“Why Companies Need Novelists” is a fascinating piece by Michael Grothaus about an unusual title appearing in select corporations–that of CSO, or Chief Storytelling Officer. The poster boy chosen for this curiosity is Mohsin Hamid, an acclaimed author-turned-corporate strategist.
I know what you’re thinking–how is this a thing? The best answer comes from Hamid himself, as he explains the value this role delivers. “How do you empower people inside a company to do their own thing, to try to innovate, to not be a completely top-down organization, to be an organization that is creative and inventive?” he says. “You can’t do that as a CEO by telling everybody, ‘Here is your set of marching orders.’ It’s just too much. You don’t have the capacity to do that.”
Grothaus goes on to elaborate: “Instead, Hamid underscores the importance of a clear narrative, one that allows others to appreciate the overall vision of where the company is headed and allows them to use their own creativity and approach to help it get there.”
In my own experiences working with and within creative organizations, including during times of massive change, I can attest to the prudence of this statement. Surely leaders do not want to tell people how to do every aspect of their daily job. Storytelling can persuade them–enlist them, even, to help enact a compelling narrative, one that takes the team from here to a better place, and unifies a complex environment to a single, clear mission.
According to Hamid, there are three times in the lifecycle when corporations need to engage storytelling: upon launch, when the world needs to know who you are, during acquisitions and leadership changes, when the world needs to know who you are becoming, and in slow growth phases, when the world needs to know you’re still dynamic.
Hamid recommends ground rules for companies interested in upping their storytelling game:
- Tell it like it is
- Put the audience in the center of the action
- Allow the audience to experience and label emotion
- Be plain
- “Hire a novelist”
Like Grothaus, I think that the barriers between people in the arts and business have more passages, and there is a true need for a dialog. In this case, it’s exciting to see a creative profession called upon to motivate and catalyze the business world.