At an Educators’ Summit in Singapore, Jolly explained that his experience with the company has convinced him that storytelling can be applied as a leadership tool in any organisation, for building corporate culture and business growth.
Disney, Jolly said, uses storytelling not just as a product but to instil its corporate culture on its employees.
While we may forget facts and figures the first time we hear them, a story that resonates with people will always be instantly remembered. Great stories get told and retold, he said, and can be used to teach, share best practices, and get people to understand what they should do and – equally important – what they should not do.
The story of Disney goes back some 90 years ago when Walt Disney and his brother started an animation studio in his uncle’s garage – and the stories they have told are still known around the world today. But Jolly talked about one particular event that took place behind the scenes that illustrated the Disney culture.
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It involved a family who had left a child’s favourite stuffed animal pig behind at a Disney resort and the extraordinary efforts of a park employee to find the right pig, create and document a theme park adventure for the pig to explain how it got lost, and then reunite it with its owner.
When the family was reunited with the pig, they received a photo album and a hand written note from the pig saying: “I’m sorry I got lost. I was having fun with my new friends in the magic kingdom and lost track of time.”
It’s certainly a move that will not only impact the child, but the parents as well. This is perhaps why every now and then one comes across a similar type of story.
For example, a stuffed animal named Princess Kitty had the adventure of a lifetime, when its young owner left her behind at an airport. Sonja Wieck, a triathlete, said had bought the stuffed animal at Denver International Airport for her daughter when she was three years old. As a way of keeping in touch with her daughter while travelling for competitions, Wieck took Princess Kitty on her trips around the world, sending photos along the way.
After someone turned Princess Kitty in to the airport’s lost and found staff, the social media team took her on a tour and tweeted photos of her adventure to Wieck. One photo showed Princess Kitty next to a sign that said: “Princess Kitty had a great day exploring DIA! But she’s ready to go home now!”
Similarly, a lost bunny left behind at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History in Canada had “fun adventures” – with the staff documenting the bunny’s exploits on Twitter in the hopes of finding its owner.
Jolly said that by telling that particular story, Disney is able to illustrate what it expects its employees to do – to go out and create magic for guests.
Later, in a panel discussion, Jolly explained that when Disney is looking for people to fill the “magical roles” available at the company, it doesn’t always take a look at the applicants CV.
“We hire for attitude not aptitude,” he said. “We want to make sure that the viable candidates are going to match the culture of our company.”
But he said you don’t need to work in a magic kingdom to utilise storytelling in order to nurture your corporate culture.
“How can you use stories to grab people? Great stories, like the pig story, has six specific elements,” he explained.
1) Structure: Getting from once upon a time to happily ever after;
2) Flow: How you get there, setting the scene, describing the action, and making a point;
3) Dynamic tension;
4) Characters with distinct personalities;
5) Tone that’s true to each character; and
6) Mood for each scene and story overall.
A great story can be told by anyone. To prove the point, Jolly launched into another story, this time sharing his own experience as the conductor of the Voices of Liberty – an acapella group.
One day he noticed a hearing impaired girl in the audience and he made a snap decision to change the show.
“As we began to sing the last song, we signed the lyrics,” he said. “I noticed the young girl tap her mother on the leg and say ‘you don’t have to sign for me, they’re singing for me’. That’s a story that had the six elements of storytelling.”
He then challenged people to pair up and tell each other that same story. The moral of the story is that great storytelling sparks excitement and enthusiasm and gets people to move from compliance to commitment.
By Shané Schutte
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