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Building your Entrepreneurial Story

This is the second in a three-part series on entrepreneurial storytelling. Click here for the first part and check back for the final part in the months ahead


"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? When I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"


Rabbi Hillel

In part one we looked at the important role of storytelling in cooperative entrepreneurship. For us, stories are more than a retelling of a series of events and their outcome, and, through effective storytelling, we can foster the connections that can help us transform an idea into a cooperative enterprise.  Cooperative entrepreneurship invites people to ditch the traditional employment contract and to combine their skills, interests, and experiences to achieve mutual goals such as creating jobs for themselves, running a business, and increasing democracy in the workplace. Through narrative, we communicate why we are called to cooperative entrepreneurship, the values shared by the team that call us as a collective to run a worker coop, and the challenges we have faced on our journey towards a democratic workplace.

Every story will be different, as each one is a reflection of our individual lived experiences, but many share some common characteristics.

The foundation of your cooperative story

In the first part of this series, we encouraged you to pay close attention to the stories around you, what did they tell you? How did they draw you in and convince you to stay for more? Did they prompt a response or offer a new perspective? Did you notice that stories have similar structural elements? They are often crafted using just three: plot, character, and moral.

But what makes a story great, rather than simply a retelling of a series of events? We turn to the work of Dr. Marshall Ganz, to break it down. He notes that to capture our interest, the plot of the story presents to us an unexpected challenge that confronts the character; creating the conditions that awaken our curiosity. Confronted with a challenge, the character must figure out what to do; this choice leads to an outcome – sometimes successful, oftentimes not. Challenges, choices, and outcomes are the structural elements that make stories come alive.

Although the plot plays a central role, remember, stories are about people. To engage their audiences, effective storytellers help them identify with the character in the story. Emotions inform us of what we value in ourselves, in others, and in the world, and enable us to express the motivational content of our values to others. Stories draw on our emotions and show our values in action, helping us feel what matters, rather than just thinking about or telling others what matters. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.

As a storyteller, the goal is to create empathy between audience and character so that, hopefully, audiences are encouraged to think about their own challenges and choices.

Each of us has a compelling story to tell

Discovering and defining these key elements is a crucial first step to building your story. However, to create a connection between audience and character, the way in which you assemble these pieces and deliver them to your audience, matters. Your audience must be able to relate. Keep it short and not too complicated, you might lose them in the details. Refer to real events to illustrate your point — those real events make it memorable. Be humble, recognize the struggles and challenges, and know that communicating your values is far more important than portraying perfection.

Each of us can learn to tell a story that can move others to action. We each have stories of challenge, or we wouldn’t think the world needed changing. And we each have stories of hope, or we wouldn’t think we could change it. As you practice this skill, you will learn to tell a story about yourself and why you are called to cooperative entrepreneurship.

As Rabbi Hillel’s words at the top of the page remind us, to stand for yourself is a first but insufficient step. You must also build the relationships with whom you will carry out the work, and move that team to action. In the final part of this series, we’ll explore how to tell the story of the people with whom you’re building a cooperative enterprise and how you are creating change in your community. Until then, take a look at your own narrative and identify the key elements along the way. Who is the character? What drove them? And what did they achieve along the way?




Originally published March 6, 2021


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