Releasing Insight in your organisation through the power of story

Posted by Shawn Callahan - August 12, 2013
Filed in Book reviews, Business storytelling

In September 2011, Gary Klein, Patrick Lambe and I ran a workshop in Singapore exploring how insight and story work together to release insight in an organisation.

This was part of a process Gary was taking to help develop his new book which is all about insight, which was published this month. Highly recommended.

As I was cleaning out some files this morning I found the graphic recording (beautifully done by Wendy Wong) for the workshop and thought you might like to take a look.

Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Insight Workshop with Gary Klein

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Out of Focus: The story of how Kodak lost its direction

Posted by Shawn Callahan - July 30, 2012
Filed in Book reviews

I was sent a copy of this book by its author John Larish. It had immediate interest for me because in the early 90s I ran a photo library with my dear friend Peter Fox and we were actively digitising our collection using Kodak technology. They were at the forefront of the photographic industry back then yet were able to let that strategic advantage slip through their fingers.

This book is written by an insider who has already written much about the company. It’s done in a chatty, informal way giving you the feeling you are sitting with John with a cuppa having a good old yarn.

He details the many lost opportunities: Polaroid, photocopying and of course digital photography.

Out of Focus by John Larish

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The Party Thieves by Barrie Cassidy

Posted by Shawn Callahan - October 17, 2010
Filed in Anecdotes, Book reviews, Leadership

The meeting of MPs “happened in his office in September 2009, when a delegation chosen by the backbench went to see him about a proposal to cut MP printing allowances. This was an issue that directly affected the ability of the backbenchers to do their job, yet the decision had been taken without any consultation with them.

Rudd listened attentively enough to three or four members of the delegation, but when a Victorian backbencher and former Victorian part secretary, Senator David Feeney, started making his contribution, Rudd exploded. He ranted: ‘I don’t give a fuck what you fuckers think’. And then, directly to Feeney, he said: ‘You can get fucked’. pp. 123-124

This is just one of many example Barrie Cassidy gives of Kevin Rudd being, as Professor Robert Sutton calls, a bosshole: someone who leaves followers disrespected, emotionally damaged and de-energized. Cassidy paints a dismal portrait of Rudd as someone who is primarily concerned for himself, someone who seeks the limelight and someone who is obsessed with trying to control everything that might impact his image. According to Cassidy the dislike for Rudd among his colleagues was so great that when the challenge came to overthrow him as prime minister the numbers flowed to Gillard so quickly and overwhelmingly in her support there wasn’t even a need for a vote.

I’m really hoping that Kevin Rudd’s behaviour detailed in this book is an exception in politics because we can’t expect our country to be governed effectively if our prime minister intimidates his staff and ministerial colleagues to the point where no one is willing to disagree or debate the issues which are going to affect millions of Australian’s lives. It seams to me that outrageous bosshole behaviour is diminishing rapidly in our corporations I’m pleased to say. In most cases (I wish I could say in all cases) bosses are held to account. That’s not to say we can’t slow down our efforts to call appalling behaviour. I just hope this book helps those people in politics to realise it’s time to dial back the arrogance and direct their power to making a difference for their constituents.

I read this book in two days, which is unusual for me. I found the stories gripping. It’s an easy read. The first two-thirds chronicle the period leading up to the 2010 election from the point where Malcolm Turnbull’s loses the opposition leadership and the role Godwin Gretch. Then the rise of Tony Abbot at the new opposition leader and his shaky start. But the majority of part 1 of The Party Thieves is focussed on Kevin Rudd. His 2007 election win, his temper and bad behaviour, Julia’s rise, and the dismissal. The last third is a diary of the 2010 election interspersed with recollections from Barrie about his days as Bob Hawke’s press secretary.

I suspect this book is going to create a lot of controversy. Highly recommend it.


Book Review: The Power of Positive Deviance

I have just finished The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin) a book I have been waiting for some time to come out. I am very glad to say the wait has been well worth it.
Positive deviance has received a lot of attention since the concept was laid out in a series of articles way back in 2000 – one in the Harvard Business Review and the other in Fast Company. The concept has recently received a new boost since it was covered in both Influencer: the Power to Change Anything and by Chip and Dan Heath (where they called them ‘bright spots’) in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Company Command

What if a single warrior could have the knowledge of thousands?

In the late 1990s, Nate Allen and Tony Burgess (both US Army Captains) sat on their back porches in Hawaii and swapped stories about their experiences as company commanders and pondered the question above. They had a vision about connecting all company commanders in this form of conversation. They were joined by a few others who shared this vision and in 2000 was launched. Five years later, they were two of the authors of the book Company Command: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession. If you are interested in Communities of Practice this is an important book to read.

CompanyCommand was the forerunner. There are now over 50 similar forums, 2,900 new members per month and 75,000 unique visitors per month. There are a bunch more facts here.

Two weeks ago I gave an after dinner speech to the Australian Army Knowledge Management conference. Just before the speech I was introduced to the guy that has responsibility for running the Battle Command Knowledge System, which hosts CompanyCommand along with fifty other forums, Colonel Charles (Chuck) Burnett. I was a bit taken aback as I had a copy of CompanyCommand in my hand and was intending to use it as an example during the talk.

I was fortunate to spend some time talking with Colonel Burnett the next morning and he was very generous with his time. I was particularly interested to hear that one of his greatest challenges is continually justifying the value of the forums like CompanyCommand to his chain of command. Not that having to justify the value of a community of practice is a new thing; its just that having to justify the value of one of the most visible CoP success stories in the world seemed remarkable.

To tackle this, he conducted a survey last year to collect examples of how the communities of practice were making a difference. There were 2500 responses; problems overcome, mistakes avoided, money saved … lives saved. The collected stories are now a key part of communicating the value of the CoPs (we have previously blogged about this technique here and here).


I will finish this post with a quote from the CompanyCommand book:

It became clear to me…that was not about the website. Rather it was about a community of professionals sharing and learning in a fast-paced dynamic operational context; the technology simply enabled the process. In fact, the more I thought about and observed the…forum, the more I realised that the core technology of the forum was the people and the conversations, not the computer.

Now, I just need to wangle an invitation to the US Army KM conference in October this year ☺


Excusable delay

Posted by Mark Schenk - April 20, 2010
Filed in Anecdotes, Book reviews

You know the feeling. You are waiting in a cafe for a meeting and its 10 minutes past the agreed time…am I in the right place, is it the right day?

Well, that was me on Monday morning. About 15 minutes late, Carolyn Tate arrived. She explained that as she was leaving for the meeting a courier arrived. The delivery was the advance copies of her latest book, Marketing Your Small Business for Dummies. As far as excuses go it was a good one. I now possess the very first copy of the book which is available in stores in June. I was amazed to learn that she had written the book inside four months.

Carolyn runs a company, Connect Marketing, focussed on helping small businesses be brilliant at marketing. We met in 2008 when we were both guests on the Sky News Money Makers program hosted by David Koch. We were speaking on various aspect of collaboration.

And in case you are wondering, we met at Coogee beach.



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Trigger new stories and changing behaviours

Posted by Shawn Callahan - April 5, 2010
Filed in Anecdotes, Book reviews, Changing behaviour

Our mind is full of beliefs, assumptions and values which affect what we do and how we do it. Much of what we assume comes from our experiences, especially if we’ve told ourselves and others the story of what happen and what it means for us. Our stories help us remember and embed our assumptions.1 If we want to change our actions we need new stories that create and embed a new belief, assumption or value. We need to see it and feel it before we will change.2

One can take a systematic approach to triggering these new stories by first uncovering the assumptions you or your group live by and then designing simple experiments to test these assumptions. Kegan and Lahey do a terrific job describing a process for uncovering assumptions in Immunity to Change.3 They don’t mention stories in their approach but as I was reading their practical chapters at the end of the book it was screaming out to me that what they were advocating was a systematic way to trigger stories that could replace the unhelpful ones. The aim is to create new stories for yourself that help you to act in a new way.

Our assumptions and beliefs nearly always serve a purpose because if they didn’t they would have gone the way of the Dodo. But sometimes these same assumptions hold us back. Here is an example of a big assumption that really seemed to limit what this person thought was possible.

I remember running a workshop last year for a group of senior academics, many of them professors, on how they might improve collaboration. We were discussing two behaviours that should exist that have been shown to improve productivity: Whenever anyone has a concern, he or she speaks up and explains the concern in a complete, frank, and respectful way; and everyone holds everyone accountable for meeting expectations, for commitments, and for bad behaviour—regardless of role or position.4 As I was explaining this idea I could see a woman rolling her eyes at my comments and clearly disagreeing with what I was saying so I turned to her and said, “I can see you are uncomfortable with this idea. Would you like to share your view with the group?” Without hesitation she blurted out, “There is no way known you can just tell a professor about a concern in a completely frank and open way. I did that once and in the end I had to leave the department.”

It was clear she’d had a bad experience and was operating under the assumption that you must be guarded and careful with whatever you say to those in power otherwise you might loose your job. Now here was an assumption worth testing.

The first step is to start to think like George Costanza from the Seinfeld sitcom when he decided to do the opposite of everything he would normally do. As Jerry says in the episode, “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” So take the assumption “I assume if I’m frank and open with my boss, he will get angry” and design a test that does the opposite of what the assumption would advise and do the opposite. It’s important to note that your experiment should be safe. Avoid tackling assumptions where you believe an action will result in death, being fired, losing a relationship etc. Break down these more dramatic assumptions into smaller, less dramatic ones and test around the edges at first.

Then, most importantly, notice what happens. Kegan and Lahey suggest you plan for the results and think about the things that will indicate what happened and whether they tell you something new about the assumption. What did you think and feel? What did others think and feel? Which outcomes would really lead you to question the validity of your assumption?

Strong assumptions are unlikely to yield in a single test. You will need to conduct a series of experiments and reflect deeply on the results. Each experiment will create a new story for you and the ones that produce something counter to your preconceived ideas, the ones that are unanticipated will be the ones you will tell others and a change in mindset and behaviour will follow. Of course all this assumes you really want to change.


1. Schank, R.C. & Berman, T.R. 2002, ‘The Pervasive Role of Stories in Knowledge and Action’, in MC Green, JJ Strange & TC Brock (eds), Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahway, New Jersey.

2. Kotter, J.P. & Cohen, D.S. 2002, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

3. Kegan, R. & Lahey, L.L. 2009, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

4. Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R. & Switzler, A. 2008, Influencer: The Power To Change Anything, McGraw Hill, New York.

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Book review: Switch—How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Posted by Shawn Callahan - February 18, 2010
Filed in Book reviews, Business storytelling, Changing behaviour

It was going to be difficult to surpass their last book, Made to Stick, where they showed us that people wont pay attention unless our message is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and a story. And it was going to be even harder practising what they preached to make Switch stick. But I’m delighted to report that they’ve pulled it off and have created an engaging and useful work on how to change things when change is hard.

Switch is arranged around an analogy (immediately visual and sticky). When we are making a decision we’re often torn between our rational, logical reasons and our emotional, intuitive feelings. Chip and Dan ask us to imagine an Elephant and its Rider (the mahout). The Rider represents the rational and logical. Tell the Rider what to do, provide a good argument and the Rider will do it. The Elephant, on the other hand, represents our emotions, our gut response. The Rider might like to avoid that hamburger and chips but there is very little the Rider can do if the Elephant really wants it (OK, so I’m telling you what happened last night). To complete their analogy they include the Path they are travelling along. If the Rider can direct the Elephant down a well prepared Path then there is a good chance for change. The Path might represent, for example, access to user friendly technology or effective office space design. Switch is arranged in three parts: Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path.

On Saturday in 2000 … In 1990 … A doctor was asked … Crystal Jones joined Teach for America in 2003 … These are the first few words of the first four chapters and apart from the last chapter each starts with a story. And within each chapter are more stories. These stories are well chosen and illustrate the behaviours we need to adopt to effect change. The whole book is focussed on behaviours and rightly makes the point that change comes from changing people’s behaviour. That’s the level you need to take. A leader cannot afford to stay aloof. For change to occur they need to get into the detail as well as stay strategic.

As a business storyteller Switch is a treasure trove of stories to be retold in organisations. Last week I was running a strategy workshop and I wanted the group to identify a set of guiding principles for their organisation. So I told them the story of the Brazilian railway that was going broke and how Alexandre Behring and his CFO created four rules to guide everyone’s spending behaviour to get them out of debt. I shared the rules with the participants and they knew exactly what I meant and were able to easily create their own guiding principles. Strategy execution is a change initiative and Chip and Dan advise us to script the critical moves.

Here is the structure of the book. Notice how each section is a pointer to behaviour.

Direct the Rider: Find the bright spots; Script the critical moves; Point to the destination

Motivate the Elephant: Find the feeling; Shrink the Change; Grow your people

Shape the Path: Tweak the environment; Build habits; Rally the herd

On page 58 we encounter our first clinic and I must admit I groaned slightly when I bumped into it. Getting me to do exercises while I’m reading is normally a pain. I was going to just skip the clinic but decided to have a read and the thing I noticed was that the repetition of the ideas in another context was really helping me to remember. I knew repetition is important but I guess the story approach sucked me in and reinforced it.

One the first things I check when I get a book like Switch is to see whether it is comprehensively referenced and what type of studies are being referred to (if any). Switch passed with flying colours. The endnotes are expansive and they share a swag of evidence for each point they make and often used the psychological experiments as stories rather than just presenting the facts.

Switch is a book that will be read by senior leaders. It’s engaging, well written, funny in parts and insightful. If you’re an change practitioner in an organisation I recommend you buy a handful of copies and give them to your leaders. In my experience they wont read it right away but then they’ll jump on a flight and start and wont stop. At this point you’ll not only have a supporter but someone who will compel your involvement. Malcolm Gladwell has served me well in the past and Switch is in the same league.


The Mahout, the Elephant and the Path—an analogy for change

Posted by Shawn Callahan - January 25, 2010
Filed in Book reviews, Changing behaviour

Dan and Chip Heath have a new book coming out (Feb) and they sent me a copy of the first chapter. The title is Switch and like their last best seller, Made to Stick, it promises to be a keeper. It’s all about how to motivate people to change. The first chapter has left an indelible impression because of the strong image they conjured to explain what we need to consider to influence change: the Mahout (they call it The Rider), the Elephant and the Path.


Changing behaviour involves a struggle between our rational and well-reasoned thinking and our emotional urges. The mahout represents the rational and reasoned. If the mahout clearly understands where he needs to go he’ll direct his charge that way.

The elephant represents emotional urges. While the elephant might be happy to go the way the mahout directs, if she decides to go another direction there is not a single thing the mahout can do about it.

The path represents anything that might impede or assist the mahout and the elephant to get to where they are going. You want the path to be as easy to follow as possible.

So how does this translate to a business setting? Imagine you’re a leader of an organisation that’s decided to compete on exemplary customer service. To engage the mahout you need a clear rationale describing why customer service is so important. You would find the research that shows the factors that influence customer service and illustrate to the mahout in everyone the concrete actions you want them to take. Engaging the Mahout, however, is the easy part and the one most organisations spend most of their time doing. The hard bit is the elephant.

Engaging the elephant, the emotion, will take action and stories about things that happened. You might start by telling some stories of customer service blunders to grab their attention. Here’s one that happened to me recently. It’s important you find stories from the organisation. Real life examples. Negative stories, however, often in themselves wont change behaviour, partly because people don’t know exactly what they need to do to get it right. So you also need to find stories of great customer service from your company. We call them Gibson stories because William Gibson (the sci-fi writer) once said: “the future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.” You just need to find these stories that represent your company’s future. Tell them. Get people to discuss them. Inspire that elephant.

After engaging the mahout and the elephant you need to pave the path and remove anything that’s getting in the way of progress. This might be a rewards system that’s encouraging the wrong behaviour. Or it might be an IT system that is unintegrated and hard for call centre staff to use slowing down their support for customers. There are a myriad of obstacles to remove from the path.

Don’t forget, the Heath brothers were the authors of Made to Stick which dedicates a chapter to the power of stories. Chapter one is full of great stories. Some you might have already heard, such as the 424 gloves that save a company millions or the 100,000 lives saves by the Donald Berwick and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

The Heath brothers conclude the chapter by saying:

Whether the switch you seek is in your family, in your charity, in your organization, or in society at large, you’ll get there by making three things happen. You’ll direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path.

Photo credit: goofball12


A story designed to change your mind

Seth Godin has a new ebook out called What Matters Now. It consists of 80 or so thought leaders each with a page to talk about an idea that matters to them. Each idea is summed up in a single word such as Dignity, Autonomy, Attention, Difference. You can download the ebook here.

Dan and Chip Heath have a page with the title, Change. They incorporate three ideas in their one-pager that is dear to our work: stories, positive deviance and changing behaviour. Here is what they wrote.

A troubled teenager named Bobby was sent to see his high-school counselor, John Murphy. Bobby had been in trouble so many times that he was in danger of being shipped off to a special facility for kids with behavioral problems.

Most counselors would have discussed Bobby’s problems with him, but Murphy didn’t.

MURPHY: Bobby, are there classes where you don’t get in trouble?

BOBBY: I don’t get in trouble much in Ms. Smith’s class.

MURPHY: What’s different about Ms. Smith’s class?

Soon Murphy had some concrete answers: 1. Ms. Smith greeted him at the door. 2. She checked to make sure he understood his assignments. 3. She gave him easier work to complete. (His other teachers did none of the three.)

Now Murphy had a roadmap for change. He advised Bobby’s other teachers to try these three techniques. And suddenly, Bobby started behaving better.

We’re wired to focus on what’s not working. But Murphy asked, “What IS working, today, and how can we do more of it?”

You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, “What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?”

Chip and Dan Heath are the authors of Made to Stick and the soon-to-be-released book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

It’s not a coincidence that the Heath brothers decided to tell a story to illustrate their idea and try and persuade the reader to adopt a different approach to change. They dedicate a chapter to the power of stories in their book, Made to Stick and conclude the book saying that most of the other effects described in the other chapters are encapsulated in stories. So let’s look at some of the features of this story and why it might be effective.

The simple story structure creates an image for us of both Bobby and Murphy (and let’s not forget Ms. Smith). I can see Bobby sitting on a swivel chair restless and bored. If the story creates vivid images for us there is a good chance it will grab our attention and we will remember it. We’ve all seen Bobbys in our life, so it’s easy to picture him in this story.

Names are important. Humans care about other humans. We want to know the names. Case studies often lack names and suffer for it. Again it creates attention through authenticity and empathy for people.

Also notice how they start with the story and then provide the advice. They didn’t want the reader to slip into a confirmation bias where we automatically discount suggestions as our first instinct. The story first allows us to pull the idea to us, own the idea ourselves before a suggestion is made by the experts.