When trying to create change within individuals or with teams it can be beneficial to understand their dominant mental models - how they view themselves, their team, or even the organisation as a whole.
One of the most effective narrative techniques to be able to do this is called archetype extraction. An archetype is an embodiment of the organisation's culture in the form of a complex yet familiar character. An archetype is usually partly good and partly bad; a complex mix of traits. Not to be confused with a stereotype, which is typically an oversimplification based on simple categorisation or role.
The way we have used this technique here at Anecdote in the past is:
Collect anecdotes from people in the organisation on a theme (e.g. customer service, collaboration, or even the performance management process).
We take these anecdotes into a workshop where we get the workshop participants to identify the characters and their character traits from the collected anecdotes.
Using a facilitation process they morph into characters - archetypes - which are often drawn by a cartoonist for greater visual impact. For an example of this go to our good friend Patrick Lambe's website to see an example. They collected stories from Knowledge Management (KM) practitioners about their experiences of success and failure in getting management buy-in and support for their KM initiatives. They collected 4 stories, which they took to a series of conferences in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. From these stories they derived archetypal characters that represent the range of typical attitudes and behaviours that knowledge managers encounter.
Once the archetypes are identified people can then use them to discuss some of the un-discussables without getting personal. Through this exercise both you and the participants will have obtained a new insight on how they view themselves or the organisation as whole.
I recently heard a great example of when this process gave some really powerful insights and created energy for change.I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr Juanita Day recently. Juanita has recently completed her (second!) PhD. This one is from Rushmore University and was on the use of story in business. For me Juanita is a great example of a real practitioner in the use of story within business.
She has created numerous opportunities in her 'day job' to use story in whole range of contexts, and then has used this work to study and wrote up for her PhD. Juanita told me a story about how she worked in her business doing archetype extraction. She collected stories from a range of management levels and then worked with the very senior team to create an archetype that embodied the organisation.
They had a cartoonist in the process that then created a cartoon of the archetype. When they had finished and were all looking at the character Juanita said they all stopped, looked at each other and said "I don't really like that person". In that moment she told me was the catalyst for the changes they wanted/needed to make in the organisation and archetype extraction played a significant part in this process.
The last few weeks have seen lots of new opportunities emerge and several new projects have started. We are applying our narrative approaches in two customer engagement projects, demonstrating that these approaches yield critical insights both inside and outside the organisation.
Kevin and Mark ran our leadership program for a University division in early April and the feedback was fantastic. One participant described how he got into the car on Monday morning to drive to the venue, expecting "the program to be crap!" At the end of the two days he reflected that it had been very valuable and he intended to change some key behaviours as a result. Great outcome.
Zahmoo is being used by clients in a wide variety of applications including:
collecting and sharing stories of values in action
getting customers and stakeholders to contribute examples of what its like to deal with the organisation
consolidating and organising content contributed by users spread across Australia
collecting stakeholder stories for evaluating the progress of a Government Program
Upcoming Events that we're running or attending:
(1) Information Awareness Month
Information Awareness Month (IAM) is held each year in May. Mark is speaking at the launch of IAM 2011 on 3 May at the National Library of Australia. Anecdote is also a Silver Sponsor for IAM 2011.
(2) Storytelling for Business Leaders - Public Workshops
We all need better ways to persuade, share what we know and help those around us make sense of the complex world we live in. We all want to convey our ideas with impact, yet eyes instantly glaze the moment you beam your PowerPoint presentation laden with slide after slide of dot points. This is where stories can help.
We know informally that stories are engaging; we tell them at dinner parties and people listen and they 'get it'. Yet few leaders systematically harness storytelling to communicate ideas, convey the organisation’s values or inspire and motivate people. Developing our storytelling skills helps build confidence, convey ideas clearly and effectively, and probably most importantly, present to our colleagues who we are and what we stand for.To help you build and develop this vital leadership competency we our running a series of public workshops.
It's been a few years since we publicly ran our workshops in Australia, we've been focussed on delivering them internally to our clients.
But in May this year we are running Storytelling for Business Leaders workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.
Melbourne on the 17th May. To book please click here
Annette Simmons says that there are some story types you just should know and be able to tell, namely: Who am I? and Why am I here? I'd like to add another story type which will help you to connect, which I'll call the "I'm Like You" story.
Robert Cialdini (the influence psychologist) describes a fascinating experiment in his book ''Influence '', which I'll recall from memory. The experimenters write a letter, first in English, and slip it into a wallet, include some cash and then leave the wallet in a public place. When they left the wallet in a predominantly English speaking neighbourhood the chances of it being returned were much higher than leaving it in a non-English speaking neighbourhood. Then they wrote the letter in Italian and as you might expect the letter was returned more often than not when left in the Italian neighbourhood and so on. People like people who are more like them.
Last year Mark and I were giving a talk to the commercial division of an insurance company on how to be better business storytellers. We were told before hand that the newly appointed CEO would arrive somewhere in the middle of our workshop to give the group of 200 or so people a short talk. This was the CEO's first encounter with the commercial division. The CEO's minder gave me the signal that the Chief was ready to talk and he strode in confidently and said, "One of my first jobs in the UK was underwriting water boilers in the north of England; they wouldn't trust me with anything more complicated. I remember one very cold morning ..."
The CEO set about telling three short stories of how he'd done insurance work in the past and how he'd had some understanding of the work the division did. At the same time he didn't make himself out as an expert, rather he was clearly sympathetic to some of the challenges the job presented. The stories, like all good personal anecdotes, gave everyone a sense of the type of person he was: no nonsense, hard working, fair, with a sense of humour. Of course it's impossible to tell what people were thinking but the audience body language suggested he had their attention.
We can relax a little when we know the people we're with are like us. We speak the same language (including the jargon), hold similar values, have similar interests and share similar stories of success and failure. There's a much better chance that when we are with people like us they will care what we think and say.
But you can't merely assert you're like others. You need to provide the evidence, and in social settings evidence is supplied as stories. You need to tell "I'm Like You" stories. Now here's the catch: we judge stories on their relevance and plausibility. In this case relevance is rarely a problem because any story that shows you have some similar experience as your audience will help make the connection.
However, if you haven't worked a salary job for a single day in your life, are a multi-millionaire inherited from your aristocratic family and then attempt to tell a story of how you toughed it out as a young fella as a way to connect to, say, your factory worker constituents (which UK politician might I be thinking about?), then there's a good chance their bullshit detectors will sound loudly.
So start with your audience. Understand what they do. What do they value? Then search your own personal experience for something similar. Eek out an anecdote no matter how small that shows you have lived some of their life. If you come up empty think about you parents' experiences. Never pass their stories off as your own (moral sin of storytelling) rather just tell people what they've told you. For example, my father was a US Marine and I've shared some of his experiences which helped me connect to military folk I've worked with over the years. And if you still have nothing don't even try to pretend. That's when you rely on the other story types to help you connect.
I am working on a project requiring a major organisational transformation. On Monday, the division's chief heads off to Canberra to get a mandate to make the change from head office. One of his biggest concerns is head office continuously second-guessing him as he leads the organisation through the change process. He recognises that in complex situations there are no correct answers and there are likely to be many different opinions about what should be done, and head office has a habit of trying to micro-manage things.
I suggested using a story to demonstrate how head office second guessing might be fatal to the change process. This story from a BBC program 'The Human Mind' came to mind:
In October 2001, a fire crew was fighting a fire in a disused bingo hall in Leicester in the UK. Even though it was big, the fire chief decided it was safe enough to send the crew into the building. They were starting to make progress in knocking the fire down when the fire chief decided something was wrong, and ordered his team out of the building. The team protested, unwilling to give up the progress they had made. But the fire chief insisted and as they exited the building it exploded in a massive fireball. If the decision to evacuate hadn't been made the entire team would have been killed. It turns out that the fire was one of the rarest and most dangerous phenomenon in firefighting - a backdraft. The fire chief had never experienced a backdraft before, he just knew that something was wrong and they needed to get out. In the ensuing investigation it turns out there were three things that were unusual: the smoke was more orange than usual, air was rushing into the building rather than out of it, and the fire was unusually quiet. The fire chief was right in his decision, he just didn't know why at the time.
Relating the story to being second-guessed by head office might go like this. Imagine if head office were there at that fire. There was no evidence that anything unusual was happening, the team were arguing against the chief (they wanted to stay and fight the fire) and they were making good progress. Chances are that head office would have overruled the fire chief and told him to keep fighting the fire, and the entire team would have been killed. And the head office decision would have been perfectly rational and the whole thing written off as a tragic accident.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clark's third law of prediction sums up how most people react when they see the Livescribe Pen in action. Livescribe is an electronic pen that writes on paper and can also record what's been said while you are writing. But here's the magic, part 1: when you click on your paper notes with the pen the pen replays what was said when you wrote that word. That's amazing.
The second piece of magic is that you can sync your pen with your computer (there is some software to load on your mac or PC) and all your handwritten notes are transferred and searchable. Let me say thay again in case you missed it: you can search for words that you wrote in your scribbly handwriting and Livescribe will find the page in your online notebook that you wrote it. Now my handwritten is not the best and it has no problems finding the search terms I enter.
The magic is made possible by a combination of notebook paper that has microdots faintly printed across the page and a pen that photographs where the pen wrote across those microdots. That means you have to buy the Livescribe notebooks, which are reasonably priced. The pen and USB connector costs just under $300. I bought mine at OfficeWorks. If you like gadgets and collect stories, want to record meetings or seminars, then this is the tool for you.
World Storytelling Day was celebrated recently on Sunday, March 20th. To coincide with this, Anecdote launched a new site called TheStoryTest.com.
We developed TheStoryTest.com to help people understand their current knowledge, and gaps, around identify stories. If you can't tell the difference between a story and say, an opinion, an analogy or even a case study, it's hard to be a good storyteller. TheStoryTest.com has 10 examples and your job is to decide which is a story and which is not. At the end you'll get a score and get a link to the answers. We want as many people as possible in every organisation in the world to build their story intelligence. It will help bring more humanity to organisations.
TheStoryTest.com was born from the observation that many attendees of our Storytelling for Business Leaders training couldn't say for certain when a story was told. Probably about 70% were either unsure or totally off base. As we said, it's very difficult to tell stories if you are not sure what a story is.
Go and try it out at TheStoryTest.com and see if you can spot stories. Once you can do it consistently we believe your storytelling will really take off.