Every culture throughout history affords the storyteller a position of deep respect. The reasons for this are many, but at the root, it’s because good stories, and those who tell them, have an immense power to influence and persuade those around them. The following story from our new book Start with the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto, perfectly illustrates this point. It sums up why we do what we do, and why history can be such a powerful tool in effective corporate storytelling.

A young sheik assumed the command of a Bedouin army in the midst of a great military campaign. Each day, the sheik would lead his men into battle and fight side by side with them, only to return to his camp and find that one man had stayed behind.

After several days, the sheik turned to his advisors and demanded to know why the man wasn’t joining them in battle. His advisors told him simply that the man was the storyteller.

This didn’t impress the sheik. He said, “Get rid of him. He’s eating our food; he’s wasting a horse. Get rid of him.” But his advisors told him, “No. You can never get rid of the storyteller.”

Enraged, the sheik demanded to know why. To which his advisors said, “When our men return every day from the fight, the storyteller tells us the story of the battle we have waged. And it’s because of the inspiration of his words that we get up the next morning and have the courage to go fight the next battle.”

The essence of heritage management is like that storyteller in the parable, we leverage stories from a company’s past to help them fight the battles that lay ahead. Every client has a particular need at a particular point in time. For some, it’s the need to bolster slumping employee morale or improve shareholder relations. For others, the goal is to align different cultures in a complex merger or seek inspiration for an advertising campaign. Good corporate heritage programs can do all of these things, especially if there’s a compelling story told in an exciting way at the heart of that process.