5 Storytelling Tips… straight from Uber

The best stories are straight from the headlines…
…and the front page story of every business and technology section last week has been the cultural crisis at Uber.
This cultural crisis includes allegations of sexual harassment, which was included in a damning report published by a former U.S. Attorney General, and Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick announcing an indefinite leave of absence … just to name a few.
One might add, you can’t make this stuff up.
I personally believe that every crisis is an opportunity to learn, grow, and transform as an individual, and the same holds true for a company or organization at large.
My first exposure to Uber was in 2012 at Book Expo America in New York City. I was there with about a dozen clients who were signing their books, and I happened across an Uber booth where promotional models dressed in black were handing out $10 credits to use the luxury car service. Ever since then, I have been a loyal customer, using the car service for business and personal travel. In 2016, my tune changed a bit when I heard from a VC (venture capitalist) close to Uber that the original intent of the car service company was for guys to “get drunk girls home from the bar.”
I thought, With the original intention being so unsavory, no wonder they are having the cultural crisis they are having today.
Some may think the Uber situation can’t get worse in terms of the breakdown or lack of leadership and company culture crisis that has rippled out into the customer realm with allegations of sexual assault and rape of a woman by her Uber driver in India in 2014.
For every business in crisis or in need of reputation management, sharing your own personal story, as a business owner or leader, and having members of your team share their personal story and perspective can be a powerful tool in turning the tides from repudiation to redemption.
With that, I’m sharing the 5 Storytelling Tips to apply to your life and business to ensure the lessons we have recently learned from Uber are not in vain.

  1. Rewrite your story. As just mentioned, we are the authors of our story and rewriting the story is a powerful tool to turn the tides. Remember, stories aren’t stagnant; they are dynamic and can be rewritten. Just because you had a misstep in your life or career, that story doesn’t have to be branded to you indefinitely. Instead, it’s important to go back over your story with humility, learn the lessons, and rewrite that story, with vulnerability, so others can hear your thoughts and perspective. A huge opportunity awaits Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick. He gets to rewrite his story.
  2. Every story needs the 5 Cs. Every story needs circumstance, curiosity, characters, conversations, and conflict. Obviously, the Uber situation has presented a unique circumstance with plenty of conflict. Many technology companies are thankful that this circumstance is not happening to them, and they are watching the conflict as it unfolds daily. People, like myself, are curious about what is going to happen next. Will Uber’s CEO come back and rewrite the story? Will he be fired? Will he be forgiven and redeemed? Let’s not forget the cast of characters, like Arianna Huffington, championing in a new empathetic and inclusive leadership, and the original whistleblower Susan Fowler, who represents courage and strength. Conversations are played out daily from the cast of characters, in addition to the voices of the media and those close to the story.
  3. People want to hear about your failures. This is good news! People are connected more to our failures than our successes. So don’t be dismayed by your follies and failures. Of course, as a leader you want to be mindful with your words and actions, but you are human, flawed, and evolving. If you screw up, shine a light on it, share your story, the depths, and the lessons learned. A business leader should easily take responsibility, accept what has happened, and move forward with a powerful stand, and sharing your story is part of that stand.
  4. Document the story as it unfolds. Don’t stay silent as the story unfolds, document your side of the story as it happens. Maybe you will one day write a book about the 5 Cs, but in the meantime, share some of the lessons learned. A perfect example in the Uber case study is Bozoma Saint John, the new Chief Brand Officer of Uber. Bozoma is sharing her story on Instagram and connecting emotionally with her audience. This is already creating good PR for Uber.
  5. Connect emotionally with your audience. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has failed to do this, but the door is still open. Just as Arianna Huffington, Bozoma Saint John, and Susan Fowler are sharing their story and connecting with their audience, Travis has an opportunity to do this, as well. My request is that we collectively hold space that he takes a stand and steps up as a leader by connecting with us.

Finally, if you can tell a story, you can write a book…
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