Most professional firms, such as those centred on engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants and information technologists, employ graduates in programs that last from 12 months to three years. The graduates are given opportunities to work in different parts of the business alongside experienced professionals. However, companies with such intake programs tend to miss the golden opportunity to develop their graduates through the practice of asking story-eliciting questions. Fortunately, this can be remedied with an afternoon of training and the implementation of a process to turn the new skills acquired into a habit.
Teaching graduates story-eliciting questions
Here’s where the opportunity lies. A habit ingrained in many graduates is to ask questions designed to help them complete the task at hand. For example, say you’re an IT graduate and you’ve just been given the task – your boss might even have used the STICC approach to task assignment – of developing a requirements document for a new, relatively simple software application. You’ve never done one before, so you start asking the experienced professionals you’re working with some questions: What does this type of document look like? Can you share some examples with me? What does a good outcome look like?
Now here’s the thing. Your experienced colleagues can, and probably will, answer your questions with their opinions and basic instructions, which only scratches the surface of what they know. They’ve done hundreds of these types of projects. They know what goes wrong, where the twists and turns are likely to appear. They have years of experience to guide them. But the depth of their responses will be guided by the questions you ask. If you get into the habit of asking story-eliciting questions, you will greatly increase the chances of valuable experience being shared with you.
Filed in Business storytelling, Collaboration, Knowledge
Here at Anecdote we focus on oral storytelling. Our network of partners around the world help leaders find and tell business stories to influence, engage and even inspire.
The thing is, there are very few examples of business oral storytelling on the net so we’ve started a little project to tell the stories that are catalogued in our Story Finder collection. In case you haven’t seen it, Story Finder are all the stories we’ve written in our blog that we think a business person might find useful to tell categorised by leadership topics like innovation, resilience and incentives.
Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a great storyteller but what I’ve learnt is that you only get the benefits of storytelling when you are telling a story. So here is our first example. Please let me know what you think.
Filed in Changing behaviour, Expertise location, Knowledge
I started to read Daniel Coyle’s latest book: The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for improving your skills on the commute to work this morning, and it’s fascinating.
I really enjoyed Coyle’s previous book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. The book was all about answering the question; “how do people get great at something?“.
For the book, Coyle looked at the latest research, spent a lot of time talking to the ‘father of expertise’ K. Anders Ericsson, but also visited what he called ‘talent hotbeds’. These are places where great talent has been produced out of proportion to their size and perceived stature; for example, a Russian tennis club, a music school in Dallas, a soccer field in Brazil, and many others.
It is a fascinating read and brings out, yet again, the importance of deliberate practice, a concept you may have seen us mention on many occasions in this blog. From cab drivers in London doing the knowledge, to Benjamin Frankiln improving the way he wrote, to the Jamacian bob sleigh team, immortalised in the film ‘Cool Runnings’. They all used elements of deliberate practice in building skill and improving performance.
A key element of deliberate practice is the presence of some kind of coach, teacher or mentor to help provide guidance and give feedback on performance. We all know the value of a great coach, but what is the right kind of person to help us really achieve something great?
From Coyle’s research he says you should seek out someone who:
- Doesn’t remind you of a courteous waiter - you don’t want someone that smiles a lot and says things like; “Don’t worry, no problem, we will take care of that later“.
- Scares you a little – look for someone who watches you closely and is honest, sometimes unnervingly so
- Gives short, clear directions - most great teachers/coaches/mentors do not give long winded speeches. Instead, they give short, clear directions of what they want.
- Loves teaching fundamentals – they start from a focus on the basics, the foundations, the fundamentals and build from there. And they will always go back to these to ensure they are being done, and done right.
- Is older (all other things being equal) – teaching is like any other talent: it takes time to grow. Great teachers are first and foremost learners, who improve their skills with each passing year
I just wanted to let you know that I will be at: ‘KM Australia 2012’ on the 24 -26 July 2012 in Sydney. Here is more info on the forum http://www.kmaustralia.com and you may also want to join the KM Australia LinkedIn group:
If you can’t make it, we will be using the hashtag #kmaus during the conference if you wish to follow the tweets.
I’m presenting our story work at KM Australia this year (24-26 July) and I’ll also be taking part in the debate, which has been organised in a friendly and fun way. We are debating whether tacit knowledge can and should be captured.
If you’d like to know more about the congress here’s the event blurb. I’ve been told that if you share this blog post with your Facebook friends or your Twitter followers, or any other social media channel for that matter, you’ll receive a 15% discount off the registration price.
Did you ever think the good old movie training montage, found in such classic’s as The Karate Kid, Team America, or the Rocky movies, could beautifully sum up all the elements of deliberate practice?
I have been doing some work over the last few weeks on developing a ‘Deliberate Practice Program’ that will help to make learning stick even more for participants in our programs such as Storytelling for Business Leaders.
As my mind was very much tuned into the whole area of ‘practice’, I watched a scene from The Kings Speech last week with added interest. The scene was a montage where Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) and Bertie (Colin Firth) were undertaking a series of exercises and drills to help the future King overcome his speech impediment. What I realised is that I was actually watching all the elements of deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is a concept outlined by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, who is is widely recognised as the world’s leading researcher on expertise. He has studied how people become experts in a whole range of fields, and looked for the consistent attributes of what they do to make them achieve these superior levels of performance. The consistent feature they have identified is not some natural born talent, or the hours they practice, but how they practice – specifically how they undertake deliberate practice.
The key attributes of deliberate practice are:
- Repetition – Performing the task occurs repetitively rather than at its naturally occurring frequency
- Focused feedback: – Task performance is evaluated by a coach during performance
- Breaking the task down into its parts and practicing these individually and then as a whole
- Immediacy of performance – After corrective feedback on task performance there is an immediate repetition so that the task can be performed more in accordance with what is required/expected
- Stop and start- because of the repetition and feedback, deliberate practice is typically seen as a series of short performances
- Active coaching – Typically a coach must be very active during deliberate practice, monitoring performance, assessing adequacy, and controlling the structure of training
- Emphasis on difficult aspects – Deliberate practice will focus on more difficult aspects, for example, when flying an airplane normally only a small percentage of the flight time is taken up by takeoffs and landings. In deliberate practice simulators, however, a large portion of the time will be involved in landings and takeoffs
- Focus on areas of weakness – in real life situations people are striving to achieve the task and therefore are unlikely to do the things they see as a weakness or they think will stop them achieving. Deliberate practice therefore allows time and space to practise these elements
- Work vs. play – deliberate practice feels more like work and is more effortful than casual performance
Now, watch the following clip from the movie ‘Cool Runnings‘ and tell me how many of these elements exist?
I had a throughly enjoyable afternoon on Saturday learning not only how to make great coffee, but being surrounded by stories.
The course was a present from my wife for Christmas and took place at the Home Barista Institute, just round the corner from the Anecdote office here in Melbourne.
The course was delivered by Rita Zhang who began by telling a fantastic ‘Who am I’ story. She told a series of shorter stories about how she fell in love with coffee, how she used a mentor to help her develop her business and how she started teaching courses on coffee. She brought to life each of the scenes in real detail (e.g. describing a sunny Saturday afternoon when she went and visited a ‘bright spot’ coffee shop that her mentor recommended), she used suspense and surprise in the stories (e.g. how she lifted up a takeaway coffee from the same shop and discovered a love heart drawn in the latte foam) and also linked them together to create a cohesive account of how she came to be there, teaching that course, on that day. These short stories gave a fantastic insight into Rita and where her passion for coffee came from.
Stories were also included in two other aspects of the course.
Each of us had to introduce ourselves by telling stories of good and bad coffee experiences we had had. After seven years in the UK I had no shortage of bad coffee stories! It was a nice way to be introduced to the other attendees and hear a bit about them and why they were there, in a very non-threatening and insightful way.
Stories were also used by Rita to bringing to life the history of coffee, right through from how coffee was discovered (the story of the ‘dancing goat’), through to how Pope Clement VIII played a key role in coffees acceptance into Europe in the 1600s.
Overall a fantastic day, not only because I was learning how to make great coffee (which now requires some serious practice on my part!), but also because I was reminded, yet again, about the power of stories.
I stumbled across a blog post yesterday from Bob Sutton where he referred to the ‘Otis Redding Problem‘.
This is where you put in place too many metrics to measure individuals, teams, or business units. meaning they can’t even think about all of them at once. They therefore end-up doing what they believe are important or that will bring them rewards.
This is based on the line from the famous Otis Redding song Sitting By the Dock of the Bay; “Can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.”
This triggered a thought for me about how you could potentially use musical artists, lyrics or song names in an exercise.
Say you wanted to explore levels of engagement within a team or department. Asking straight out is unlikely to get you an accurate picture, depending on the culture, environment, who is present etc.
What you could do is get groups to come up with, say, a written ‘Playlist’ of songs that sum up levels of engagement for them within the team. Or you could give them an iPod and get them to actually create one and play it back to the room.
Maybe instead you could introduce them to the ‘Otis Redding Problem’ and then get them to come up with their own examples within the team, based on song lyrics.
I just think this type of method allows people some safety and security to “discuss the undiscussable”. It allows them to distance themselves from openly expressing how they feel, and the dangers that presents, just as archetypes or metaphor exercises might allow. It also creates a bit of fun, and lets people express some of their creativity and musical knowledge!
Anyone ever used anything like this and wanted to share how it went? Or does anyone have their own ideas on Problems/Dilemmas/Scenarios in the ‘Otis Redding Problem’ vein? Love to hear your thoughts.
Sometimes you just need a few things to get started. I think this is the case for mentoring. We have been helping a company develop a mentoring culture and in typical Anecdote style we collected 50 stories of good and bad mentoring in the organisation and then help potential mentors draw lessons from these stories themselves. They learn that listening is more important that giving advice, that questions are more important than answers and the ability to tell a story is important to share experiences.
This is great foundational knowledge but quite frankly sometimes you also need a simple framework to guide your mentoring sessions. Mary Connor and Julia Pokora in their book Coaching & Mentoring at Work provided just what’s needed: three topics to cover in a mentoring conversation.
Stage 1: What’s going on? What’s the present state of affairs.
You want to start by getting your mentee talking about the current situation. Get them to tell the story of the challenge they are facing. Practice good listening.
Then you might help them expand their perspectives. Are there any thing you missed? What would X say about this? How would this story be told by one of the other characters?
Then explore what they think might help them most. What’s causing the most concern? What’s a manageable chunk to tackle? What would give a high personal payoff?
Stage 2: What solutions make sense for me? What do I need or want instead of what I have?
Start with generating possibilities. In an ideal world what might you need or want? It’s now X months into the future and it has been a wild success, what happened? It’s now X months in the future and it has been a dismal failure, what happened?
What would be a realistic goal to achieve? Now you are moving from exploration to choosing a path forward.
Then test the commitment. What are the pros and cons, costs and benefits?
Stage 3: How do I get what I need or want?
How might you achieve the goals. What strategies might you use?
Which approach makes the most sense for you?
What’s the action plan and how do you get started? What is your next action?
Now, this is a severe distillation of their good work. There are lots more things to learn about mentoring. But if you are about to have your first mentoring session and were wondering what you might do, here’s a simple framework to guide your conversation.
Telling, telling, telling … So many in the field of story work focus on storytelling. Sure, telling a good story at the right time has impact. But storytelling represents a mere fraction of what can be done with business stories.
Here is one little example.
Last year I had a call from Kirstyn. She works in HR for a large engineering firm. Kirstyn runs a program for their graduate employees to build their skills over three years. This firm has some or the world’s engineering and scientific experts and the graduate employees get the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with these experts on some amazing projects. The thing is, the graduates often don’t make the most of it because they rarely get to hear what these experts have actually done in their careers. Why? Because they graduates are unskilled in asking story-eliciting questions.
So we set about helping about 40 graduate employees learn how to elicit stories from their expert colleagues. And after learning the basics we wheeled in some senior experts as guinea pigs to practice with. It was a great way to practice their new story-listening skills but more importantly it was an opportunity to get to know some of the more senior folk in the firm.
And because we know that people remember what they feel we asked Melbourne Playback Theatre to perform some of the stories the experts shared with the graduates.
Here is one of the stories.
Clare (not her real name) was obviously a driven woman. She was in her mid-forties and had the figure of a marathon runner. Her black hair matched her black outfit. She started her story by telling her graduates that she experienced a turning point in her career because of one particular nightmare project. She was performing a quality assurance role on an engineering project and the client didn’t like her. In fact they were hurling abuse at her but she kept telling herself that she was tough and could take it. With every insult she worked harder.
One weekend she decided to visit her parents in the country. As she was walking down the hall of her parents’ house she could see her mother’s silhouette at the end of the hallway. As she emerged into the light her Mum turn around to see her gaunt and exhausted daughter. All her Mum could say was, “Oh honey, something needs to change.” and she gave her daughter a big hug. At that point Clare decided to get balance in her life and get far away from unhealthy work environments.
You could hear a pin drop as the graduates heard Clare tell this story and their jaws dropped when Melbourne Playback Theatre performed the story for everyone.