There is huge power in short stories used to illustrate a bigger point.
I was in London last November delivering a project for a UK government department. One of the things I miss most about the UK (along with Irn Bru, Jaffa Cakes and MOTD) is the weekend newspapers. You could get lost for days in any one of these, and be in equal measures informed, enthralled, entertained or outraged. The quality is just so good, and there is something for everyone.
I was reading The Times, and in the business section there was an article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the privatisation of British Gas, and contained a great example of the power of a short story to bring a bigger point to life.
The sale of British Gas really caught the public mood in 1986. It was central plank of the Thatcher Government’s aim to foster wider share ownership, in its own words, or bribe voters as the Labour opposition saw it.
The purchasing of shares was made incredibly easy and they were really targeted at the man and women on the street. The whole process was backed up with a whopping forty million pound advertising campaign.
On the day of the sale, 6.6 billion share orders were received, four times more than those available. A huge success, driven by the ‘average man’ entering the world of share ownership for the very first time. A massive change for British society and for British business.
At the very end of the article was this very short story that brought to life to me how much of a foreign a concept it was for people to be able to own shares:
“The story goes that no fewer than 10,000 newly created British Gas shareholders mistook their first dividend payment for a bill and sent it back, complete with an accompanying cheque”.
One sentence, but what a powerful way to bring one of the key concepts of the article alive. Owning shares, and receiving dividends from them, was so foreign that 10,000 people mistook them for a bill and actually sent them money back, rather than bank it themselves! Love it.