Storycraft: the importance of narrative and narrative skills in business

Ground breaking research reveals how prominent business leaders in the United Kingdom see ‘narrative’ as an integral part of doing business. Based on extensive interviews with business leaders, mostly CEOs and Chairs, from nearly a third of FTSE100 companies, the study fills a gap in our understanding of narrative in business, and highlights how skills associated with Arts and Humanities subjects are valued and sought out in business contexts.

Undertaken by researchers at the Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE), at the University of Oxford and funded by the UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the report (Storycraft: the importance of narrative and narrative skills in business) published this week, reveals how prominent business leaders in the United Kingdom see narrative as an integral part of doing business, the skills they associate with narrative, and how they think these skills are best developed.

Business leaders are clear that narrative is fundamental in business, from devising and communicating the company’s strategy to developing advertising material or even presenting financial reports. Narrative in business is about persuading another person to embrace an idea and act on it. However, narrative is also essential for a business to communicate its purpose and values – its ‘grand narrative’ – and to engage with its growing and increasingly diverse set of stakeholders.

Business leaders identified a specific set of ‘narrative skills’ which are fundamental and indispensable in business in the twenty-first century. The ability to devise, craft, and deliver a successful narrative is not only a pre-requisite for any CEO or senior executive, but is also increasingly becoming necessary for employees in any organisation at all levels. Participants emphasised that the combination of communication skills, empathy, analytical and synthesis skills, creativity, and, increasingly, a broad understanding of digital means of communication all formed this narrative skill-set.

Arts and Humanities subjects do well at imparting these skills, as other research has confirmed (see the British Academy’s recent report, for example), these skills are particularly associated with Arts and Humanities subjects. So business leaders emphasised the importance of having Arts and Humanities graduates in their companies, although many also highlighted that effective higher education in STEM subjects can also help students to develop narrative skills.

Dr James Robson, Deputy Director of SKOPE and co-Principal Investigator on the project comments:

“This research project found that business leaders value and seek out individuals with narrative skills at all levels in their companies. The report shows how Arts and Humanities subjects are helping students to develop skills that are needed in the labour market and that many of the skills associated with Arts and Humanities degrees are, in fact, essential to all business activities.”

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of ITV, comments:

“It’s so easy to think the art of storytelling only matters for films and novels. In this new report, some of the UK’s most senior business leaders are clear that narrative skills are fundamental to business too. At a time when the government is thinking hard about the skills base necessary to enable the UK economy to bounce back post-Covid, this message should not go unheard. Arts and humanities skills are vital for the world of work.”

Download a short summary of the report: Storycraft: the importance of narrative and narrative skills in business – short summary

Download the full report: Storycraft: the importance of narrative and narrative skills in business

 

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Dr James Robson (University of Oxford)

Dr Ben Holgate (Queen Mary University of London)

Dr Ashmita Randhawa (University of Oxford)

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