The NYTimes Magazine recently reported on a powerful connection between family narratives and happiness. The research showed that the healthiest and happiest families also had a compelling story that everyone in the family knew, from kids to grandparents. Their story bound the family together and buffered them against temporary threats to the family unit. I believe this is true in business as well. The healthiest organizations are often the ones with a powerful corporate narrative - a story that can be told by everyone in the organization, from the intern to the CEO. Each time it is told, it spreads understanding and ownership.
So often in growing a business, the emphasis is on the future: what's next. Not a bad thing. But this research points to an opportunity many businesses neglect. A strong corporate narrative can be useful in numerous ways: it communicates shared values and establishes context for new employees, it builds language that will flow across the organization and out into the world (i.e. marketing). Marketing starts with your employees knowing and telling your company's story to one another and the world. The rest is essentially window dressing.
(Related: with this thinking in mind we commissioned recently launched sister-company Brain Twins to paint a mural in our new building that tells our story. That image is at the top of this blog and can be seen in all its glory if you want to stop by the office sometime for a tour.)
Another interesting finding is that the most effective narrative is one that contains triumphs and failures. I think in a business context this type of narrative can encourage healthy, informed risk taking. If employees know that others have taken risks before them and not been cut down, it encourages them to do the same.
However, businesses are not families. They are very different beasts in many ways, right? People come and go in a business but not as much in families. But there are many parallels, and this research speaks to the effectiveness of bonding individuals together around a common narrative. So my question to you is: what is your company's story?