That is what professor Thomas Davenport, senior adviser at Deloitte Analytics and author of the book Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities (published by HBR Press in 2014), writes in his Harvard Business Review article 10 Kinds of Stories to Tell with Data. His principles are compelling but lack one element – how to captivate audience during presentation, how to generate genuine interest and emotional response? ECOM21 co-organizer Deloitte wants to complement professor Davenport’s advice with three time-proven recipes – drama, comedy and hero’s journey.


There is only a small difference between drama and comedy: drama is about slipping on a banana peel and breaking the spinal-cord. Comedy is about slipping on a banana peel and falling flat on your face. Every business is full of comedy and drama. Drama has been invented by Greeks and they are still the best in it. Greek banking is example of high-quality drama. Storytelling through drama and comedy is based on two unpleasant facts:
  • people seem to like watching others breaking the spinal-cord
  • people are laughing when watching others falling flat on the face
Is it catharsis – cleansing through suffering – that drives us to drama? Do we strive for moments of true compassion? We love watching it on TV, but we do not enjoy when a close friend or a family member breaks spinal-cord. We are offended by graphic documentary scenes of people in agony. What attracts us to televised drama is that suffering is staged. Pain is best consumed in small, neutralized portions, like vaccine made from dead virus. Business drama has its legitimate place in storytelling as long as you do not touch the audience’s open nerve cord.
What makes drama different from comedy is moral. Drama has to confirm to audience’s moral foundation. Comedy instead crosses the red line of morality. It is essential that ending of the dramatic story agrees with the values of the audience. The good, whatever it means for the audience, is rewarded and the evil is punished. For example, customer churn together with customer acquisition costs have been growing for the last five years in 7 out of 8 business segment eating profitability of the company and curtailing careers of its top management. The story comes to a morally compelling closure. For example, implementation of AI-enabled customer nudge program that solves churn (happy end) or sale of the business to more effective competitor (dramatic ending for top management).


In comedy, one does exactly the opposite, but in a homeopathic dose. With humor we step over the border of political correctness. It is morally wrong to laugh at human who falls slipping on a banana peel. But we wait to see that no grave harm was made… and we laugh. The storyteller together with the audience rejoices safe return from brief venture to the territory of immorality. The comedy binds audience together as if they were members of a close circle who broke taboo, felt little remorse and are now united by this secret. Far from jumping to laughter, the audience will stall into uncomfortable silence if the storyteller makes an offensive joke that goes too far. Given global trends, an area to laugh upon will shrink in the future, but businesspeople will always be left with the option to make self-depreciating jokes or to mock own organization. 

People in every business are rewarded for meeting KPIs that are aligned with organizational objectives. Indicator that is supposed to be aligned with long-term shareholder value is short-term profit. KPI aligned with short-term profit is revenue. Companies reward sales and, as a consequence, suffer from 80/20 syndrome: 80% of the profit is generated by 20% of the customers, the rest of 80% customers are hardly profitable at all. Analytic models for customer profitability segmentation or for customer life-time value are certain to produce “falling flat on the face” feeling in most of the businesses.
Igor Release ECOM2121


Who is the hero?


Garth Andrus, Deloitte partner in his book The technology fallacy (published by MIT Press in 2019 with co-authors Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky) writes that in AI and digital revolution the enemy to success is always within. To put it simply, technology is not a problem (that is where the fallacy is), people are. Leaders require large doses of courage and conviction to self-deny what served them well in the past. The book gives good advice how such heroic efforts should be pursued. My point here is different.

Most Hollywood films have basically the same plot, which in the storytelling theory is called “the hero’s journey”. Protagonist faces multiple enemies and is constrained by his own weaknesses. His final battle with antagonist could only be won if he chooses and succeeds to transform himself, relieves himself from fear and inhibitions, finds the purpose… It is not recommended telling personal stories following Hollywood scriptwriting manuals – this requires skill and talent most of us do not possess. According to recent Deloitte survey, 94% of global companies plan to be using artificial intelligence in 2021. Many of their leaders will fail to reach this goal. Sharing personal experiences of battles for AI will be educational, entertaining and inspirational.

In 2012 the journey of the international conference ECOM21 began. The goal was to make it a forum where such leadership stories about adoption of AI technology are told. Perhaps AI storytelling and AI revolution share the same success factors – leadership courage, intelligence for self-reflection, capacity for drama and sense of humor. Don't miss a chance to take your part at the 8th ECOM21 Conference that will take place in Riga, Latvia on Novemeber 12, 2021.