Let the Story Do the Work: A book review by Bob Morris

Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success
Esther K. Choy
AMACOM (July 2017)

How and why “Once upon a time” has almost unlimited applications and can have compelling impact

As Esther K. Choy realizes full well, a great deal of very hard work must be invested in the development of material before it is then organized and presented within a narrative framework. Otherwise, the storytelling process lacks both substance and significance. So the title of her book is somewhat misleading.

That said, she provides in her book an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that can help almost any reader to strengthen their skills in each of what Aristotle characterized (in Rhetoric) as the “four levels of discourse”: exposition (explaining with information), description (making vivid with compelling images), narration (telling a story or explaining a sequence), and argumentation (convincing with logic and/or evidence). It is no coincidence that most of the great leaders throughout history were brilliant storytellers.

They mastered what Choy identifies as the core components of a story:

o Structural
o Elemental
o Authentic
o Strategic

How the given material is organized and presented will depend, of course, on two key factors: which approach to take, and, what will be of greatest interest and value to the given audience. Abraham Lincoln used humor to diffuse anger and reduce opposition whereas Martin Luther King shared his dreams in order inspire others to help make those dreams come true.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Choy’s coverage:

o Principal elements of storytelling (Pages 11-19)
o The Five Basic Plots (26-32)
o Examples of five basic plots (35-43)
o Audiences (47-64)
o AIA: Acknowledge-Inspire-Action (53-55, 81-82, and 95-96)

o U.S. Bank acquisition of Charter One Bank (56-64)
o Telling Stories with Data (65-70)
o Know Your Audience: The Five Categories (70-73)
o Story Pictures (100-127)
o Vicious Cycle (101-104)

o Points of View (130-133)
o Asking “crazy good” questions (136-139)
o Aggressive listening (140-147)
o Telling your story (151-169)
o Persuasion and telling your story (161-164)

o Networking (171-185)
o Responding to the “What do you do?” question (177-181)
o Non-profit organization storytelling (187-201)
o Intermountain Healthcare (206-207)

Although Esther Choy focuses primarily on the business applications of the basic storytelling principles, strategies, and tactics, I presume to suggest that almost all of them can also guide and inform the process by which we can function much more effectively in non-business situations. That is, situations in which the question to be answered or the problem to be solved or the case to be made is unrelated to business issues. Teaching offers almost unlimited opportunities as do competitive athletics.

Yes, it is possible to “let the story do the work” but only after the given material has substance and significance. Thus viewed, the art of storytelling is relative to – and this book is relevant to — almost any situation in which the objective is to achieve success in one form or another.

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