Family narratives

Posted by Mark Schenk - March 26, 2013
Filed in Communication, Fun

At Christmas, I was in Melbourne with my two kids. All my family live there and I needed to do what I could to ensure there was no disharmony or feelings of favouritism. So I applied Shawn’s guiding principle in these matters: ‘Families are like fish. After three days they start to go off’. So I stayed for a few days with each of my relatives.

It turns out that there is another way to maintain harmony and indeed, to build resilience in families, especially children. Have a family narrative.

This article in the NY Times claims that “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

Three types of narrative are described:

  • The ascending family narrative which goes ‘when we came to this country we had nothing. We worked hard and look at us now’
  • The descending family narrative which goes ‘we used to have it all and then we lost everything’
  • The oscillating family narrative which goes ‘we’ve had our ups and downs, but no matter what happened we always stuck together as a family’

Apparently, this last narrative is the healthiest, especially for building the confidence and resilience of kids.

Many thanks to Ken Everett from Think On Your Feet® for the pointer to this article.

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Tapping into identity to drive change

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 22, 2013
Filed in Communication

James March, Professor of Political Science at Stanford argues that when we make choices, we tend to rely on one of two basic models for decision making: the consequences model or the identity model.(*1)

In the consequence model, when we have a decision to make we weigh the costs and benefits and make the choice that maximises our satisfaction.

Instead of rational/logical approach of the consequence model, the identity model of decision making says when we have a decision to make we ask ourselves three questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What kind of situation is this?
  3. What would someone like me do in this situation?

Let me show you an example of someone using the identity model to influence someone to make a different choice.

This clip is taken from the hit US series ‘Glee‘.

In this episode the Glee club have the opportunity to have their picture in the school yearbook for the first time. The Principal isn’t keen for them to have their picture in there, and most of the Glee club don’t want this to happen either, both fearing the picture will be vandalised and defaced. The only people who are really keen for it to happen are the teacher in charge of the Glee club, Will Schuester, and the ‘goody two shoes” co-captain of the club, Rachel Berry.

The Principal finally agrees, but says that there must be two members of the Glee club in the photo. The problem is, no one else wants to be in there except Rachel. So Rachel now has the challenge of convincing the other co-captain, Finn Hudson to do it with her.

Did you see how Rachel used the concept of identity (being a leader) to help influence Finn? “Because you’re a leader Finn, and that’s what leaders do. They stick their necks out for people they care about“. And how does he eventually reply? “I am a leader. It’s who I am, who I want to be“.

Now, I have yet to see it happen so easily, and so quickly in reality, but tapping into the identity of who people are, or who they want to be, can be incredibly powerful when creating change.

If you are interested in knowing more about using identity to create change, have a look at the story about how Paul Butler worked to save the St Lucia Parrot from extinction told in Switch or the ‘Don’t Miss with Texas’ anti-littering campaign cited in Made to Stick. Also have a look at our old favourite Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

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Feeling the need for change

Posted by Daryl Cook - March 21, 2013
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Leadership

Kevin shared this story with me the other day. It’s too good not to retell.
> A few years back, there was an ad agency called Allen Brady and Marsh (ABM). It was a very showbiz agency, and not very fashionable. They were pitching for the British Rail account against some very good agencies and to say they were considered ‘underdogs’ would be an understatement.
> If they were to stand any chance of winning this account they had to find a way to prove they knew something the other, more fashionable agencies didn’t.
> Apparently, on the day of the pitch, the top management team of British Rail turned up at the ABM offices. When they arrived at reception it was deserted.
> The Chairman checked his watch, and they were on time.
> He looked around, and there was no one in sight — just a very scruffy reception area littered with crumpled newspapers, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and cushions with holes burned in them.
> It looked like the worst agency they’d ever been in.
> Eventually, a scruffy woman appeared and sat behind the desk. She ignored them and started rummaging in a drawer. The Chairman coughed. She ignored him, so he coughed again.
> Silence.
> He said, “Excuse me, we’re here to see …” The woman replied, “Be with you in a minute love.”
> He said, “But we have an appointment …” and she replied abruptly, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
> The Chairman was fuming. “This is outrageous” he said, “we’ve been waiting more than fifteen minutes.”
> “Can’t help that love” the receptionist replied.
> The Chairman had enough. “Right that’s it, we’re leaving” he declared, and the top management team of British Rail started to walk out.
> At that very moment, a door opened and out stepped the agency creative director, Peter Marsh.
> He’d been watching everything.
> He shook the Chairman’s hand warmly and said, “Gentlemen, you’ve just experienced what the public’s impression of British Rail is. Now, if you’ll come this way, we’ll show you exactly how we’re going to turn that around.”
> And he took the British Rail management team into the boardroom and went through their pitch about how bright the future could be, if ABM was their agency, which of course, it became.
This story is a great example of someone deliberately doing something remarkable (something people remark on) to make a real impact and to make people feel the need for change. It’s these kind of actions that inevitably trigger stories, and positively influence others.
How might you use this aspect of story triggering in your change initiative to show people what is different, not just tell them? How can you make them ‘feel’ the need for change?

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Using stories to catch ‘smart-talk’

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 18, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling

He looks the part; he knows all the right buzzwords; he can quote chapter-and-verse from all the best-known pundits and practitioners. But is it all just empty ‘smart-talk’?

Smart-talk is information without understanding, theory without practice – ‘all mouth and no trousers’, as the old aphorism puts it. It’s all too common amongst would-be ‘experts’ – and likewise amongst ‘rising stars’ in management and elsewhere.

Even if unintentional on their part, people who indulge in smart-talk can be genuinely dangerous. They’ll seem plausible enough at first, but in reality they’ll often know just enough to get everyone into real trouble, but not enough to get out of it again. Not helpful…

Smart-talk is the bane of most business – and probably of most communities too. So what can we do to catch it? What can we do to tell the difference between real experience and mere smart-talk?

The answer: get them to tell a story.

Someone who really does know what they’re talking about will be able to reel off one real story after another from their own experience, and describe alternative scenarios, adapted from other contexts, other companies, even other industries. By contrast, the smart-talk pundit will be able to deliver someone else’s story, or quote theory at us, but won’t be able to give a real story of their own.

To identify a real story, we’re looking for the usual criteria:

  • a time – “last summer”, “back in 2003″, “when we were in the early part of the project”
  • place – “Vancouver”, “our office”, “up in the mountains”
  • one or more people – “June Thomas”, “her boss”, “that guy with the curly hair”
  • a sequence of events – “this happened, and then that happened”

and, usually:

  • a ‘why’ or lesson-learned, often in the form of a punch-line – “and that’s how we came to open our office in Beijing”

A story is always about people rather than things, and about experience and lessons-learned rather than ideas or theory. For practice to help you identify real stories, try Anecdote’s The Story Test: ten real examples of would-be business-stories. (There’s also a really useful commentary-post by Shawn Callahan, ‘The StoryTest results‘, on the Anecdote website.)

It’d also be useful to trawl through your Zahmoo story-collection, to pick out appropriate stories as a gentle challenge in hiring and the like. Present the story to the candidate, asking them to reframe the story from their own experience. Ask them to change the details, to try a different context, a different real-world problem to resolve: those who only have smart-talk will struggle, whereas those with real experience will have no trouble at all.

I wanted to concentrate on the ‘how-to’ part, so this post itself isn’t much of a story! But a simple test-exercise for you: how would you reframe this as a story, from your own experience of catching someone indulging in smart-talk? Who are the people in the story? Where, and when? What happened – the sequence of events, the punch-line? And what did you learn from it?

Smart-talk is the bane of business: catch it with a simple story.

This post was authored by Tom Graves and originally posted on the Zahmoo blog.

Image credit: Elegant smart friend by Matthew Fang under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.

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Storytelling for Sales Public workshop in Melbourne – only 2 days to go

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 18, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling, News

We are all looking for better ways to sell.

Better ways to build relationships with our clients. Better ways to understand their needs. Better ways to communicate our products and services with impact.

We all want to stand out from our competitors.

Anecdote’s Storytelling for Sales Program develop’s your story skills to do exactly that.

There are now only 2 days to go before we run our first Storytelling for Sales public workshop here in Melbourne this Wednesday (the 20th March 2013).

Tickets for this special workshop are only $695, but there are only a few places left, so you’ll need to be in quick.

To register please go here.

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Show don’t tell

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 15, 2013
Filed in Leadership

St Francis Story Quote

Click to see larger version 800×600

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Storytelling for Leaders – London

Posted by Daryl Cook - March 14, 2013
Filed in News

We’re very excited to announce that we’ll be running our popular *Storytelling for Leaders* program in London on Monday, 17th June 2013.
This opportunity doesn’t present itself that often, so we hope you can join us. Early-bird tickets are on sale until the 12th April.

Register now »

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Awesome stories

Posted by Mark Schenk - March 12, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling, Fun

Every two months an email arrives that I am always happy to receive. Its the bi-monthly newsletter from the Awesome Stories website.

Awesome Stories is designed as an educational website that makes primary source material available to the general public. Much of the material is normally available only via national archives, libraries, universities, museums, historical societies etc. The stories are used to place these materials in context and make them much more accessible.

There are numerous categories: biographies, disasters, history; philosophy, sports, the arts, trails and flicks.

The site might be designed for educators, but it’s also very valuable in organisations. If you are looking for a story to use in a presentation or to support a point, this is a great resource. A word of warning though: it’s very easy to lose yourself for a few hours on the site :-)

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In praise of small stories

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 11, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling

Leaders should find and tell stories to help their people understand the concrete actions needed to get a job done, enact a business value or even implement a strategy. Stories are our user manuals for life.

There’s a tendency, however, for leaders to find and tell the big stories in the business—it’s human nature. For example, we did some work for one of the national supermarket chains and they wanted to embed the principle “take me, show me.” This simply means if a shopper asks, for example, what aisle the tofu is in, rather than quoting an aisle number they would take the shopper to where the product is located.

They started collecting stories and were so excited to find this one: an elderly gentlemen, who visits the supermarket regularly and knows the staff, falls over, hits his head and falls unconscious. The employees find his home address in his wallet and as he is taken to the hospital they drive  to his home to let his wife know what happened and then they take her to the hospital. The employee stays with the wife until they are certain everything is OK.

Great customer service, right. But how often does this happen? I would say, very rarely. And does it help embed “take me, show me”?

Impact frequency diagram 1

The supermarket accident incident is an example of a story that has low frequency and high impact, but overly focusing on it probably isn’t helping you achieve your business outcome of embedding the principle of “take me, show me.”

A better strategy is to find and tell the many smaller stories that are happening every day. For example, as the store manager you see David in aisle 23 being asked by a shopper where a product is. David is busy packing shelves but he steps down from his ladder, and with a smile, casually escorts the customer to the product. So now the store manager is talking to Gerry in aisle 12 and mentions what he just saw David did (i.e.., he tells the story) and how much he appreciates this behaviour. And of course, during the day he pops on over to David and praises him for his customer service.

Impact frequency diagram II

If the store manager tells the many small yet regularly occurring stories, each with a similar theme or message, a larger story emerges in the workplace that is the sum total of these many small stories. Employees start to see the evidence that this is how things work around here. Robert Cialdini’s concept of social proof is triggered and people will begin the adopt this behaviour: it’s what everyone else is doing.

Thanks to Kevin for the terrific conversation that sparked this post and for Daryl’s sketches.


Challenging ‘power’ and the stories that triggers

Posted by Kevin Bishop - March 8, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling, Leadership

A particular type of story that gets retold in organisations is the story about when ‘power’ was challenged and the result.

We collected the following story from a client about how challenge, or more accurately, a perceived challenge, was handled by their former chief executive:

Keith just asked a question during one of John’s Chief Executive Roadshows, and all he was really saying was, ‘I think there’s a problem. We need to fix it’. Keith wasn’t having a go at John, just trying to get a problem fixed. But apparently after that session, John pulled him aside and tore a strip off him, and that story went through this place like Epsom salts. From then on, no-one was going to open up in those sessions.

Some work we did recently with a City Council gave us a contrasting example.

On our first visit to the council’s main building, we found that the receptionist was very efficient – a little abrupt perhaps, but she left you in no doubt as to what was required of you as a visitor and the processes and procedures you had to follow. When we were in a lift with our client, we made a light-hearted comment about how efficient the receptionist was. The client laughed and told us a story about the day their CEO walked into the building to find she’d left her ID pass in her car. The receptionist denied her access. The CEO shrugged her shoulders and, without saying a word, went back to her car to get her pass. The next time we were at the council building, someone else told us exactly the same story. It had obviously had an impact across the organisation.

So what stories about challenging ‘power’ are being told in your organisation? What do they say about your culture? If you wanted to trigger a different story around this how could you do it?

Love to hear your views