First, Define Your Character

Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Corporate storytelling is all the rage. But before you can tell a story you need to know who the characters are.

Mitt Romney got skewered for saying that corporations are people. But he wasn’t totally wrong. People have enormous influence on the personality and culture of an organization. They give it character.

The great example of that is Apple Computer. Steve Jobs embodied the character of Apple. That was clear when he left the company and Apple became just another 80s tech company.  When Jobs returned, so did the character.

And Jobs didn’t just talk about products. He talked about why Apple made the products it did. That way, you knew what to expect from a computer, or phone, anything else made by Apple.

The job of a leader in any group of people is to show what behaviors are good and which ones are outside the culture. When the group knows what success looks like, they can work toward it.

Take, for example, IBM.

IBM is over 100 years old. And for much of that time its stuffy image reflected the personality of its CEO, Thomas Watson.

Fortunately, IBM hired Eliot Noyes in the 1950s to redesign their typewriters. Then he redesigned other products, and their logo, and their buildings so that by the 1960s IBM was the quintessential modern American corporation.

Noyes gave himself the job title, Curator of the Corporate Character. And that character was intelligent, cool, sophisticated, totally reliable.

You can’t really tell an engaging or truthful story about a corporation until you know what the character is of that thing.

Our brains seem to be wired to assign human qualities to non-human things, including corporations. If you don’t define those qualities ahead of time, people will supply their own definition. And chances are, you won’t like it.

A good story begins with a strong character. Once you define the character of the company, then you can express it consistently through actions, words, and images in ways that humans can recognize.

Because the purpose of a good story is not to tell the world what you did in the past.

It tells them what they can expect you to do in the future.

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