The Power of Storytelling in Cooperative Entrepreneurship
This is the first in a three-part series on entrepreneurial storytelling. Stay tuned for parts II and III in the months ahead.
"Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories."
Alan Kay, Hewlett-Packard executive and co-founder of Xerox PARC
Whether it’s ancient rock paintings in the remote Amazon or the latest big-screen blockbuster, humans have relied on storytelling to engage, to share emotions, and to relate personal experiences. It’s been a tool to communicate shared values and explore common interests within our societies. On this journey of telling stories, one of the most important that cooperative entrepreneurs learn to tell is their entrepreneurial story. Learning to communicate to their audience the forces that drive them, the values that guide their entrepreneurial spirit, the challenges they have faced, and the choices that helped overcome them, will have a direct impact on their entrepreneurial success. As the cooperative entrepreneur begins to build a case for a new cooperative enterprise and look for interested parties and potential investors, effectively communicating their pitch and the impact that their product or service will have on the average person is part of their role as a cooperative entrepreneur. Great storytellers learn to transform a pitch into a captivating journey that invites their audiences to join them.
If telling stories can have such a major impact on entrepreneurial success, what do we mean by story? After all, we’re all well acquainted with stories; over the years we’ve heard, read, and told each other stories about our wildest adventures, our biggest challenges, and our proudest moments. For us, stories are much more than a sequence of events that leads to an outcome. When done effectively, telling stories offers an opportunity to develop a connection with our protagonist, their purpose, and the values that drive them forward. It may be a challenge to write at first but as with any entrepreneurial skill, through practice, and coaching, the entrepreneurial story becomes a powerful tool that cooperative entrepreneurs learn to leverage as it will prove invaluable time after time.
Fostering Connection through Narrative
Between finding investors, gathering interest for the product or service, sourcing a network of business partners, and building a team to execute the plan, the early success of the cooperative enterprise relies heavily on the strength of the relationships the cooperative entrepreneur can foster. If leadership is a practice based on accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty, cooperative entrepreneurship is an avenue for cooperative leaders to join forces and resources to create the change they seek. To start their worker coop, members combine their skills, interests, and experiences to achieve mutual goals such as creating jobs for themselves, running a business, and increasing democracy at work. The experience of taking ownership over one’s workplace makes cooperative entrepreneurship a commitment towards, and a true passion for, a greater purpose. It means an undying commitment to serving an unmet need within the communities in which we live. Becoming a cooperative entrepreneur requires that you use creativity to develop ideas, and execute strategies intended to change the world.
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"Rabbi Hillel
Entrepreneurial storytelling is rooted in learning to express shared values as public narrative, highlighting our sources of inspiration, and it provides an opportunity for us to engage with each other as a necessary pre-condition for changing the world. Cooperative entrepreneurship today is an alternative that has the potential to create a positive impact on society; this will undoubtedly require cooperative entrepreneurs to seek out supporters, worker-owners, and investors. Whether time or money, an investment in your cooperative enterprise goes beyond a material exchange, it is also an investment, at least in part, in the entrepreneurial story—cooperative enterprises aren’t just snapshots in time, they are positioned within a narrative. Even a very early-stage cooperative enterprise can win supporters if their narrative illustrates a hopeful outcome that they want to participate in. Once the cooperative entrepreneur learns to convincingly deliver a compelling narrative, they soon realize that entrepreneurial storytelling is able to persuade stakeholders in a way that growth charts cannot.
Write Your Own Story
Each of us can learn to tell a story that can move others to action. We all live rich, complex lives with many challenges, choices, and outcomes of both failure and success. On your journey towards a more democratic workplace, learning to share your entrepreneurial story is key to unlocking the support of your community while fueling your personal purpose and passion. There will undoubtedly be challenges, as failure, conflict, and obstacles are often inevitable in building a cooperative enterprise, and your public narrative is a good way to remember why you began. Your story will be the one thing that you return to over the years to guide you and focus your efforts in the right direction. In this sense, entrepreneurial stories provide a framework to help you understand where you’ve been, where you’re going, and most importantly, why you’re on the journey in the first place. You can use your story—your personal quest—to help you make decisions and discern future direction.
We’re all natural storytellers. We’re “hard-wired” for it. Learning to tell good stories isn’t as complicated as it may seem, it requires practice and coaching. In the following parts of this series, we’ll go through the steps to build and test your entrepreneurial story. Until then, keep an eye out for the stories around you. How do they pique your curiosity? What actions and behaviors do they encourage?
Originally published Dec. 19, 2020