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Telling Stories with Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller at Microsoft

Episode 311
What’s the secret to a great story or plot? Steve Clayton thinks it is always people.

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“The heart of all great stories is people.”  — Steve Clayton 

Steve Clayton grew up in Liverpool, England and fell in love with stories early on while observing people. He recalls being a child and watching his parents interact with gregarious friends and strangers, and Steve always wondered, “what makes that person attract such attention?”

Steve took a “weaving path” through his career before landing in this current role as Chief Storyteller at Microsoft. One of his first jobs was working in IT for a pharmaceutical company, where he quickly realized he was not a great computer programmer and pivoted. Steve has since served on technical teams for Microsoft in various roles and now he works on constructing the storytelling team, where he manages 30 people focused on telling the company’s story both internally and externally.

As a team-builder, Steve has learned that it’s important to hire people who are good at the things you are not and that the No. 1 quality he looks for in a potential team member is curiosity. 

“I want people who are naturally curious about the world. They will go and explore and try to understand why. I think that this sense of curiosity is the most important skill.”

In this episode, Chad and Steve sit down to discuss Steve’s winding career from technical roles to storytelling, what it takes to be a great storyteller, and the cool new projects he is working on at Microsoft. 

As Steve always says…“the best stories always start and end in a pub.” Cheers!

Quotes from Steve:

[Is oral storytelling going away?] “Visual storytelling is a big deal these days, whether its Instagram or Pinterest. And I think partly that’s just because of advances in technology and our attention is increasingly under attack — maybe visual storytelling can break through. So no, I don’t think oral storytelling is going away, but I think it’s being supplemented by different storytelling vehicles.”

[On his diverse career from technical roles to storytelling] “I sort of took this weaving path and even that didn’t get me anywhere close to the current job that I have. I didn’t really have any sense of where I was going to end up, and I still don’t now. But I have this sense of things that I get drawn toward and I think have a way of looking for niches.”

[On hiring your team] “As a new manager or a new leader, you have a tendency to say ‘Oh, that person is like me,” so you want people like you around you. But obviously, you want to do the complete opposite. You want to build as diverse a set of people as you can to bring in different experiences and ideas.”

[On his most important quality when hiring] “I want people who are curious. I want people who are naturally curious about the world. They will go and explore and try to understand why. I think that this sense of curiosity is the most important skill.”


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