Steve Denning: practising what we preach?

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 28, 2011
Filed in Business storytelling

Why would one of the world’s foremost business storytelling experts say he was going to use storytelling to convey his message and then not tell a story?

Reading my email this morning I was excited to receive Steve Denning’s latest newsletter. In it he tells us about how TED has thrown open its doors and now anyone can submit a 60 second video to audition for a much lauded TED speakers spot.

Steve tells us the story of his thought process for entering and then concludes with,

My third reaction, why not use storytelling and give it a shot? If storytelling is really worth its salt, surely it should be able to communicate anything very rapidly and powerfully. Why not radical management? So I crafted my story, did my video, had fun doing it and submitted it on Monday.

Excellent, I thought. Can’t wait to see this story.

I opened the video and this is what I saw.

It’s not a story. My heart sunk. It’s a series of opinions about what makes firms delight or disappoint their customers.

A story would describe something that happened or might happen. It would have had characters and we would have had a sense of when it happened. A good story would have an element of surprise. There was no dramatic tension in this presentation. We know it’s not a story because we can’t see it happening.

Steve, why did you decide not to tell a story when storytelling is such a powerful approach? Why did you tell us you had told a story when it is patently not one?

When someone who knows so much about storytelling, and Steve obviously does, says he’s told a story and then doesn’t, it only serves to further confuse people who are trying to apply storytelling techniques. Knowing what a story looks like is the foundation skill. As one small gesture we’ve developed the to help people in building this capability. But more importantly our actions must coincide with our words.

We are now on the lookout for anyone who purports to tell a story and doesn’t because by highlighting these mismatches we might have an impact on building everyone’s narrative intelligence so we can all benefit from storytelling.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Hi Shawn,
    For some years I have stated regularly that “Practice what you Preach” is not sufficient anymore. That is why I now say “You may only Preach what you have Practiced”.
    This would prevent lots of “I think” or “We analyzed” stories that are not connected with any form of actual “feet in the mud” experience.
    I guess it would be particularly beneficial for academia, but lots and lots of consultants could do with a little change of preaching attitude too.
    Maybe that explains why I’m not blogging that frequently. Experience takes awful lots of time 🙂

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