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Finding the Creative Edge

Strenghten your product as well as employee relations with storytelling techniques from MothShops.

Let me tell you a story about Anycompany: This forlorn business was a stuck in a monotone world, held fast by high-tech gadgets and cold, hard marketing.

Its slogan read "real products for real people," but valued clientele and investors saw through the facade. They smelled the marketing gimmicks, scoffed at the uninspired product line and turned a deaf ear to the manufactured slogans.

"I am not connecting!" Anycompany cried. "I want out of this matrix!"

Along came a group of people dedicated to providing what computer wizardry and corporate governance alone cannot give. In a world that communicates in 20-second sound bites, this group teaches companies how to reconnect to clients and how to operate in real time.

Now that Anycompany took the red pill of reality, so to speak, it draws in customers by the thousands with its rediscovered customer pull.

Drawn to the Flame

These ambassadors of humanity are none other than

The Moth, a nonprofit storytelling organization founded in New York City in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green.

The Moth began as a group of people in a living room looking for an alternative to mind-numbing cocktail conversation. It soon blossomed into a conglomeration of storytellers who put on sold-out shows featuring author Frank McCourt, comedian Margaret Cho and DMC of the musical group Run-DMC.

In 2003, companies began coming to The Moth asking for inspiration, and

MothShops, The Moth's corporate training arm, was founded.

Design Continuum in Boston was its first client, and from there the phone kept ringing, with


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Saatchi & Saatchi and others on the line.

Tales for Sales

But why are companies seeking out storytellers?

Lea Thau, executive and creative director at The Moth and founder of MothShops, says ignoring your mother's childhood advice not to tell tales can be the best thing for a company's creative edge.

Primarily, Thau says, storytelling methods help companies gain clients' trust and grab their attention in a way that other methods can't. Telling a story forces the tellers to connect, face to face, with their subjects, who are often glossed over or treated more like statistics in typical client-company relationships.


Storytelling modifies this dynamic of seller and buyer to storyteller and listener. We can establish confidence with those that are listening," explains Thau.

In an increasingly automated world, people are seeking the genuine and also look for that in a company, she says.

"The more sophisticated communication gadgets we have and the more sophisticated marketing gets, the more important it is for us to get back to something that is real," says Thau. "If we rely on

technology to provide the whole structure for us, then it all becomes monotone and nothing really stands out."

To view Annika Mengisen's video take of today's Small Business segment, click here.

Tailored to each company's individual needs, MothShops take some of the key principles of storytelling such as conflict, arc (theme) and stakes, and teach tellers how to use these tools to bring out the essence of a product to create a compelling narrative or advance a new concept.

Companies will stand out when they are backed by human creativity because they can't fake it, Thau continues. When these methods are used, "you have to do the work of actually digging into the story and exploring your subject."

Community vs. Cog

It's a no-brainer -- the better your employees work together, the better your company's product.

In addition to product development, businesses use MothShops in place of motivational speakers for sessions that take team-building to a whole new level.

"When people share something personal, they receive the support of the group 100%," says Thau.

The Moth's team-building sessions focus on experiencing a different side of people you work with every day but may never really have known beyond their titles.

James Braly is a MothShop veteran whose autobiograhpy

Life in a Marital Institution

is due to come out from Algonquin Books this year. He tells his corporate clients, "To the degree that we understand each other we're a better team. ... So who are you?"

That's where stories come in. "Within an hour, you go from people who just knew each other on the job to human beings who have a personality that underlies their job," says Braly.

A former corporate speech writer, Braly knows what makes companies tick. "One of the animating energies in a corporation is conformity: Everyone is in Dockers and stretch-waist pants."

He says that the corporate ideal of thinking outside the box is often stifled. "Executives conform by not revealing," he says.

Through telling each other stories, receiving coaching from Braly and Thau, and eventually voting on the best storyteller in the room, Braly says employees break though this often-damaging conformity.

"An hour later, you've kind of humanized the group," he says. "In a big corporation where everyone feels replaceable... you

now have almost a community."

Happily Ever After

Braly has seen corporations hire many types of consultants, always rooting around for something that will increase productivity but rarely finding something actually unique. "Taking on The Moth is a creative step on the part of the person who hires The Moth," he says.

MothShops advertises only by word of mouth, and it is swamped with requests.

Ohio Edit has used The Moth at two events for clients and friends at its Ohio office in what executive producer Erica Thompson describes as a fun and relaxed atmosphere for getting to know their clients better.

"That was cool!" rave employees of Design Continuum. (Try getting that response out of another "Ten Steps of Team Building" session.)

"While planning our training programs for 2003 ... traditional corporate training ... couldn't be further away from what we wanted," says Freda King, vice president of culture and talent at Design Continuum.

The company's experience with MothShops? "Exhilarating. Fun. Critical. Effective," says King. "Did I mention fun?

"It helped us think more critically about the way we tell stories about both Continuum and ourselves," she continues. "They were so different from what we had seen. It's no surprise The Moth has been so successful."

Clients agree that for gaining that creative edge, MothShops is the authority -- end of story.