The Importance of Story

By November 16, 2013Inspiration

I don’t know if it is just the fact I am getting older or social media has opened up more channels, but I love a good story. One day I started to think about some of my purchases over the past few years and the thought hit me:  Many of my purchases are based on a good story.

My first venture into this storied path was my pair of TOMS shoes. I heard Blake Mycoskie speak at a Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit and loved his energy and one-for-one business model. For every pair of shoes sold, another pair is given to someone who likely never owned a pair. A great story, filled with higher purpose and a solid social cause. From here, I even organized our office to participate in their One Day Without Shoes. Walking across our parking lot and into the local burger joint with no shoes produced some funny looks. We all just smiled. I love a good story.

My next venture into the one-for-one model was Warby Parker. I saw their story on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. Their spirited business model of buying glasses easily on the web was intriguing, especially since it was coupled with giving someone a pair of glasses who was in need and without the means to get them. Just imagine the clarity gained by someone. After watching the show, I sent a tweet congratulating them on a great story and effort. Guess what? They responded. So they have a good story and they listen. I wear my Warby Parker sunglasses with pride.

And then last year I read about Shinola. In Detroit, they build watches, bikes, and other goods. Creating good manufacturing jobs in the United States is a noble purpose, although some may say it is just a marketing move. In the end, there are new jobs created in an area needing hope. Jobs create hope and manufacturing jobs create much more than just hope. I now wear my Shinola watch with a sense of place. I am a pushover for a good story.

And then on to my Happy Socks. In my early career days, I wore a suit and tie every day. The tie selection was an art. Ties became a form of expression. Unlike today’s move toward tattoos, at the end of the day, I could take my tie off and wear a different one tomorrow. However, today, I rarely wear a tie. Now I wear colorful socks. Creative or not, wearing odd socks is fun. And Happy Socks were designed to, well, make people happy. The idea was sparked on a cloudy day in Sweden. A spurt of color always builds a better story.

Importance of Story

Engaging Story

Story is important. Donald Miller built a career on helping people develop their personal storylines. Yet, how many of us actually have defined a good plot. And, if we have, how many are living their story out loud right now? Another way to look at it is this: As leaders, how many would join us in our efforts because of our engaging story?

Within a story, there are many characters – good and bad. Our story includes how we deal with challenging people, bring out the best in all, and embrace the diverse talent each individual brings.

Giving Story

One other interesting point about these four company examples. Each one has a giving component. For TOMS, they give shoes to people who likely never had shoes. For Warby Parker, the same approach but with glasses. For Shinola, they are giving an opportunity to work in a tough economic place. For Happy Socks, they give smiles. Each give.

Our leadership and life story needs a giving component. We need to answer two questions:  What are we giving to another, especially in the way we lead? How important of a role do we have for giving in our story?

The Importance of Story

Highlighting the importance of story through companies is admittedly odd. There are no affiliate links here and no personal benefit. The point is this shows our tendency to gravitate toward a good story, whether we realize at first or not. What happened in San Francisco yesterday with Batkid and Make-A-Wish Foundation proves how people around the world will join in a good, heartfelt story.

Our time is short and we have a choice. Do we want to just live a short story or do we want to develop a longer, more compelling, unfolding story?

Call it brand – personal or product. Call it a promise to deliver. Call it positioning or being unique. I’ll call it a story. My story isn’t perfect and may not be compelling… yet. But I am living it, telling it, and working like everything to make it as meaningful as possible.

How about you? What is your story? Have you defined your storyline? Are you living it now?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • The Importance of Story | Not Unmindful | Scoop.it says:

    […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • […] Merz, whose articles often feature in the Friday Roundup, served up a brilliant post unpacking the importance of story. In it, he asks what type of story you want to live – short, shallow and soon forgotten, or a […]

  • The Importance of Story | Creativity&innova... says:

    […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • english speakers wanted says:

    enjoy your post. thanks for your meaningful work.

  • Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Love this post. I’m such a believer in strategic storytelling. Here’s my story. http://letsgrowleaders.com/2012/09/20/strategic-storytelling/

    • Jon M says:

      A great example of the power of storytelling, Karin. Excellent work in putting this into practice and developing a storytelling leadership mindset. Thanks! Jon

  • There truly is power to story, Jon. And we all have our own, which unfolds over the course of our lives. When we’re young, our stories were shaped by adults in our lives. In our adult lives, if we spend time truly getting to know ourselves and define who we want to become, then we begin to compose the rest of our story in a more authentic way. The more conscious we are of our thoughts and beliefs, the more we continue to own our story and how it continues to unfold. Thanks for starting this interesting reflection, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Alice. It is interesting how we become more conscious of our story and it elements as we get older. I know it is part of maturity but it would be wonderful if we would realize this when we are younger! The conscious element is essential. Maybe this is how introducing mindfulness into schools will help more… Thanks again! Jon

  • […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • Ivan Nelson says:

    Jon, thanks for a great personal narrative about the importance of Story in so many aspects of our lives including business! I too am convinced that great Story is what keeps great brands top of mind.

    I look forward t your next great post!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Ivan, for your comment and feedback. In both business and personal life, we need to ensure we enliven our story with good works. Thanks for jumping in! Join

  • Kyle O'Brien says:

    Great post, Jon! I really like Warby Parker’s mission statement. They do a terrific job across the board, whether it’s their charitable efforts or the way they handle the customer side of things.

  • […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • Tanvi Gautam says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post. I am currently working on a blog on what is needed to shift one’s story and the concept of a larger unfolding story was very interesting to me.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Tanvi. Appreciate your comments and your work. Look forward to reading your post on shifting our story. Appreciate it! Jon

    • Christy Johnson says:

      Tanvi, this sounds delicious. The stories we live combined with the stories we tell ourselves, well, that’s rich material right there.

  • […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • […] The Importance of Story by Jon Mertz. Key quote: “Our leadership and life story needs a giving component. We need to answer two questions: What are we giving to another, especially in the way we lead? How important of a role do we have for giving in our story?” […]

  • Samantha Hall says:

    Great post Jon!

    For me, ‘story’ is what separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of where I like to spend time. Unless someone is willing to pour a little real life flesh and blood into their work and words, it’s just lifeless data contributing to info overload, especially over the internet.

    Perhaps our love for stories hearkens back to the days of storytelling around campfires. To the ancient past when heritage, culture, tradition, and history was passed on from one generation to the next thru story, word of mouth and memory before people had means to write it down and keep accurate records. Story appeals to our imaginations and emotions. It can touch both our fears and our hearts. A good story can inspire us to act.

    I love a good story. Especially if it’s true! : )

    • Jon M says:

      Samantha, Thanks for your insights and thoughts. Great stuff! We did have a culture of storytelling and maybe it is being revived somewhat through social media and blogs. Emotions of story can resonate on so many levels and this is why we embrace them. If a story can inspire someone to take action, then it is a story well-told. Thanks so much for all your great points. Jon

  • […] Through social media or just more awareness, we gravitate toward good stories. The importance of story grows in how we lead and live.  […]

  • Lalita says:

    Jon, I relate to the Importance of Story. I love stories that are engaging, meaningful, because it helps me remember life lessons and empathize.

    I use stories in my workshops, and presentations and it has been well received so far. I use stories whilst writing my blogs and these are my stories or stories of people I know.

    My personal story is evolving each day and yes life has a lot to offer and teach.

    Thank you for bringing such a lively topic further to life.

    Good Post and I enjoyed reading it.

    • Jon M says:

      Appreicate it, Lalita. Story is so important to understand as it relates to how we lead and live. We also need to ensure we are including the right characters in our story and embracing diversity of insight and perspective. Thank so much for all you do. Enjoyed yesterday’s #peopleskills chat you co-hosted with Kate Nasser! Jon

  • Christy Johnson says:

    Jon, I love your post on story and all your great examples! A friend recently returned Seth Godin’s book All Marketers Tell Stories (formerly titled All Marketers Are Liars) so I’m intrigued yet again by story.

    Like Alli, my personal story continues to evolve. I spent decades in the corporate world as a chemical engineer, manifested healing abilities abruptly, quit my cushy yet miserable living a few years later after struggling to give myself permission, and now am the protagonist of a story co-authored by forces much larger than I. It’s a story I never want to put down, I’m always eager for the next chapter!

    • Jon M says:

      What a great place to be in your story, Christy! Although it sounds like a lot of challenges got you to this point, you have made it through to a better place… something good stories tend to do. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and for offering a book for us to read as well. Appreciate it! Jon

    • Tanvi Gautam says:

      You have an amazing story right there Christy. I love what you said about giving yourself permission. Sometimes how we tell our story is able to convey so many things about how we created the story we want to live.

      • Christy Johnson says:

        Thanks Tanvi. My story continues to astonish me as I live it! I joke that when you “ask the universe for a change,” you might want to be a bit more specific than I was. Healing wasn’t something I considered or imagined for myself. Then again I guess it’s good I wasn’t specific considering how much I love what I do! 🙂

        You’re so right about the storytelling being such a key element to the story itself. Thanks for this reminder and for your comment.

  • Alli Polin says:

    I too LOVE a good story – I’m drawn in and want to be a part of it especially when my purchase can make a difference that matters. In college, I also starting to tune into companies that had a story that did not sit will with my personal values. They too were giving back in different ways yet I made a conscious choice to say “no” while I’m sure others were inspired to become brand loyalists.

    My personal story is also unfolding. Since starting down the corporate path in the early 1990’s I never imagined being where I am today. I finally let go (and am still letting go) of what I thought my story needed to be and instead decided to embrace adventure (which sometimes is awesome and sometimes stinks). My story is clearly still being written.

    Thanks, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Alli, Thank you for sharing your experiences and thought…. for sharing a part of your story. Your story comes through in your writing, insights, and sense of leadership, place, and a dash of humor. I am grateful for all that you do and look forward to continuing to learn from your unfolding story. Thanks! Jon

    • Tanvi Gautam says:

      Alli, love the way you have ended your comment 🙂

  • Wayne McEvilly says:

    Jon – Yes to your story post. and to your question: “Our time is short and we have a choice. Do we want to just live a short story or do we want to develop a longer, more compelling, unfolding story?” It is definitely the unfolding story that holds my interest, magnetizes my attention, and feeds my energy. Your post did these things Thanks. Wayne

    • Jon M says:

      Wayne, Thank you so much for your comment. Although I don’t know the depth of your story, what I do know is such a good one. Your Bach to School initiative and other work is inspiring and really puts higher aspirations in others. So grateful for your work in your story, Wayne! All the best, and thank you. Jon

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