Skip to main content

E253 | Harnessing The Power of Storytelling To Drive Change with Greg Orme

This week on The Melting Pot, we learned from speaker and award-winning author, Greg Orme. Greg was the founding CEO of London Business School’s Centre for Creative Business. He was named one of HR Magazine’s Most Influential Thinkers in 2022. His book The Human Edge, how curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy, won Business Book of The Year 2020. Today he helps leaders and teams thrive in a world of accelerating change through creative thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit.

In this episode, Greg talks about the four pillars of his book The Human Edge. What does it mean to drive psychological safety and performance in an organisation? He talks about leadership and why it’s so important for them to have purpose and be able to create purpose in an organisation. Leaders can help foster creativity, curiosity, collaboration, and communication. Also, he discusses the importance of storytelling to drive change, and that is the antithesis of crafting a PowerPoint deck and ‘cascading’ it down through the business. 

Fantastic conversation with Greg. 

Download and listen to learn more.

On today’s podcast: 

  • Helping leaders thrive
  • What’s your leadership style?
  • How to capture your purpose
  • The power of storytelling

Follow Greg Orme:



The Human Edge

Who is Greg Orme?

Greg Orme is a speaker, award-winning author and facilitator who’s delivered more than 400 talks to executive audiences around the world. He helps leaders and teams thrive in a world of accelerating change through creative thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Greg was named one of HR Magazine’s Most Influential Thinkers in 2022. His book The Human Edge, how curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy won Business Book of The Year 2020 and is being translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. He leads organisational change and leadership development programmes with global clients in telecoms, banking & insurance, automotive, FMCG, manufacturing and technology. 

He was the founding CEO of London Business School’s Centre for Creative Business. 

Greg has appeared on BBC World News and in The Financial Times and is a regular contributor to Forbes. He published his first acclaimed book in 2014: The Spark, how to ignite and lead business creativity.

Helping leaders and teams thrive

Greg works with leaders to help them manage change. The reason he started working with small organisations was that when he was the CEO of the Center for Creative Business at London Business School, it was about taking the intellectual property of business schools and giving it to startups, specifically creative businesses. 

“I now really almost exclusively work with very large global organisations. And where do I work with them? I work with them at the board level and just below, mostly. That’s 95% of my work. So that’s where I find I can have the most leverage because leaders have a lot of the influence and the power.”

Greg works with these organisations on two levels: first, what is the leader that they need to be in order to influence and drive the change around them to be successful? And second, what is the culture that they are curating around themselves by what they do and what they don’t do?

Reflecting on your leadership style

In the leadership development world, there are various rapid and artificial ways to get someone to reflect on their leadership style. One of Greg’s favourite ways to do it is by taking groups of individuals and getting them to look at their life. For him, finding a purpose is detective work, not creative. You can find it in all your past decisions, your passions and choices. 

“For a lot of people to connect to the person they want to be, their best self, the person they can be on Sundays but they aren’t on others, is about looking back, about some of the choices they made, some of the failures and the successes, in order to kind of excavate it.”

So, he gets people to write their life stories and draw them. From that, together, they pin what their core values and purpose are. That inside-out journey allows them to reflect on how they want to lead and what impact they want to have in their organisation. 

But, why drawing? Greg admits he’s interested in all the different ways his brain and other people’s brains work because some people are more attracted to images, and others like visual and audio stimuli.

“When I’m working with people, I try and cover the waterfront to see if I can find something that really draws everybody in. And I also think if you draw something, you’re just using a different part of your brain and sadly, a part of your brain that’s underused in the corporate environment.”

Capturing purpose and defining happiness

Greg explains that when working with a group of directors or executives to come up with a purpose, he’s trying to accelerate them through a process of self-reflection and self-learning to get to self-management quickly. At some point during that period, when they’ve looked back, he gets them to write a purpose statement with the full knowledge that this is a lifetime journey. 

“You can’t really cram it into a day or two, but you can give someone the chance to have a first draft at it. And so what I break down for them very simply to say, what is my unique set of talents, the things that come easily to me, my best self? What is the type of purpose or the type of audience that I’m often addressing? And what is the outcome that I would like.”

Greg has his own purpose statement formulated in that same format: “ To focus my communication talents to research, synthesise and create inspirational ideas of value.” That’s where he spends a lot of his time. 

Greg adds that when you’re pursuing purpose, it’s not necessarily exactly the same as happiness. He says there are two types of happiness: Hedonic happiness, which is having a drink, having a laugh, or being at a party; and eudaimonic happiness, which is actually pursuing purpose. This is more like running a marathon or writing a book. That doesn’t feel like happiness, but there is a sense of fulfilment. It feels more like blood pouring from your eyes, but when you’re finished, you feel very proud. 

So, is burnout the result of doing work that isn’t pursuing our purpose?

To that question, Greg says that what we know about the best self and purpose, being creative and curious, and being the person we want to be is it releases a neurotransmitter in our brain called dopamine. And dopamine is a motivation molecule. It’s associated with drive, pleasure and the thought we might have pleasure in the future. But when you can harness it and connect it with your work, it gives you energy. So he thinks it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to burn out by pursuing things that you find interesting.

“And what happens to so many middle managers that we know is they have all the responsibility and very little power to actually do anything about it. That is a nasty combination. A boss that dictates their time, lack of freedom in their own personal frame. We all know that humans want competence and they want alternate autonomy and relatedness to their job. If they don’t get those three factors in their job, that leads to burnout. Another word for it is just being unhappy.”

How can leaders drive engagement?

Last week we learned from the Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Wellbeing at Gallup, Jim Harter, who said that there’s nothing you can do about 30% of the disengaged people in the workplace. But the other two-thirds, if they had better management, could be not actively disengaged, but at least engaged.

This is a distressing statistic, says Greg, and it aligns with what Gallup has been putting out for 25 years. 

“What a waste of human potential that the average corporate presides over. And that’s partially my purpose, which is how can the leaders do something about that? Because that is genuinely a problem that they can solve. Certainly in what I call their microclimate, the part of the business in which they have some leverage over.”

So, how can leaders do that? Where do they start?

“One of the major jobs of a leader is to curate the environment in which their team and employees are working to make that something that people are intrinsically motivated to want to do. So to make work interesting, challenging, passionate and engaging. So that’s where they start. So, what’s within their power? How can they curate an environment and then behave in an aligned way?”

Greg often says to leaders, if we talk about these forces, if you want to be conscious, purposeful curious, or if you want people up who are purposeful curious, creative and collaborative, you got to be that way yourself.

The power of storytelling to influence people

When helping an organisation to drive change, Greg helps them understand their challenges, but as they go to execute against those, there are some pitfalls around influencing their organisation to come on that journey with them.

The first pitfall, says Greg, is that a lot of people think it’s just a simple exercise of communication. For instance, one of his ‘bugbears’ is the word cascade. A word that is used quite often, but what does it mean? It means that as an ExCom they went away and thought about the future and came up with a strategy and instructions, they’ve put it into a PowerPoint deck, then into a PDF, and they’re going to send it around the organisation and cascade it. 

“There’s a lot packed into that word. It’s that we are at the top because water cascades downwards, and once they hear the good news, the incredible insight that we’ve had on Mount Olympus, that everyone will then just fall into line, it’s underrating the challenge, and it’s misunderstanding the challenge.”

The second point is about how to influence people. You can do it through logical argument, which is vastly overrated. As an influence tool, you have to try and find stories that really move people’s hearts and minds.

The third point is how to do this at scale. Some of the organisations that Greg works with have over a hundred thousand people. They need to start once they’ve got their essential purpose, mission, and their story, and they’ve worked out how to extract the emotional engagement from that message.

“How do I find the will and the skill of each individual and try and extract that? The will being their motivation to do it, and their skill being their ability. But also, how are we using social influence? That’s incredibly powerful. We are social beings. And then also at the structure of the organisation, how are we motivating people with money and other bonuses? And how do you use that to find the right people to come into the organisation? So it’s on kind of three levels, individual, social and structural. And at each level you’ve got both the individual motivation and their ability to do it.”

Book recommendations 

The Spark

Enjoyed the show? Leave a Review

    Fantastic! Give us your details and we'll call you back

      Enquiry | Scaling Up Master Business Course