Persuasive Storytelling and the Human Impact of Innovation
By: Joshua Reynolds
Recently I had the pleasure of running an interactive workshop on persuasive storytelling and innovation trends with a group of recent graduates from the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) executive MBA program. It’s the sixth time I’ve had the opportunity to work with Angelika Lindstrand and Karin Wiström to present to this esteemed group. As is always the case, this year’s class asked some particularly thoughtful questions.
As in past sessions, we got into a review of the fundamentals of persuasion, starting with the classics like Aristotle and Cicero, jumping forward to modern neuroscience, and concluding with our AIM model for creating a persuasive strategy. Then the group put these principles to practical use, preparing persuasive strategies for various real-world situations they face in their professional and personal lives. Some focused on how to persuade internal leadership to go along with a risky strategy, others focused on how to attract top talent in a hyper-competitive environment, and one especially creative group put together a strategy for persuading their kids to eat more vegetables—truly the biggest challenge of them all!
But that’s the beauty of these persuasive models—they apply to virtually any situation. They’re anchored in human psychology and the core principles of empathy, emotional honesty and personal conviction. And the resourceful, ingenious group in the room came up with some new and compelling persuasive strategies that they’re now applying at work (and apparently at home, too). We can’t wait to hear how they work out!
We then talked about the difference between a persuasive strategy and an actual narrative. We shared examples of how to create a high-impact narrative using our Five-Chapter Storytelling model, a universal framework inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey structure. And we offered tips for making sure the stories we tell allow us to speak from a place of personal conviction and emotional authenticity—because that’s ultimately what empowers spokespeople with executive presence.
Finally, we took a look at the latest trends in business transformation and technological innovation—and their impact on interpersonal dynamics and the human experience. We also looked at post-pandemic VC investment trends in early stage startups, as well as storytelling techniques that work especially well with VCs. When it comes to transformation, the biggest post-pandemic barriers are still a lack of talent and organizational culture. While spending on digital transformation is expected to reach $2.8 trillion in 2025, 84% of those transformation projects typically fail, creating a potential waste of about $2.35 trillion. Just imagine how much good that much money could do for the world if invested effectively! That’s why it’s so useful to examine what’s really standing in the way of change—which more often than not comes down to mindset—and focus on that instead of only focusing on technology. And we talked through some useful frameworks for breaking down the barriers to change, including our Ask + Assert technique, executive pushback framework, and other trusted advisor models.
Still, technologies such as AI and data analytics still have the potential to accelerate transformation. The market value of AI reached over $62 billion in 2022 and market growth is accelerating — 14.1% growth in 2021 and 21.3% in 2022. So long as people take a measured and well-thought-out approach to AI—one that sees past all the hype and over-promising from some vendors—it’s still one of the most potentially game-changing technologies that’s rapidly becoming mainstream. We also covered a number of other transformative innovations across multiple sectors and vectors, including some eye-opening trends in social media and our widespread addiction to our own opinions. The monetization of confirmation bias we’re seeing now rivals what we saw in the tobacco industry and more recently the opioid crisis!
Our closing topic of the day introduced recent developments in VC investment trends and storytelling techniques to the group. During the pandemic, the average revenue of early-stage startups who secured funding dropped dramatically and between 2019 to 21Q1 and 21Q2 to 21Q4. In fact, there was an ARR decrease of about 82% for seed-round companies. We also talked about how few startups exceed their revenue expectations (some estimates put at at about one in 1,000), and your job as an entrepreneur is to convince investors why you’re the 0.1% exception to the rule.
But it’s not just about you—finding the right fit is even more important. The right VCs are usually the ones who value you as much as you value them, and when you make your case for their investment in you, articulate what you’re looking for in a VC partner besides the money—operational guidance, introductions to the right channel partners or early customers, marketing counsel, etc. Make them and the value they can provide a central pillar of your storytelling strategy.
And above all, we kept coming back to this core tenet of persuasion—the one on which our consultancy was founded. When you believe in what you’re saying, and you believe that it’s genuinely useful for your audience to hear it, your persuasive impact grows exponentially. Because conviction convinces, and purpose persuades. It was an honor to present for this program again and meet so many bright and motivated learners and leaders.
It was especially rewarding to be there on the same day that my long-time colleague and very good friend Guryan Tighe presented her workshop on Fear and how to use it to your advantage, rather than allowing it to stifle change. I know we both look forward to our future partnership with Angelika, Karin and the Stockholm School of Economics.
If you would like to discuss how Rob Roy Consulting can help you boost your persuasive impact, or to explore what a similar workshop might look like for your organization, hit us up on LinkedIn or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Reynolds is the Founder and CEO of Rob Roy Consulting, Inc.