Business as an Art of Storytelling

Business fascinates me because it is highly integrative. In a recent conversation I had with our good Dr. Dodson, he mentioned that there really is no standard business major. From Harvard to community college, what passes for standard is a smattering of accounting, marketing, economics, finance, and management classes.

To understand business, you have to take each piece and fit it into a cohesive whole that you can use to better understand and communicate what opportunities exist, what kind of playing field the world has become—to take all the particulars of life that scream for your undivided attention and synthesize them into a sort of Marauder’s Map that can guide you through our ever-changing world.

It is that ability to understand all the details in a setting and then communicate a unifying and compelling narrative that bridges the worlds of Art and Business.

It is this necessity to understand all the pieces in a world-sized puzzle that grabs my attention and stirs my imagination—but a contradiction immediately extends itself to ask why. I do not consider myself to be a numbers person. I am largely bookish, frequently guilty growing up of hiding the book I really wanted to read inside whatever textbook my class happened to be reading at the time. The executive thoroughness required in Business is not my strong suit. How could I feel this natural draw and enthusiasm for a topic that on face value should repulse me?

The answer is in a word I mentioned earlier: narrative.

Although I may wilt in a class that goes on in detail to calculate the discount rate on bonds (apologies, Dodson), I can fit that information into a larger story, which causes my ability to communicate that story to grow, and to become deeper, more colorful, and more informed. A mentor once taught me, “Everything is a business.”

I would like to add on the phrase - everything is also a story. In a world which is accelerating day by day in complexity, the need for individuals who can tell the story of a company, make sense of a trade agreement, or evangelize a product, increases at the same rate.

I am familiar with the lack of accord between English and Business majors, as the topics are representative of the gap between the arts and the mundane. The disconnect is the result of not having understood the common vein that both subjects share: narrative.

Both subjects, however disparate in the particulars, share the same impulse of problem, struggle, solution, and denouement. Take product marketing for example. Don’t advertisers follow a sort of narrative arc that includes each element of story?

How many times have we heard an ad that said something like the following: “My life was a mess until I found product x…using x has helped me to overcome x and now my life is completely different as a result. I owe it all to product x!”

This sounds very similar to the cycle of problem, solution, struggle, and denouement. Business majors can benefit from becoming acquainted with storytelling, because story affects every aspect of our lives—the same story that we tell ourselves to get us out of bed every morning influences stock valuation and composes a work of art.

In the same way, English majors can take valuable lessons from business for their own creative development. I have found that taking classes in accounting, management, and economics has developed my ability to integrate information, work with others, and think big picture: all very important skills if you want to impart a story that is gripping and vivid.

Business majors, take a writing class. You may find your passion as an executive is enriched by a class designed to unleash your potential to communicate. English majors: take a business class. You may find that your passion for story broadens a world that you originally thought to be dull and mechanistic.

I guarantee that a phenomenal story will come of it.