Andreessen Horowitz recently invested 20 million into Foursquare, further solidifying my belief that location is the horizon any business should be riding towards and just to further the western analogy, galloping their horses like mad to get there before their competitors. But I don’t want to talk about location today; I want to talk about strategy as story, story as strategy. I have been singing this tune for a long time, and it was with tremendous pleasure that I read on Ben Horowitz’s blog (partner in Andreesen Horowitz) his belief that in “good companies, the story and the strategy are the same thing“. Cue balloons, trumpets, marching band, confetti. Because I truly feel this summarizes what is at the heart of what I do, and what I believe in. And something I often have a hard time convincing people in positions of power to buy into.
In his post, Ben talks about storytelling in relation to how he evaluates CEO’s. I like the fact that he doesn’t pin it all on the CEO to be the creator of the story, but that the CEO be responsible for creating the necessary architecture within the company to ensure that the company can clearly understand and tell its story.
A company’s story is the heart of the company. A company that doesn’t know its story is kind of like a sailboat without sails–the boat is floating yes, but not sailing. A CEO should be the one who hoists those sails, and sets the direction so everyone–including staff, vendors, customers, and media–are clear where they are sailing and why.
As Ben succinctly states it: “A company without a story is a usually a company without a strategy.”
For storytelling to be effective, not only is this kind of plugged-in leadership required, but the human resource managers within the company have to get behind fostering a democracy where employees can have the freedom to act, freedom to make decisions, and the freedom to engage with customers in meaningful ways, to tell the story of the company in the context of their experience. It is one thing to find your message, to know your story; it is another to tell it. Much of the time, I see staff who want to be a part of the context of the company story but don’t have the freedom to. They feel afraid to engage on social media platforms because it isn’t in their role profile or job description. So to be effective, from a grass roots level, the company has to provide empowerment to staff to participate in the story and be proud of this contribution because it is linked to the vision, to that distant horizon I was talking about earlier.
Content that is created by staff is storytelling that has a resonance to it that rings true. Authentic.
So, embrace your story, find your strategy. A strategy written without story is something no one is ever going to tell or remember.