Expanding our Storytelling for Leaders partner network

Posted by Mark Schenk - September 16, 2014
Filed in News

Last weekend I was in Copenhagen as part of the Persona Global annual conference. Much of the weekend was spent certifying six new Partners to deliver our Storytelling for Leaders™ program. We managed to work our way through a packed schedule and had a great time doing so.

The expanding Storytelling for Leaders partner network

Storytelling for Leaders partner network

L-R: Janusz Kamieński (Poland), Apiwut Pimolsaengsuriya (Thailand), Mark Schenk (Anecdote), Paul Stuart (Singapore), Diego Ingrassia (Italy), Jose Luis Cascallar (Spain), Pedja Jovanovic (Serbia), Leah Rosenthal (Persona Global, US)

With such an international audience, it wasn’t surprising that one of the first questions asked was about the cross-cultural applicability of the program. I asked the group to re-visit the question at the end of the day when they had experienced the content. Everyone agreed that some minor tweaking is needed to ensure the content is relevant for different countries (videos from the country in question, changing problematic words – for example, ‘gist’ is not clearly understood in different languages and even some English-speaking countries struggle with it). But, the overwhelming agreement was that storytelling (and story-listening) operate at a basic human level and as such, the content tends to transcend cultures.

The program came at a good time for Janusz – he spoke at the TED Poland event a few days after the workshop. He has a great story about sailing to Australia in a tall ship as part of our Bicentennial celebrations.

If you are interested in experiencing the Storytelling for Leaders program in any of these countries then drop me a line and I’ll connect you to them.


Business storytelling is not about heroes

Posted by Indranil Chakraborty - September 12, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Luke Skywalker tills land at a farm on Tattoine but dreams of joining the Imperial Academy as a pilot. Then he meets his future mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, his aunt and uncle are killed by stormtroopers, and he finds himself on a journey to become a Jedi knight and foil the Empire’s new superweapon …

The plot of the original Star Wars movie, like those of the Harry Potter and Matrix films, adheres to an established story pattern called the Hero’s Journey. A nobody doing nothing important is pushed by circumstances into a journey. A mentor appears and guides the nobody through one task after another, each more difficult and requiring more heroism than the one before it. Just when it seems the former nobody cannot fail, calamity strikes, but the new hero ultimately triumphs.

Storytelling heroes

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey was defined by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book A Hero with a Thousand Faces, echoing Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes, and is now considered a fail-proof way of telling a story. In fact, many business managers I meet think that for their stories to work, they need to be big and grand and follow the Hero’s Journey plot line. Unable to mould their stories into this form, they then conclude that storytelling cannot successfully be used in business, at least not when it comes to everyday situations. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is a storytelling continuum that has recounts of experiences, anecdotes and examples at one end (small ‘s’ storytelling) and epics and sagas like the Hero’s Journey at the other (Big ‘S’ storytelling). Business storytelling is small ‘s’ storytelling. It involves using experiences and anecdotes to make an abstract concept concrete and build its memorability.

A story about Bruce Springsteen

Let’s say that a call centre manager wants to make a point about the importance of customer service. Adopting the business storytelling approach, he forgoes a lecture on customer service values and instead relates an interview with Bruce Springsteen:

Bruce Springsteen has been a musician and performer for over 20 years and has a tremendous reputation as a live act. An interviewer once asked him how he kept up his motivation to deliver great performances night after night. Springsteen replied: ‘I realised that while for me every night is a “Bruce Springsteen concert night”, there are thousands of people in the audience who have spent their money to see a Bruce Springsteen concert maybe for the first and only time in their lives. So I want to give them the best ever Bruce Springsteen experience. And that’s what keeps me going night after night’.

The manager closes his talk by saying that while the team may take hundreds of calls every day, for an individual customer, it might be the only contact they have with the company – it might be the only ‘Bruce Springsteen concert’ they go to. Imagine the difference they could make if every time their customers called, they got the full Bruce Springsteen experience.

This little anecdote will be far more meaningful and memorable than a 30-minute talk on the values of customer service.

Business storytelling need not be theatre

Another belief that seems to be held by many people in business is that to be an effective storyteller, they need to be coached in the ways of the theatre. Indeed, there are organisations that espouse this and offer theatre training as part of a business storytelling induction. Again, this is not the case. Business storytelling is about simple narration in a regular voice, usually brief and conveying a specific point.

Beliefs such as those described here, about a need for complex plot structures and high-level performance skills, unfortunately prevent many businesses from harnessing the power of stories in business. But the key principles of effective business storytelling are in reality much more straightforward.

For instance, to ensure that your story really illustrates the point you are trying to make, it is wise to test it out on someone you can trust to be honest and forthright. Also, unless the point of the story is crystal-clear, it is advisable to start by making it explicit, then narrating the story, and finally explaining that your story is why you believe in the point you are making.

Effective storytelling needs authenticity

It’s also important to remember that the best stories to tell are your own. Authenticity always shines through in a story in which you’ve played a part. It also allows the listener to deduce a few of your significant traits – your audience needs to understand what you care about before it cares about what you say.

By embracing simple principles such as these and being confident that you can be a storyteller, you can go about collecting stories and telling them on the right occasion and in the right context. We all have the potential to be great communicators who can connect, engage and inspire.


An amazing experience and why customer service is really everybody’s job

Posted by Christopher Kogler - September 9, 2014
Filed in Communication

My wife, Kate, and I decided to take a long weekend this recent US Labor Day holiday and explore New England a bit. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT has been on our “must-see” list for a while, so that was our first stop.  It’s the oldest art museum in the USA and is one of America’s hidden gems. The museum was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth and the museum’s first building, built in the Gothic Revival style, was completed in 1844  – 17 years before America’s Civil War.

The museum was quiet on the Friday morning that we arrived and it felt like we had the entire collection to ourselves. The first gallery one enters in filled with beautiful Renaissance paintings and one in particular caught my eye, Portrait of A Man In Armor by Sebastiano del Piombo.

Sebastiano del Piombo

Portrait of A Man In Armor, 1512 AD by Sebastiano del Piombo

As I stood in front of this Renaissance painting from 1512, admiring its details, I heard a voice from behind me say, “How many faces do you see in the painting?”

I turned, thinking that a docent was engaging me in a conversation but was surprised to discover that a security guard, Mr. Angel Cortes, was standing there smiling at me. “One,” I answered.  “No, there are two faces in this painting,” Mr. Cortes said. He then proceeded to show me the very faint, barely visible, second face – “the ghost” as it’s known – over the right shoulder of the Man In Armor. (BTW, the “ghost” is not visible in this print of the painting. You’ll need to visit the museum to see him.)
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4 business women show their business storytelling skills

Posted by Shawn Callahan - September 5, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Last year I wrote a post called 9 Video Clips of Business Leaders Sharing Business Stories and it was brought to my attention that 8 of the 9 examples were men. Can we have more examples of business women showing their business storytelling skills?

So we hit Youtube and have these examples for you. Please let us know if you have any other favourites you would like to share by leaving a comment.

Meg Whitman – Chairman and CEO of HP

The clip I really wanted to show you (but they disabled embedding) was this one because it shows Meg Whitman in more of a business setting. But this one, clearly filmed by a fan, shows Meg’s comfortable storytelling style at a charity event as an aspiring politician. And as a leader your people want to know who you are and she does it so well with stories about her remarkable mum.

Ginni Rometty – Chairman and CEO of IBM

When Ginni became CEO of IBM in 2012 I had the audacity to write an open letter to her giving her some storytelling advice. I have no idea if she ever saw it but I have noticed that storytelling is a strong theme in her leadership style.

This clip is the very one I opened with in my original post from 2012. Just one story. Actually, I’ve heard a few women business leaders tell a version of this story. Most recently from Launa Inman (past CEO of Target and Billabong).
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The best way to improve your storytelling is with feedback

Posted by Shawn Callahan - September 2, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Last week we had a fun online event with our business partners. Using Soundcloud a bunch of us recorded a story or two and shared it with the group. Then we gave each other feedback on our stories. We used the hashtag #storytelling4leaders in case you’re interested in listening to some of the tales.

Here’s one from our partner in France, Hannah Havas. Yes, she doesn’t sound very French. That’s because she moved to France from the UK a while back and is now settled in that lovely country.

There’s no better way to improve your storytelling skills than to share a story and get feedback. There are three types of feedback you are looking for: Read the rest of this entry »


3D printing saves a little girl from years of suffering

Posted by Christopher Kogler - August 28, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Occasionally, a business story resonates deeply with me and renews my belief that we’re here to help others as we journey through this world. This is one of those stories.

In April 2014, I attended the first 3D Printing Conference + Expo that was held at the Javits Center in New York City. The conference had some pretty amazing keynote speakers including Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel Corporation whose charter is to develop an actionable 10-15 year vision for the future of technology and Christine Furstoss who is the Technical Director of Manufacturing & Materials Technologies for GE Global Research. Both were fascinating and enlightening when discussing the current and anticipated uses of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing, as it’s also referred to.

3D printing

But, the one person who stood out and literally had me enchanted with his keynote speech was Avi Reichental, the President and CEO of 3D Systems. 3D Systems is over 30 years old and one of the oldest 3D printing firms in the world.  In early April 2014 they acquired Medical Modeling, Inc. With this acquisition, 3D Systems created the first integrated 3D modeling-to-3D printing capability for personalised surgical and medical devices.

How the use of 3D printing averted years of suffering

And, the experience Avi Reichental shared and the role his company’s newly integrated capability played in saving a little girl from years of suffering is both inspiring and remarkable.
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The stories we tell ourselves

Posted by Hannah Havas - August 22, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Ever heard the saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’? In my role as a coach, this is often the situation I find confronts most of my clients.

Stories we tell

Only last week I met with Delphine for our first session together. As I sat down in her office, before I could even remove my pen from my bag, she just dived right in, saying, ‘I have so much to explain …’ Delphine went on to tell me in an almost panicked state about how she was struggling to work efficiently with her business partner after realising they did not share the same values.

What she told me sounded well rehearsed. I don’t mean she’d practised a ‘speech’ for our meeting, rather that she’d created this story for herself to help her understand her own emotions, to make sense of the situation. More than likely, it was a story that had been playing over and over again in her head for many months now.

Stories we tell ourselves

Delphine is not by any means unique in this regard. We all live in stories. It’s a way of making sense of the world around us. And if there is no story to explain something, we will create one. Unfortunately, these can often be negative takes on what’s really happening, and immersing ourselves in such stories can do more harm than good.
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Autonomy is a motivating force – for family and work

Posted by Ronald van Domburg - August 19, 2014
Filed in Changing behaviour

In July my family went to Germany for a holiday – a camping trip to Potsdam, near Berlin. My wife Anouk and I had decided beforehand that we wanted to teach our children, Anemoon (aged 7) and Jasmijn (aged 4), something about how to handle money. So we gave the kids 10 euros each, to be spent at their discretion.

One rainy day during our trip, we visited the Sea Life aquarium in Berlin. It was a beautiful experience – Anouk and I loved it, as did the children. Except that at the end of the visit we inevitably found ourselves in a souvenir shop, full of garbage. I immediately walked to the exit, longing for a cappuccino, but the kids had other ideas. Anemoon found a Nemo toy to cuddle, while Jasmijn wildly waved a pirate flag. This is what they wanted to buy with their vacation money!

Holiday lesson story

Tired and irritable, in need of a cup of coffee, I said to the kids: ‘You can spend your money on better stuff than this trash. It’ll just collect dust when we’re home again’. At that moment Anouk decided it was time to intervene. She said to me: ‘We had an agreement that the kids could decide themselves how to spend the money, and now that they want to buy something, you want to stop it? No way’. I couldn’t argue with that, so although I knew I was right, I had to give in. A moment later, two very happy kids left Sea Life with their new treasures, holding them tight.

Well, for the rest of our holiday, the pirate flag fluttered continuously from the top of our tent. And wherever we went, Nemo accompanied us. The kids had not wasted their money – they’d spent it on things they really wanted. I had to admit that I was wrong.

Autonomy is a motivating force

Perhaps you recognise this type of behaviour in your organisation. Or perhaps, from time to time, in yourself …
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How to trigger the retelling of foundation stories

Posted by Shawn Callahan - August 14, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Every organisation, big or small, needs a foundation story that illustrates what’s important to them, what they stand for. But it’s important to remember that foundation stories are not time lines. They are pivotal moments that shape culture.

I was reminded of this on a recent trip to the capital of Mexico, where I came across two of the country’s foundation stories.

Los Niños Héroes

Walking through Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, the garden paths lined with street sellers calling our their bargains, it’s hard to imagine that the castle at its centre was the scene of a bloody battle back in September 1847.


At the height of the Mexican–American War, during the siege of Mexico City, the US Marines decided they had to control Chapultepec Castle. At that time the castle was a military academy, and the soldiers in training, some as young as 13, formed part of its 400-strong defence force.

The Mexicans did their very best to hold their ground, but it soon became clear that it was a hopeless fight and their commander ordered a retreat. However, six brave cadets, known today in Mexico as Los Niños Héroes (the boy heroes), ignored the order and instead fought to their deaths.
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Anecdote turns 10

Posted by Shawn Callahan - August 11, 2014
Filed in News

10 years ago on this date I wandered into the registration office to register Anecdote as a new business with the view that we could use story techniques to bring more humanity back into the workplace. My long-term business partner and dear friend Mark joined soon after and in those early days our customers were a little bemused by the idea that stories could make a difference. How have things changed.

Happy Birthday balloons in the sky

We were probably a little before our time but we persisted and as we narrowed our focus to helping leaders influence and inspire with stories as well as helping companies tell the story of their strategy, we found ourselves getting busier and busier.

Today our programs are delivered around the World by Anecdote and a network of business partners who are also passionate about the role stories can have in business.

A big thanks to Mark for being a great business partner and friend. Anecdote would not exist without you.

Thanks to the Anecdote team. You rock Helen, Kerenza, Ron, Paul and Jason.

And thanks to all our great supporters, clients, families and friends.

And finally a big hug and kiss to Sheenagh who has been a solid supporter and cheerleader despite the ups and downs of running a business. Thanks honey.

We are looking forward to the next 10 years.