider the role your listener plays in the story. For example, if you are trying to persuade your colleague to support your idea, help them connect to the part they play in making the better future for Irene happen.

 Quick storytelling tips

Consider how you tell your story to others. Below are our top tips to get peoples attention and inspire them to get involved.

  • Make it about one person or a particular group of people –  people connect to stories of specific people on an emotional level, e.g. Irene, rather than stories of the thousands of people like her.
  • Make it simple, use simple language, no jargon or acronyms; your story has to be easily understood to be effective. A good litmus test is to consider if both your granny and a five-year old will understand it.
  • Think about your audience and what sort of story would appeal to their interests.

Lastly, and most importantly: you have to care!

If you don’t care about your story, it’s very hard to convince anyone else to care.

(Nancy Duarte talks a bit more about the importance of structure and passion in her TED talk.)

I’m running a half-day workshop on 21 January from 2-5 in Exeter on the power of storytelling. If you’re interested in learning more about storytelling and how to apply it to make more impact in your work to get then sign up today. 

Click this link for more information and to sign up. If you have any questions then drop me a line at

Does it matter if we make assumptions?

Quality Street

For over 40 years the toffees have been the left-over Quality Street left rattling around at the bottom of the chocolate tin long after the last cracker has been pulled. I’d always assumed this was just the way it was in every household.

Until last week when I posted this…

There was uproar! Who knew?! People like toffee Quality Street and some people even like them BEST! It was a real eye-opener. People said;

‘I like to toffee ones bring them over!!’ 

‘First to go in our house’

‘Entirely different for ours, we always have fruit flavoured ones left’ 

It just goes to show how easily we can make a whole bunch of assumptions about toffee Quality Street as well as other less important topics.

Does it matter if we make assumptions?

It’s not a case of it ‘mattering’ as such. It’s more a case of acknowledging that it’s something that we all do.

We all make assumptions all the time about people, places, books, films, food and pretty much anything and everything you care to list. It’s how humans operate. Our brains, when confronted with a situation, check for a thinking shortcut. We refer back to what we already know about a similar situation that’s occurred before. For example, if the toffees are always left, and if we don’t have different experiences of toffees being liked and eaten we default to the short cut. We make a wrong assumption that ‘toffees are always left and no one likes toffees’.

Making assumptions can mean that we get things wrong (people do like Quality Street toffees!).  It can also inhibit our creativity. If our assumptions, for example, are that ‘we tried it before and it didn’t work – so it’s not likely to work now’ or ‘that’s not how we do things here’ it can limit what we believe might be possible and stop us from exploring new thinking.

So it’s normal to make assumptions. And if you’re trying to think creatively and solve problems in a new way, it can help you if you deliberately start to become aware of the assumptions you’re carrying around with you from your past experiences. Assumptions about situations, or people, or the very problems you’re trying to solve.

The best way I’ve found to shine a light on assumptions is simply to ask yourself ‘What assumptions am I making about this situation?’ Then list them. And then start to work through the assumptions list and ask yourself, ‘Are they right? What if that wasn’t true?’ These questions might reveal some new thinking.

Maybe you’ve got some more tips for challenging assumptions? Do share them below.

And before I forget, I’m partial to the green triangles so if anyone wants to do a swap next Quality Street season then let me know.

If you’d like more help with creativity and innovation, check out the free stuff section and download the free chapter of my book ‘The Innovation Workout’ and the Lucidity Innovation Toolkit. Or if you’d like some specific help, drop me an email at and we can book in a time to chat.

How to have fun at work without the cringe

Have you been having a whole lot of fun lately? If you work for an organisation or business it’s likely that you have. ’Tis the season of office parties, Secret Santa and Karaoke down the pub with colleagues.

Hopefully, it has actually been fun and not all a bit of a nightmare.

There’s a growing body of evidence that fun at work not only makes for happier, healthier, more productive employees but fun helps organisations and businesses fulfil their mission even more effectively.

I work almost exclusively with non-profit organisations and know some of the most effective charities in their field have embraced fun as a core organisational value – alongside more familiar ones such as respect, equality and accountability.

Fun isn’t just for Christmas

Wherever you work, fun all year round has a whole host of benefits which come together in a beautiful virtuous circle. Here are some:

  • Fun allows staff to have a laugh and let off steam. This is important for everyone, but even more so when the issues they may be working with are deeply upsetting or difficult as is the case for many of my clients. Lifting staff spirits acts as a refresher, helping them tackle those challenges with renewed vigour and optimism.
  • When people are having fun, they experience less stress and tend to be happier with a greater sense of wellbeing. Better for them, better for the outfit as a whole.
  • Happier people are more productive people, more engaged with work. If work drains the life out of you, you’re not going to be doing a great job, are you?
  • Fun builds trust and encourages positive relationships between colleagues, vital for the successful collaboration and problem solving the not for profit sector needs.
  • Creativity and innovative thinking thrive in an atmosphere of play and fun, where people are allowed to experiment without feeling constrained by institutional right and wrong answers.
  • Having fun helps people to learn more effectively.

Fun for all?

Two of my clients, the Back Up Trust and Forum for the Future, have ‘fun’ and ‘playful’ respectively, as core values. This isn’t right for everyone, I know. Here are a few guidelines for how to bring in a greater sense of fun to your workplace, all year round without it all being a big cringe.

– Creating a culture where fun is acceptable, has to come from the top. Staff will find their own fun, but only if there is trust that they won’t be judged or made to feel silly or bad. A leader who can relax and enjoy some fun – when appropriate – from time to time can do wonders in putting staff at ease.

– Lowering the barriers to fun, such as tackling poor working conditions and staff conflict, is also key. As Louise Wright, CEO of Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis told me,

“Fun comes out when people are able to get on, when they’re not grappling with silly issues such as office politics, and there is a fair and equitable workplace which allows them to be empowered and facilitated. It’s my job to make sure that happens.”

  • Planned fun (sports day, bake-offs, ‘bring your dog to work day’) is good. Organic fun that bubbles up from happy, supported staff is even better. Warm chats with colleagues, spontaneous lunches out and birthday celebrations all add up to a ‘fun-positive’
  • Fun doesn’t want to feel overly scheduled or formal. And, please, don’t make anything obligatory. That really gives fun at work a bad name.
  • Gender, cultural and age-related differences mean that what constitutes fun can vary hugely. Make sure fun is inclusive.
  • Bring fun into your learning. No boring blah, blah-ing in front of a PowerPoint! When I was invited to run management training at Aspire Charity recently, I didn’t go in banging a drum shouting ‘let’s have fun!” but through the use of games, funny graphics, and my trademark squeaky green frog, plus warm, honest conversation, we all had a very fun time.

So, despite the doom and gloom. Despite, or maybe, because of Boris, I shall carry on encouraging fun in the sector and celebrating all that’s playful and light-hearted. I may get some flak for it, but I truly believe that however tough our tasks, however difficult the issues we face, there is always time, and very good reason, to have fun.

Want to add a little more fun into the mix at your workplace? It can be good to start small. What could you do, after the office decorations are packed away and the holiday fun is over, to bring that playful spirit into your workplace in 2020?

Katie Duckworth is a coach and trainer helping non-profit leaders and their teams to be happy, productive and effective in their work to create a better world.

This post is adapted from a blog posted on

What’s your bias?

I’ve just finished reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It’s based on the premise that the world is designed by men for men. It shines a light on the unconscious bias that means women are discriminated against without knowing it and don’t get the same access to opportunities as men. It highlights assumptions and gaps in data that form decisions about the world around us. From heart attacks, to clearing snow, to urinals it certainly makes you think.

We all have bias.

The dictionary defines bias as an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.’

Through the experiences that we have that shape our view of the world we all develop preferences and along with them a whole spectrum of biases. Consciously or unconsciously, perhaps you have a bias about gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity? Do you have affinity bias where you’re more likely to like people who are similar to you? Or a bias referred to as ‘halo or horns effect’ where you assume someone is great or awful in all areas, because of their performance in one? How about recall bias where you remember and place greater emphasis on recent events over past ones when making decisions? Or do you prefer conformity and have a bias towards agreeing with the rest of the group? Or confirmation bias where you look selectively for information to back up a pre existing view rather than treating all new information equally? Or what about a beauty bias equating beauty with competence and likability and lack of beauty with incompetence or being less liked?

The list goes on.

Have you ever (wrongly) assumed someone will respond to a situation in a certain way or made snap decisions about people based on how they look and act? Whether its conscious or unconscious we all have bias, based on our previous experiences and or unique view of the world. Whether you like people who have dogs better than cat owners, assume that because someone works in a bar they’re not ambitious or assume that a classically beautiful person must be in a senior role because of their looks you have a bias.

Bias is an inevitability in life.  However Invisible women highlights some areas where unintentional unconscious bias can mean the difference between life and death. For example,The Yentl Syndrome.  The phrase is taken from the 1983 film Yentl starring Barbra Streisand in which her character plays the role of a male in order to receive the education she wants.

Dr. Bernadine Healy named ‘The Yentl Syndrome’ in a 1991 academic paper about the different course of action that heart attacks usually follow for women than for men. This is a problem because much of medical research has focused primarily on symptoms of male heart attacks, and many women have died due to misdiagnosis because their symptoms present differently.


What might I do about bias?

The first step is to acknowledge that as a human you’ll have biases. Start to notice and check yourself. This isn’t about being judgemental about your bias, just start to recognise them and get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘what bias is at play in the decisions I’m making?’

If you notice bias in your day-to-day world, ask ‘why?’ For example, there are very few women in leaderships positions in my organisation. Why?

For any sort of bias that you want to address you might choose to adjust some systems and processes. For example, many orchestras now hold blind auditions with a screen between the judges and the people auditioning to readdress a gender bias.

Back in the 1970s only 5% of orchestra musicians were women. The balance is shifting slowly to average 25% women (and if that sounds like a very long time its because orchestra players stay a long time so there’s not much opportunity for new recruits). Even a screen, so the decision makers can’t see the auditioning musician doesn’t always work. Aspiring musicians were instructed to remove their footwear before coming onto the stage so the sounds of women heels as they walked behind the screen didn’t influence judges.

If you work in product development (I’m likely preaching to the converted here) involve your users in the development of products and services. It helps to reduce bias and design products and services that are fit for purpose. Unlike the houses in disaster relief projects highlighted in Invisible Women that were made and designed by men… without kitchens.

Bias is inevitable. Regardless of your gender I’d recommend Invisible Women. It highlights the data gaps around women that we don’t ever notice or question. What other biases and data gaps are there? Start to notice. Hold up a mirror and start with yourself.

Confirmation bias is one of the topics that we’re taking a deeper dive into in the Lucidity Network next year. If you’re interested in taking charge of your self development to get the results you want in 2020 join the Lucidity Network today. Check out this link.

How might we predict the future?

It was generally agreed that the Earth was flat until Pythagoras shook things up when he first proposed that it was round sometime around 500 B.C. This rumour took some time to stick because communication was rather slow.

There was no email.

In the 1980s Tim Berners Lee, while looking for an effective way for scientists at CERN where he worked, to share information, invented the World Wide Web. It took a bit of perseverance as Tim’s boss at the time said that he thought the idea was ‘vague but exciting’.

The World Wide Web is indeed exciting. It’s more than that. It has changed the world. We can cheaply and easily communicate with thousands of people at once, access a wealth of information at our fingertips and buy products and services at the click of a button. We are constantly connected.

Who knew?!

At one point in time it was ludicrous to imagine that the Earth was anything but flat. Can you remember life before the World Wide Web? It wasn’t that long ago that the ‘norm’ was to look up information in paper encyclopaedias, rather than ‘Googling’ something, and faxing or sending memos and letters in the post because email wasn’t invented.

Whatever sector or industry you work in, it’s really difficult to predict what the next big thing will be. We simply don’t know what will happen. We might have a hunch about the next few weeks, months or even a year, but much beyond that it’s impossible to predict.

It’s impossible to predict the future because so many forces are at play in a continuous flux in time and space. Local and global economics, politics with both a small and a large ‘p’, developments in technology, new product inventions that change consumer behaviour, weather patterns, celebrity fads, a one-off breakthrough; the next equivalent of the World Wide Web which serves as a giant curveball thrown into the constantly changing mix. The world has never changed so fast and nor is it likely to change so slowly again.

So many entrepreneurs and businesses are searching for the next big thing. But the next big thing isn’t just there waiting to be unearthed – the next big thing is a point in time when a combination of conditions line up.

This means that the best we can do is to first focus on what we want to achieve. Then we must be alert to our changing environments, respond to opportunities as they present themselves and think laterally about what those opportunities might mean for our customers, our employees, our supporters, our business, and us.

There is not a blueprint to predicting the next big thing, but below are some tips on how to be in the running to sniff out the next opportunity when the conditions are right.

How might we predict the future? 

  • Remember that no idea operates in a vacuum. Get into the habit of spotting what is happening by keeping up with social, economic and environmental trends. All things are connected so what is happening today will inform future trends.
  • Look for the trends that haven’t affected your business yet. For example what would the impact be if you knew that mobile was going to be the only method of payment in the future? What would that mean for how you develop your products and services?
  • What the data says. What can you learn from your data, what patterns, trends and associations can you make from analysing the data you have already?
  • Make it a habit. If you want to get good at anticipating and responding to trends, like anything, you have to practice. Find a way to make the above points a habit. Make regular time to think about the next big thing. 
  • Don’t expect anyone else to like your ideas or predictions. If your ideas are new then don’t expect anyone else to embrace them. Your next challenge is convincing others to test them out – before the competition.

How might we predict the future? What other tips and tools do you have to spot the next opportunity? Do include in comments.