The importance of storytelling, and how it can help Facebook battle disruption

Facebook Live Shopping, Gifting, and Super

Always be pitching

As I’ve written previously, startup founders are some of the very best storytellers in the world. They skillfully combine data, facts, and strategy with a memorable personal journey that’s shaped their worldview, to create something that’s equal parts provocative and persuasive. As Steve Jobs famously said:

The Horizon 2 Challenge

So what, you might ask? Even if you buy the premise that startups are better at storytelling than Facebook, who cares? Facebook is succeeding at nearly unprecedented levels so does storytelling even matter? To that question, I offer up a story.

  1. Horizon 1 is when a company focuses on its current business model and core capabilities. Think of this as maximizing profits over the next quarter or half.
  2. Horizon 2 is when a company expands its existing business into new markets or to new customers through innovation. Think of this as founding a new project that will eventually lead to profits, but only after hard work over several years.
  3. Horizon 3 is when a company creates entirely different businesses or capabilities that are based on radical disruption. Think of this as researching new technologies or seeding new markets that in a decade may (or may not) become the future of the company.
The Three Horizon Framework

Horizon 2 Storytelling

Without storytelling, companies struggle at Horizon 2 and leave themselves vulnerable to the worst kind of disruption: disruption that’s obvious. Whether it’s Microsoft with the web, or Comcast with streaming, or maybe Facebook one day with ephemeral messaging or short form video or interactive audio, the most frustrating part of these Horizon 2 disruptions — disruptions only a few years in the making — is that they were all known. The incumbents saw the disruption coming but didn’t find the opportunity meaningful enough. There were stories told about those opportunities, but the storytelling wasn’t compelling enough.

Amazon

Amazon has organized their project planning process around their now famous 6-page memos. For all major business decisions, a 6-page memo is required to be written, and decision making meetings begin with 30 minutes of silence as everyone reads through printouts of that memo instead of listening to a presentation. Why? Because it unlocks the power of storytelling.

Nike

Everyone knows that Nike is one of the most prolific and innovative external storytellers in the world. There are books, case studies, and even university courses analyzing how Nike has expertly used storytelling to market their brand and products to great success. For the past 7 consecutive years, Nike has been recognized as having the world’s most valuable apparel brand.

Airbnb

In 2012, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky read a biography on Walt Disney over his Christmas vacation and took particular note on a chapter detailing the making of the film Snow White. As the world’s first ever feature-length animated movie, Disney took extra care in the production and planned out the entire film through storyboards, a visual outline of the story that helped everyone collaborating on the project understand the filmmaker’s vision. Chesky was so inspired by the storyboard approach that he hired Pixar animator Nick Sung to produce physical storyboards for Airbnb’s customer journey (a project appropriately codenamed Snow White).

A new story

When the Packagd team joined Facebook, I wrote that the ideal work situation is when you can build things you’re passionate about, and do so in a way that makes a meaningful impact. I’m grateful that at Facebook, I got to work on projects that I love around digital commerce, but also do so at scales that matter. I hope that my next adventure will bring those two things — interest and meaning — together again, and I look forward to sharing that story with everyone soon.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Eric Feng

Eric Feng

Current: Co-founder of @cymbalxyz, Co-founder of @GoldHouseCo Ventures. Past: @Meta (via Packagd), GP at @KleinerPerkins, and CTO of @Hulu and @Flipboard.