The story behind entrepreneurial change

A pitch meeting

Succeeding as an entrepreneur takes more than a great idea. It requires the skills to persuade investors and other key stakeholders to support an innovative new project. Developing a vision that creates an emotional impact with a wide variety of potential partners is a challenge for new initiatives of all sorts. Research from the College of Business into storytelling and stakeholders’ attitudes about the future may help take much of the guesswork out of how to motivate others to support entrepreneurial change.

The Department of Management’s Rob Mitchell and his coauthors develop a framework to guide entrepreneurial storytelling in “Entrepreneurial Visions as Rhetorical History: A Diegetic Narrative Model of Stakeholder Enrollment.” The researchers delve into literary theory and build on models of how audiences interpret the past to view the future – known as temporal orientation – to create consensus and inspire buy-in on a large level when crafting their entrepreneurial narratives.

“How you interpret the past shapes how you think about the future,” Mitchell said. “We looked at identifying ways to speak that influence multiple temporal orientations at the same time. When they do this, entrepreneurs have a much better chance of successfully communicating their vision and inspiring action.”

Identifying mindsets

To start, Mitchell and his colleagues identified four temporal orientations based on tropes that describe how people interpret their place in history, based on whether they’re future- or past-oriented and if they view that orientation optimistically or pessimistically. Past-oriented stakeholders who view history with a positive spin connect with nostalgia; while past-focused stakeholder with a negative view of the past find greater stories that play up dystoria, or the worldview that the past was guided by injustice. Similarly, future-oriented individuals with a negative outlook identify with dystopian framing, while their more optimistic counterparts are drawn to tales of postalgia, or a positive view of the future.

Rob Mitchell
Rob Mitchell, Professor of Management

“Entrepreneurial Visions as Rhetorical History: A Diegetic Narrative Model of Stakeholder Enrollment”
Roy Suddaby1, Trevor Israelsen2, J. Robert Mitchell and Dominic S.K. Lim3
Academy of Management Review

1 University of Victoria
2 University of Victoria
3 Western University

In order to weave entrepreneurial stories that have wide relevance, Mitchell and his coauthors identified historical themes that resonate with multiple temporal tropes. These themes, which are based on cultural myths drawn from literary theory, encapsulate four viewpoints about the direction of society, while relying on stakeholders’ motivations and outlooks:

  • Progress: The myth of progress leverages fear of the past (dystoria) with hope for a better future (postalgia) to evoke a sudden, revolutionary change.
  • Renewal: The myth of renewal speaks to nostalgic and postalgic stakeholders and embraces societal change as a process that reinvents existing ideas as part of a cyclical reinvention of ideas.
  • Entropy: The myth of entropy plays on pessimistic views of the past and fear of the future (dystoria and dystopia) to craft a narrative that a societal course correction is necessary to prevent the disintegration of systems.
  • Apocalypse: Positive nostalgia for the past combines with fear of the future in the apocalypse myth, which appeals to an impending disaster.

“Entrepreneurs want their vision to be as accessible to as many stakeholders as possible,” Mitchell said. “By creating narratives that utilize multiple viewpoints, they aren’t merely creating stories that help bring people together, but are speaking to centuries-old myths of history everyone is familiar with.”

Roots of storytelling in a venture pitch
Mitchell’s research identifies the broadly held myths that help entrepreneurs share their vision across multiple stakeholders by leveraging rhetorical devices.