What Pixar Can Teach Social Businesses About Storytelling

Screenshot of film “Up” from Pixar Studios

Storytelling has great value for business. It helps to drive effective communication. Why? Well, storytelling is a commonality between all cultures across the globe. The reason is that it helps get people to think about situations and issues and it brings them to life. It can communicate a vision, provide a message, demonstrate values, help to make sense of change, or even explain who you are and what you are doing there.

Social business leaders may often wonder how they can use storytelling to improve communication methods. Storytelling is nowadays seen as one of the most effective tools a social business can use, both to create meaning and to advertise the company´s brand. Stories can connect humans at a very primal and emotional level, but how to be inspired by a great idea for a good story?

Advice from writers and film studios, both of whom are good at storytelling has a role to play here. Looking at advice from writers first, Hannah Kent (2015) is a recently published author, whose novel Burial Rites has already been translated into 20 languages, and has won prizes, even though it was only published in 2014. This shows that she knows a thing or two about storytelling.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice offered is read. If people read then they become better able to spin a good yarn because they see what is good and effective and what is not. This also offers more words to your vocabulary, helping to gain a better grasp of language. If you think you can’t afford it, think again. Reading also helps provide inspiration for stories. Reading is clearly a great first step.

A really important recommendation that is also made is to cultivate empathy. Empathy is argued to be important because it helps storytellers to be able to create characters by being able to put themselves in the shoes of those characters and really understand them. The reason that is necessary is because sometimes it is useful to create characters that are very different from oneself. Empathy is argued to provide inspiration for character backgrounds and voice, among others.

Another recommendation from the writer for storytelling is to realise that writing should come from the soul. What is meant by this is that stories should have meaning to the writer. They do not have to be that person’s own story but they do need to have meaning in order to feel relevant and interesting. This also helps the storyteller to be better at putting their all into it.

Pixar Storytelling guidelines

Meanwhile, Pixar has no shortage of stories under its belt, and in 2013 Emma Coats, the Pixar Story Artist created some guidelines for telling great stories that may be of help. One is consider the audience. After all, what is interesting to you may not necessarily be of greatest interest to the audience, but grabbing the attention of the audience is of utmost importance. Another excellent recommendation is keeping it simple. Sometimes stories can become too complex with too many diversions and this can steer the audience away from the most pertinent messages. Keeping it simple avoids that from occurring.

One thing to ask perhaps when you start, and then again as you are moving through the story creation process is what is the reason for the story. This is fundamental to why it is being told, so is critical to get to the bottom of. Understanding the stakes for the character is also important, and some of the best stories are created when the odds are against the character but they overcome them to succeed. When the audience understands what will happen if the character does not succeed, they will naturally want the character to win over.

Fundamentally, understanding the essence of the story, or its bare bones and finding the best way to tell it most economically can lead to fleshing out a great story. Importantly it is suggested that no work on a story is wasted. It can always be reverted to later. Walking away for a while and letting go of it may be helpful. Understanding what stories you like and why and dissecting them to really get to the bottom of this is helpful in creating stories that others will find appealing and engaging too. Perhaps the most important of all… get it on paper. If you don’t start writing the story remains just an idea in your head that may never be shared. Writing it down starts to make storytelling a reality.

Extra resource: The 22 Golden Rules of Storytelling by Pixar:

Pixar Storytelling guidelines