Filed in Changing behaviour, Collaboration, Employee engagement
Over the years I’ve shown a clever little animation in our workshops to illustrate our propensity to tell ourselves stories when things are ambiguous and unclear. It’s how we make sense of the world. But in running this video, perhaps hundreds of times, I think I’ve discovered another interesting use for it. It seems to give an indication of group fear. In other words, I reckon it reveals whether a group is well connected and feeling secure where members can take risks or the other end of the spectrum where there is fear, uncertainly and distrust.
Let me give you a little background on how I use the video and show you how the indicator works.
The video is about 90 seconds long. Just watch it and at the end describe what you saw happening. There are no wrong answers so whatever pops to mind.
So, what do you think the video was showing?
Just take a moment and jot down what you think was happening.
OK, most people ascribe human emotions and actions to the shapes. They say things like, “the big triangle was bullying the little triangle and the circle but the little triangle saved the circle.” Or they will ascribe roles to the shapes saying things like “the father didn’t like the boyfriend but despite being pushed away the boyfriend still went out with the girl and the father was angry.”
We like to tell ourselves a story to explain what’s happening rather than merely say they are geometric shapes moving on a two-dimensional plane. And because we tell ourselves a story we feel emotions as the story unfolds. And depending on our surroundings, we will verbalise these emotions.
So here is what I’ve noticed from showing this video to groups of people in organisations across the globe.
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When I run our storytelling for leaders program I like to point out that effective leaders are good storytellers. I say “good” because a leader merely has to share a story or two to set them apart from the rest because most leaders communicate entirely with opinion and lofty abstractions–yawn. A leaders’ message really sticks when they illustrate their point with a real life experience, i.e. a story.
A masterclass in leadership storytelling
I saw a beautiful example of how it can be done a couple of years ago when I was helping the leaders of an insurance firm be better storytellers. The company had just appointed a new CEO and he wanted to address the 100 or so people at the workshop I was facilitating.
When the CEO arrived he shook my hand and introduced himself to the audience. Within a couple of minutes he told his first story of how he started his career in commercial insurance in the UK and the terrifying job he had assessing assets atop power station cooling towers. This was his connection story. He was showing how he was a little bit like his audience. He had some understanding of their world.
He followed with an anecdote about a company where he was on the executive team and how they hit a cash crisis and the tough decisions that had to be made. He never wanted to be in that position again. He was making it clear what was important to him, sharing what he valued.
In 15 minutes this CEO shared a few more stories that helped everyone know what type of person he was, what he cared about and what really motivates him to take on this new role.
With so much talk about business storytelling you’d think business people were telling more stories.
Sadly we see lots of people talking about stories but very few telling them. And quite frankly, you just don’t get the benefits of storytelling unless you are telling a story.
Part of the problem is that business people lack a simple story framework to help them spot stories so they can tell the difference between a story and just a tag line, or an assertion, a viewpoint or just an out of context, unemotional, barely understandable dot point.
So here’s an infographic you can pin to your wall or save to your smart phone that gives you some simple guideposts to help you spot stories.
And once armed with this knowledge you’ll no longer be lulled into accepting any old brand story, product story, strategic story or even a strategic narrative (which of course is a type of story) unless it’s really a story.
Click on the image below to see a larger view:
Share this Infographic on your site with this embed code
We designed this simple story framework with oral storytelling in mind. I guess that’s because most of our work involves helping leaders tell their stories, off the cuff and without Powerpoint.
A big part of being able to tell stories is your ability to find good ones to tell. If you don’t have the ability to spot a story it’s like stamp collecting without knowing what a stamp looks like. When you rock up to the stamp show and display your collection of beer coasters you look a little foolish.
Early this year we appointed two business partners in Mexico, one in Mexico City (Jesus Trejo) and the other in Monterrey (Astrolab). Of course this meant translating our Storytelling for Leaders materials into Spanish. We engaged a professional translator in Mexico City who did a wonderful job understanding the nuances of our work and making the most appropriate translation. Our business partners are very pleased with the result. So now there is a Spanish Storytelling for Leaders.
First Spanish Storytelling for Leaders Project
Our first major project using the newly translated materials was with one of Mexico’s most prestigious department stores. We worked over two days to help their senior leaders build their storytelling skills and also showing them how storytelling could be employed by front line staff to provide even higher customer service.
It was a pity I couldn’t deliver the program in Spanish myself but luckily I had Jesus there to translate. I did notice, however, that even when you don’t speak the language you can really tell when a story is being shared. The tone of their voice changes and what was monotone switches to a beautiful multi tone framed by an expressive face, glistening eyes and complementary gestures.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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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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 »
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.
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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