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What story structure and project management have in common (no, really)

Nick Parker looks at why mastering the nuts and bolts of story structure is as important a business skill as project management.

I was watching Esso’s Sophie’s Story the other day. It’s a fine example of a ‘brand story’ advertising: beautifully shot, with the lightest of touches on the product placement – and just a bit dull. Because it’s missing some key elements that, you know, make a story a story.

Which made me think, dammit brand and marketing folk, we need to get better at talking about stories.

I don’t mean that we need to be better at evangelising about the power of stories. At the last count, there were only 137 people left on the entire planet who hadn’t heard that brands that harness the power of storytelling are perceived as smarter, sexier and as having better teeth. No, I mean we need to get better at talking about the nuts and bolts of how stories work, better at helping our clients (and perhaps ourselves) be ‘fluent in story’. If we don’t, YouTube might collapse under the weight of boring narratives.

And it should be totally do-able. If you think, most of us have become fluent in the language of project management: I know my SWOT analysis from my Gantt chart, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving a meeting without assigning actions and agreeing next steps. Once, I didn’t know these terms. Now, they’re just part of how I talk about getting things done.

If we could all speak as fluently about, say, a story’s need for forces of antagonism, or where a story’s turning points are, the same would be true of stories – we’d have a shared language to help ourselves and our clients work out what our stories need.

So let’s start talking more explicitly about how stories work. If project managers can get us all talking their language, we can get business fluent in Story.

Which might mean fewer dull stories. And then, of course, we would all live happily ever after.

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