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Motivate your teams through the power of story

Here StrategyStory's Professor Donald MacLean explains why story is the key to driving engagement and action.

So often, we rely on logic alone to bring our teams along with ideas, changes and development, but how do your people really feel about your strategy? While logic might convince the mind, it will rarely capture the heart and it’s the latter that drives us to action in a meaningful way. Here StrategyStory’s Professor Donald MacLean explains why story is the key to driving engagement and action.


Hi everyone, what made you look at this? Curiosity? Boredom? Interest?

Certainly not an instruction – there was none. Neither was it a logical imperative.

So, what is it that makes people take voluntary action? The kind of productive, positive, enthusiastic action upon which every successful strategy now depends?

The answer is as simple as it is inconvenient: feeling.

Curiosity, boredom or interest are not purely intellectual activities – they are feelings. You can feel curious or bored. Indeed, increasingly, it’s doubtful that we, as human beings, are ever moved to action by logic alone. It takes much more than that.

Donald hosting a StrategyStory ceilidh event
Donald hosting a StrategyStory ceilidh event

For a long time, ‘Strategyland’ has overlooked what neuro and behavioural sciences major on: that human faculties such as emotions, sensations, intuitions and imaginings are crucial in driving people to action. So, essentially, if you want a strategy to work – you have to get people feeling. Get them caring about it. Logic on it’s own just won’t deliver in many cases, which is a major reason why three quarters of strategies don’t work.

Isn’t it funny, (by the way) how I invoke science to lend weight to my claims. Funny, because if there’s any truth in it, you won’t need science to convince you. You’ll just know.

In our view, creatives of various types – artists, writers, designers, storytellers – constitute a large group of people who have ‘just known’ about the power of feeling. Power to stop us in our tracks, challenge our views, motivate us to act and, in some cases, even waken us up to something new.


“Stop us in our tracks, change our views, motivate us to act and, in some cases, even waken us up to something new”

That’s why StrategyStory exists.

The old ways are running out of steam. Waken up.

The older ways are waking us up – to newer ways.

An ancient art for our modern world. Storytelling.

Storytelling is the way to keep the strategy alive


“The bottom line is: it doesn’t matter how good your facts, data, figures, information, how good your powerpoint deck is – what will ultimately win and break through is actually the underlying emotion…

…what do you want them to feel?”

Adam Gee, BAFTA winning commissioning editor/producer

Adam Gee, BAFTA-winning commissioning editor/producer
Adam Gee, BAFTA-winning commissioning editor/producer

Friend and member of StrategyStory’s GameChanger community, Adam Gee summed this up so well at a recent panel we hosted at the Strategic Management Society’s annual conference. Adam is a BAFTA winning commissioning editor/producer with an outstanding CV.

He shared much wisdom from the world of storytelling – including how the simple act of storytelling around (as opposed to just reporting on) a particular issue increases impact by several orders of magnitude.

What had most impact on us – and makes us feel that we are on the right track with our work – was his views on the questions to ask ourselves as we develop strategy together:

  1. How would you like people to feel?
  2. What would you like them to think?
  3. What would you like them to do?

Three really important questions to think about before we do any communication activity. And the missing ingredient to help drive people to action that they believe in? Storytelling.

Storytelling is the key to reaching both hearts and minds.

You can hear Adam here:

Putting peoples' stories at the heart of development
Putting peoples’ stories at the heart of development

So, tell stories that strike a chord, resonate, command attention. Stories of success, of the people in your organisation, of what has worked, what hasn’t worked. Be honest, be authentic. Hear their stories, give them an opportunity to tell their stories. Work together, talk together, listen together.  Share and co-create to stimulate feeling and buy-in. Help your people create the story with you – engage their hearts as well as their minds and you will be on the track to creating a winning strategy.

And, ultimately, you will make your people feel good. It is hard to put a price on that.

So, think about it. Or rather, don’t:

Feel it!


Liked this? You can read more from Donald in another post here: Strategy, strategists and the end of our world

About Donald

As well as co-founding StrategyStory, Professor Donald MacLean works at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Donald’s internationally published, ground-breaking research on strategy is used by business and academics across the world. His book has been described as ‘genius’ and ‘tour de force’ by leading international scholars. He has held appointments such as Chair of the board of SAMS Research Services Ltd., Oban as a University town and the Highlands and Islands strategy lead for the Institute of Directors. You can meet Donald here.


About StrategyStory

StrategyStory supports businesses and communities to develop strategies that work. This means strategy as collective action rather than a dusty document. We deliver through partnership programmes, online learning, workshops, seminars and public speaking. We also deliver lectures, talks and sessions on strategy and storytelling at private and public events, and host events, workshops and training in Strategy, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Storytelling in our new studio in the Inverness Creative Academy.

If you are interested in finding out more please get in touch: hello@strategystory.co.uk


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