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It’s not business, it’s personal: Why stories matter

Rocky BalboaCompanies large and small, in every industry, are recognizing the importance of telling their stories. For more and more consumers, business is no longer “just business” — it’s personal. Yet many companies struggle to tell their stories effectively. There are many ways to do so, but one of the most powerful comes from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”

Campbell studied myths around the world and discovered that almost all shared three elements: order, chaos, and resolution. According to Campbell, myths and stories start with a hero at ease and everything OK (order). Then, something disrupts this order (chaos). The hero endures trials and tribulations, eventually overcoming them to emerge triumphant (resolution).

Our most popular stories share this rhythm. “Rocky” is a perfect example. Remember the beginning of the movie? Rocky’s life wasn’t perfect but he had order and routine. Heavyweight champ Apollo Creed’s challenge threw Rocky’s world into chaos and forced him to a decision. Our hero could rise to the challenge or continue the same, old path. Rocky chose to fight, ultimately knocking down Apollo and falling in love with Adrian. The fight was a draw, but Rocky was a hero because he overcame the odds and proved himself.

Our company, like many others, underwent our own version of the hero’s journey in 2008. In entreQuest’s first six years, everything fell into place. We were enjoying steady growth, riding high on a successful acquisition and were deep in the chase of a multimillion-dollar contract.

When the recession hit, it threw us into chaos. Business from the acquisition quickly dried up. The heady contract fell through. We lost one-third of our steady clients as they hunkered down in their own crises. As if that weren’t enough, one client went belly-up, leaving us with a large chunk of uncollectible accounts receivable.

On our journey, the first six months of 2008 were dark days. We plowed ahead but things didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. Rock bottom was laying off more than half of our staff and making big changes in leadership. If this was a hero’s journey, I can tell you I sure didn’t feel like a hero. Chaos, it seemed, was everywhere.

True to Campbell’s mythology, though, that darkness held a slice of light. Eventually, we found our way toward it. Hitting bottom gave me the push and the opportunity to reconsider everything I thought I knew about our company. In the best stories, our protagonists face tough questions, and their answers determine their fate. At entreQuest, our team tackled tough questions head-on.

We asked every single client for honest feedback about our performance. I asked my employees for honest feedback. I instituted a weekly meeting with the sole purpose to make our team stronger — through training, collaborating, brainstorming, volunteering, you name it.

Collectively, these strategies helped us revive and thrive. We overcame that chaos and restored order. We strengthened existing client relationships and built new ones. Internally, our team grew stronger, too. Knowing what we had been through, we felt like heroes indeed.

Great stories like this one and “Rocky” give us something to root for. We can all identify with Rocky, the good guy who fights hard to become his best self. Haven’t we all faced times when we felt beaten down, insecure, unsure we had what it took to reach the next level?

Stories are just as important in business. A good story answers two questions. First, why does the company care? Second, why should the customer care? A good story can inspire your customers and your employees just like “Rocky” has inspired millions of moviegoers.

We all know what it feels like to want something so badly we will do anything to achieve it. In your company, who are your heroes and what are they fighting for?