Businesses still need to come up with a narrative, and they matter more in times of uncertainty. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

COVID-19 is bringing untold damage to the global economy. With the latest warning from the IMF that the global recession will reach levels not seen since the Great Depression, it is clear the economy that emerges from this pandemic will be a fundamentally different one.

For businesses of any size, this uncertain climate is forcing pivots and serious rethinking of strategy. Given the gravity of the moment we are living in, it is easy to approach the business landscape with a fair amount of pessimism.

But that would overshadow the opportunities that exist in the market. To shift thinking and change the mindset, business leaders need to return to the power of storytelling. Over the past two decades, narratives have played an essential role in how I approach all manner of challenges. As a business model, I help our clients develop and tell their own stories. By focusing on the story, I have been able to confront the role that fear plays in business.

Failure is a natural part of a business and can enable deep growth. As the playwright Samuel Beckett put it, we need to try again, fail again, and ultimately fail better.

Storytelling is the vehicle through which we analyse and learn from the process.

Keep telling them

Now more than ever, stories are the glue that keeps people together. With much of humanity in some form of lockdown to defeat this virus, the natural communal element of our lives has vanished. Our ability to gather together, which is foundational to what makes us human, has transformed.

Yes, we can meet virtually but that does not fully replace this vital facet of our existence. This is where the power of storytelling comes into the picture.

Stories bond people and promote ideas. Storytellers connect us and enable critical reflection.

Business can enter the dialogue

For businesses looking to pivot to unlock new opportunities in this economic landscape, meaning is paramount and stories facilitate meaning. It is not about what you can bring to the marketplace but why you are in the marketplace to begin with.

I have learnt that stories happen to storytellers who think deeply about the “why”. Those who confront fear while embracing failure create resilience and unlock their own why.

Unlocking the why through stories will enable creative pivots and growth in these difficult economic conditions. As this crisis grew, I put the power of stories to the test, drawing on our experience to help clients discover and refine their narratives. With my partners at Empowering Through, we built a platform called Covid-19 Stories, which is designed to enable others to tell their stories.

It is a digital destination where people can share and connect during this turbulence. Within hours of our launch, hundreds of people from around the world shared their tales of compassion, creativity, fear, and joy related to this pandemic.

Sense of connectedness

The powerful reception to this project underscores how important narrative is in this crisis. People are striving to connect with one another in deeply meaningful ways and share their personal experiences.

This is the human response to the pandemic and it is important that businesses follow suit.

By returning to the power of the story and refining narratives concerning why businesses behave the way they do instead of what they produce, the economy will slowly begin to get back on track.

Small businesses have an extraordinarily outsized role to play in the process for we have natural bridges in the communities where we operate. When this pandemic is behind us, the economic landscape will be forever changed … but the humble power of narratives will be stronger than ever. As we unite together to defeat the virus, we are reminded of the natural pillars on which society is built.

Throughout history, storytelling has been one of those immovable pillars and we need it now more than ever.

- Danish Farhan is CEO of Xische.