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Real life is complex, and very little reality resembles what we read in fairytales or children’s books. Our storytelling should be authentic, realistic, and necessarily congruent with the complexities of life.

The proverbial “good triumphs over evil” stories and archetypes we read in children’s books have often also found their way into feature films and television series. The dumbing down of entertainment for grown-ups has not helped anyone, especially the viewers, in appreciating such entertainment and stories, and is no help in melding with the realities of life the viewers would invariably face.

For those of us in human resource development (HRD), managing or consulting on executive development programs, it is for our collective benefit (our clients/peers and ours) to develop programs with stories that will appeal to all of us who live real lives.

It would be insulting and condescending to tell stories that are akin to children’s tales, dumbed down so much to insult our IQ. The notion of princes and princesses and their romantic stories, a knight slaying the mythical dragon and people living peacefully thereafter, are just not appealing or realistic to executives like us.

Stories that we develop and write for cases should preferably be based on real-world case histories, or at least closely parallel those we personally experienced. Such stories would resonate better with our audiences, and our audiences can echo their own real-world stories to add to the rich landscape that we work collectively in.

If we cannot find these real-world case stories close to our time, we can find good, historical case stories that can help explain our executive scenarios as parables.

For example, Asian history offers very rich scenarios that can excite our imagination and bring out our own personal experiences as well. Stories such as the “47 Ronin”, the “Battle of the Red Cliff”, as well as historical figures and their life stories, such as Confucius, Mencius, and so on.

Good does not always triumph over evil in real life. People do not always live happily ever after. When we tell stories to our peers and seniors at the workplace, we must recognize the complexity of life, the duality and shades of many circumstances, and the nuanced and uncertain outcomes of many case studies. Everything can be open-ended with no definitive outcomes, and a healthy discussion among peers can be welcomed.