Stories under the surface

Rupert Cornford explores why some people are reluctant to share their stories, and why we need to encourage them to come forward, for the benefit of everyone

I emailed someone recently who runs a successful business. After working with him last year, doing some writing, I came away thinking company culture was important: there were books on the shelf, a mind open to new ideas, and the project teams were ‘agile’ to improve communication and delivery.

The company wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting, and I thought he’d make a good voice for a magazine feature I was writing on the subject. His reply was friendly, as expected, but also reluctant; he didn’t feel comfortable sharing the story “just yet” because there were elements that weren’t quite right, he said.

In my time working with businesses, most people with good stories need encouragement to tell them. Some of the best ones never see the light of day. I’m not completely sure why that is, but I think it’s because these people are often modest, sometimes humble, and not in it for the profile.

Most people with good stories need encouragement to tell them. Some of the best ones never see the light of day.

Which is why they are interesting, because they are usually considered, balanced and have a wealth of experience that others can learn from – in a world full of binary and polarised views.

We need to hear more from people like this.

The same thought occurred to me last week, when I was in London, interviewing another chief executive for a project I am working on around reputation. The individual in front of me was considered, calm and ambitious, which is probably the personality needed to run the private equity-backed business he was leading.

After a good 20 minutes, talking about reputation and how he’d developed alongside the business, we started to chat about areas where he was stretching himself; areas where the role was taking him outside of his comfort zone. He gets very nervous before panel events in public, but he also relishes them, because of the feeling afterwards. While I’ve never seen him speak, I imagine he offers a similar mix of balanced and considered views, to my friend above.

At a time when debate and comment seem to be lurching from one extreme to the other, with not much in between, we need to encourage people like this to share their wisdom. There is so much in people they don’t acknowledge as important; and all the while they choose not to share on public forums, this vacuum is replaced by people who have the strongest opinions or are willing to shout the loudest.

I’d like to hear from people in the middle more; people with life and business lessons we can all learn from; people with experience that others will relish. I’ll keep working to unearth these stories; and I hope others will find some gems to help us move forward in more of a balanced way – in business and in life.

Do you have stories buried just under the surface? Get in touch and tell us more.