Some initial thoughts on why we retell stories

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 29, 2012
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication

As soon as I walked into our office I wanted to tell Kevin the story Hugh Grant told on Graham Norton’s talk show last night. It was a funny little story; an embarrasing stituation for Hugh in a French train toilet. It made me laugh. And when I told it to Kevin we both laughed together then started our day.
For some time now I’ve wondered why we retell stories and what makes a story retellable. On the surface I told Hugh’s story to simply entertain Kevin and myself. But perhaps there was a deeper motive about reinforcing my identity as someone who likes a laugh. Come to think of it the story is more liikely to be retold among blokes so this story reinforces my identity as a guy.

We run business stortelling training for a bank. We teach at their academy. We hear all sorts of stories from the bankers and many are about their leaders.

For example, the CEO this year gathered his top 150 leaders in an auditorium to share the goals for the year. Thirty minutes after everyone was back after morning tea the CEO looked at his watch and said “we are going to take another short break. Everyone be back at 11am sharp.” People wandered off and checked their Blackberrys and at 11am the CEO was on the stage waiting. People strolled into the room. At 11.05am the CEO was pacing up and down the stage, clear unhappy. Not everying was back yet. At 11.15am everyone was in their seat. The CEO went ballistic: “How dare you show such disrespect for your colleagues. This tardiness is unacceptable. You’re our leaders and you need to lead by example.” This story must have been retold hundreds (thousands) of times. All of a sudden people people were attending meetings on time.

We retell stories about leaders because they wield power and their actions can affect us. So we want to know what they’re like as a person, what’s important to them and how are they likely to react. And because most employees don’t get a chance to experience the leader’s actions first hand, they need to hear the stories of what the leader does to understand them. As I said in my last post, actions speak louder than words.

We often retell a story to share an insight. My friend Darren (@darrenp3) heard about how a prominent twitterer (@maverickwoman – also a friend) was in New York and looking for a hotel for the night. She tweeted her question and Bryant Park Hotel replied saying that if she went to this website and entered her twitter id she’d get a discount, which she did and was offered a 50% off. @maverickwoman then tweeted all her followers about this great deal but heard back they were only offering her friends 10%. She contacted the hotel and they told her that she got 50% because her Klout score was 57 (an indicator of influence on the web) but her friend only had a score of 15. Darren told this story at least 10 times in 2 days. He was impressed by the sophistication of the hotel and it supported his view of the power of social networking on the web.

There are many more reasons why people retell stories and I’m just starting to explore them more deeply. Would love to hear your thoughts on why you think some stories are retold more than others.


An “I’m like you story”

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 27, 2012
Filed in Communication

One of the story types we believe you need to be able to tell is the “I’m like you story”. This is a story you tell to build connection to your audience by showing them you are just like them in some way.
We find it far easier to build a relationship and a connection with people if we perceive them to be like us. It’s about speaking the same language, holding similar values, having similar interests and sharing similar experiences. Shawn did a blog about them, full of examples, last year.
Simply put, there’s a much better chance that when we think people are like us we listen more and care what they think and have to say.
With this concept in mind, please watch this video from GetUp an advocacy group here in Australia.

One of the reasons why this video worked for me is because it uses an “I’m like you” story structure to share how the relationship progressed.
The butterflies of the first meeting, the first date, shopping together, hanging out with friends, arguing over directions in the car, meeting the parents, shifting in together, the boring necessities of life in doing the dishes and hanging the washing out, supporting each other through the death of a parent and birthday celebrations with family and friends.
Some, if not all, of these things are the things that most of us go through in our relationships. It is trying to get across that homosexual couples are just like heterosexual couples, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to get married.
A great video and a very clever campaign.

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In communicating your strategy what do your projects say?

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 23, 2012
Filed in Communication, Strategy

What’s more important, what we say or what we do? I think we all know that our actions reveal what’s really important. Actions speak louder than words and all that. So in the realm of strategy it makes little sense to invest in communicating a strategy if your company’s actions say something else.
A company’s projects represent al large part of its actions. Projects enable a company to design and create new products, make improvements to processes, open up new markets, etc, etc. Projects are your engine of change. In fact, it’s been said that the best predictor of what a company will be doing and what it will achieve in three years is to simply look at the projects it has underway right now.1
So your current strategy, no matter what you say, is communicated by the projects are doing. And when you launch a new strategy it’s important to look at those projects and see which ones support the new strategy and which ones tell a difference story. And if you don’t like that story you’ll need to change or stop those projects, which we all know is not an easy task. Strategy, however, is about choices and alignment, aligning what you say with what you do, at all levels. And you projects speak the loudest.
1. Morgan, Levitt and Malek (2007) Executing Your Strategy, Harvard Business School Press.

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Storytelling for business leaders workshop – Boston, MA

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 21, 2012
Filed in Business storytelling, News

I am very pleased to announce that I will be running one of our ‘Storytelling for Business Leaders’ workshops in Boston, MA on the 5th June, 2012.
I am coming to the US for a three day course at Harvard with Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey around their fantastic book Immunity to Change, and thought it was a great opportunity to spread the word on our approach to story-work while I was over there.
To read more about the course and to make use of the ‘Early Bird’ rates please go here.
Hope you can make it.

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Staying alive – again

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 19, 2012
Filed in Fun

Following on from the blog I did last week, a friend of mine from the UK let me know about this advert from notorious football hardman turned actor, Vinnie Jones, on exactly the same topic.
Enjoy, and try getting this song out of your head for the rest of the day!

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Memorable, practical and life saving

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 6, 2012
Filed in Anecdotes

I love little simple techniques than are practical, increase understanding and stick in your mind.

I wrote about one of these in a book review I did on The Power of Positive Deviance by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin. In the book they gave the advice of working with groups; “Let silence speak”. They brought this concept to life by then saying “Pause for twenty seconds after asking a question. That’s long enough to sing happy birthday!

Practical, simple, actionable and certainly memorable.

I saw another example today in an article in one of Melbourne’s newspapers, The Age.

The story was all about how the actions of a group of quick-thinking shoppers saved the life of a young shop assistant. At about 8:30 last night she collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. It was only through their actions, by getting a defibrillator and performed CPR on her until the ambulance arrived, that she is alive today.
Now, that’s an interesting story in itself, but the bit that I took away and will stay with me is what came next:

Intensive care paramedic Craig Hazelwood said…even if a person did not have first aid training, performing chest compressions on an unconscious person who was not breathing to the beat of the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive was the best thing to do.

“We really encourage people to just have a go,” Mr Hazelwood said.
“We really need people in the public to do exactly what we saw tonight…Get in there to the beat of Stayin’ Alive and we’ll see a lot more people stay alive.”

As you read this, just try it. Hum along and mime undertaking chest compression. It makes perfect sense!
Memorable, practical and, for one young lady from Melbourne, life saving.

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What it means to ‘act strategically’

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 1, 2012
Filed in Strategy

Being foodies, one show we always look forward to on Australian TV is My Kitchen Rules (MKR). It’s a really interesting show, for a whole number of reasons, including reminding me, yet again, of the importance of language and the way terms are defined. In this case what it means to ‘act strategically’.

In the first part of the competition the teams of two (husband and wives, siblings, work mates or friends) create a restaurant in their own homes. They then cook a three course meal which gets judged by the other contestants as well as the overall judges, respected chefs Manu Feildel and Pete Evans.

As the bottom teams gets eliminated, the scores that each team gives the others ‘home restaurant’ can be the difference between staying in the competition or being sent home. This is where it got interesting around ‘acting strategically’.
Two contestants, Thomas and Carla, had had a shocker when it was their turn to cook.

Problem one was their lack of time management skills. After the entrĂ©e of Wheat Beer with Mussel Soup, it was almost three hours before guests received their main. Three hours! And when it did turn up the judges unanimously denounced it as a disappointing dish. It then only got worse with dessert, a lavender cheesecake. Chef Manu said “This is the worst dish I’ve ever had.”

So Thomas and Carla were in trouble and in real danger of going out of the competition. What could they do? Well for them it was all now about ‘acting strategically’ by how they voted. What does that mean? Well the MKR website even defines voting strategically; “purposely giving low scores to other teams in order to secure a place at the MKR table:

Acting strategically, in this context, is therefore about not being honest, not judging fairly or really acting in the ‘spirt of the game’. It is about doing anything to win (or at least not lose), putting the long term aim of staying in the competition, above ethics, morals and values.

Isn’t that interesting.

In business we want our staff to act strategically. We want them to align their day to day activities with the organisations strategy. Strategic thinking and acting strategically are things we value in organisations, more so than ‘tactical actions’. Just look at any capability matrix or framework to see which is more highly valued.

However, when we go home at night to relax in front of the TV we are shown a very different interpretation of ‘acting strategically’. One that is not valued, is criticised by the other contestants and the show’s online forums, and ultimately earned Thomas, the crown of ‘MKR villain’.

So, be careful in your workplace when you ask people to act strategically. How are they viewing that term and what it means? Do they see it as a positive thing, or something a little less savoury?

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