May, 2011 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
May is an even busier month than usual here at Anecdote as we are out on the road running our Storytelling for Business Leaders public workshops right across Australia (more details below).
We only do these every couple of years, and we find they are a great way for us to meet people from a whole range of different industries and background who are passionate about the use of stories in their businesses.
It's really inspiring for us to hear their stories and the things they are doing around using the power of stories that fundamentally make a difference to their organisations, their people and their customers.
We hope you also continue to get inspired around putting stories to work by this months newsletter.
In this edition, we have:
Book Review — Change Anything – The New Science Of Personal Success
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Change Anything – The New Science Of Personal Success
— by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
From the authors of Influencer comes Change Anything – The New Science Of Personal Success .
Influencer had a huge impact on me and helped shaped and crystallised my thoughts on how to create sustainable change and all the factors you need to take into consideration. I was fortunate to be able to be a part of the beta testing for the Influencer training courses and am also a certified trainer in the approach, so have been really looking forward to seeing where the Vital Smarts guys (the company created by the authors) have taken their thinking with this new book.
The authors grandly call their approach the 'The Science of Personal Success' but if you can get past statements like this, the books very 'American' title, some of the language, there are real nuggets to be gained from this rather short, and easily read book.
Change Anything takes the basic model outlined in Influencer (the 'Six Sources of Influence') and applies them to solving the personal change challenges we all face around things like weight loss, being fit, getting out of debt or improving our relationships. They take each of the six sources and outline what it is, what it can give you and then give a number of 'tactics' - really practical things to help you achieve change within this source.
The book is divided up into three parts.
In the first section ('The Science of Personal Success') the authors outline their approach and introduce readers to some of the key concepts they first covered in Influencer (and even the ideas being formed in their previous books Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations ) around these key concepts of identifying crucial moments, creating vital behaviours and then using all six sources of influence to overwhelm change.
They then move on to Part II where they outline the six sources of influence:
Source 1: Personal Motivation - "Love What You Hate"
Source 2: Personal Ability - "Do What You Can’t"
Source 3 & 4: Social Motivation and Ability: "Turn Accomplishes Into Friends"
Source 5: Structural Motivation - "Invert the Economy"
Source 6: Structural Ability - "Control Your Space"
Each of the six sources is covered in a lot of detail, outlining what it is and then going through a number of 'strategies' to help you get the benefits of this area in creating change. I will cover two sources in more detail for this review to give you an idea of the types of things covered..
Source 1 is all about finding and using your personal motivation to create change. In the book they call it 'Love What You Hate' which, for me, is a little hopeful, but the tactics they outline are really useful and certainly made me think. They include creating personal motivation by viewing your 'default future' (the life you'll live if you continue behaving as you currently are), or changing the meaning of actions to bring out the values you want (i.e. instead of "I am climbing stairs" you say "I am taking steps to be healthy" or instead of "going without" I am "keeping a promise to myself") and using some of the concepts of motivational interviewing to help create a personal motivation statement to refer back to when you are struggling to keep to your goals.
The last source, Source 6 is basically about is the impact of the environment on our behaviour. For example, the proximity to unhealthy food has a direct impact on how much we eat of it, or at all. My wife is trying this out at our place, where she has put all the chocolates, sweets and biscuits that seem to miraculously appear in our shopping trolley, and moved them form the pantry cupboard (a 30 second walk from the couch) to the garage (a 2 minute walk, outside in the cold). It certainly has reduced my biscuit consumption!
The third and final part of the book focuses on solving real world problems using the six sources. It looks at things like how to get unstuck with your career at work, how to lose weight and get fit, getting out of debt, and improving relationships. This is great to show you the ways you can use the six sources and the strategies within them to solve real world problems.
They use examples from people they have studied who have overcome some of these challenges. However, for me they miss a real trick with these people. Firstly, they call them names like Michael V or Melanie R. and by doing that I immediately can't picture them, and therefore empathise and connect to them as real people and characters in the story. Why no just call them Michael or Melanie? The other issue I have with these 'stories' is they are not stories! Check out theStorytest to see how good your story spotting ability is and how these stories don't fit our definition of what a story is.
Overall, this is a great little book. It builds on the approach outlined in Influencer and provides really practical advice to create change and address the challenges each of us faces in living our life. It never tries and gives a one size fits all 'answer' to creating change, but instead it teaches us to learn about ourselves, and to recognise and focus on crucial, more at risk moments, when we may behave contrary to what we are trying to achieve. Well worth the read.
You just can't get the benefits from storytelling without telling stories. This might seem like a self-evident fact. It's blindingly obvious, right? But here's the thing, we're seeing more and more people talking about stories, narratives, storytelling yet not actually telling a story. It's as if they don't really know what a story is. What's most surprising is even the most experienced story practitioners have slipped and fell into this trap.
A couple of weeks ago I received Steve Denning's newsletter. In it he told us how he was submitting a video audition to appear on TED and how he was going to use storytelling to make an impact. I watched the video and to the surprise of everyone in our office, there was not a story to be seen.
We saw a similar scenario when Peter Guber, author of storytelling best seller Tell to Win , was interviewed by HBR. He spent the entire interview enumerating, point by pointy point, the benefits of storytelling without telling a single story.
Clearly Steve and Peter know what a story is; they've written about them and told plenty of stories in their books. Their readers and the public at large, however, could be excused for being confused.
To help address this knowledge gap and help more people spot stories, we've created a new website called thestorytest.com
The idea is simple. You are presented with 10 examples, some which are stores and some that are not, and you're asked which is which. You get a score out of 10 and a list of the ones you got wrong with an explanation of the mistakes. We want people to build their ability to spot stories and with this under their belt, be able to tell more storie
Storytelling for Business Leaders - Public Workshops
We all need better ways to influence, get our message across and understand what is really happening in our teams and the organisations we work in. Developing our storytelling skills helps build confidence, convey ideas clearly and effectively and helps create real change. Anecdote are a recognised global leader in helping business leaders use stories to effectively achieve these results.
We are now in the middle of running our highly successful and critically acclaimed 'Storytelling for Business Leaders' workshops for the general public, the first time we have done this in over two years. We kicked these off in Melbourne and this is your last opportunity to sign up to attend one of these courses in other locations right across Australia.
These workshop are for anyone wanting to improve their ability to find and tell their own stories within a business context. It is also for people wishing to improve their leaders’ ability to communicate ideas and engage staff in developing new behaviours.
Here are the location and dates - click on the appropriate link for more information and to register:
We help companies create the story of their strategy. It often starts with us working with a leadership team in a workshop. Often they have a clear view of their strategy but there have been times when there are as many views as leaders in the room. Either way, the the story creation process helps clarify and embed the strategy.
In the early days we would take away all the raw material from this initial workshop and create a stategic story to play back to the leaders at a later date. This worked pretty well except for the times when our take on the story was not as nuanced as the leaders had in mind. We learned quickly that the story, not just the raw material for the story, had to be created by the leaders.
Do you know the study where the participants buy a lottery ticket and then asked to sell it back? (*1) Half the group are given their ticket and the other half get to select the ticket. When asked how much they would sell their ticket back to the researchers those who received a ticket randomly asked on average $1.96. If they selected their ticket they wanted on average $8.67 to buy their ticket. Value increases when we are in control.
The same is true for strategic stories. It's vital the leaders create their own story rather than have a creative team craft one for them.
(*1) Langer, E. (1975) 'The Illusion of Control' J. Personality Social Psychology. 32, 311-328.
During my first week here at Anecdote I sat in on an Anecdote Circle at a large Government Department here at Melbourne. It was the first time I had seen one of these run by Shawn and I was therefore very keen to see how he did it, and anything I could pick up and and use myself in the future.
One of the things I noticed quite early on was that Shawn would start by asking one of the pre-prepared, scripted questions and if he did not get him any stories from the group, he would follow it up by turning the more formal question into one that contained an idiom. So "Think of a time when you saw somebody manage (x) roles in a way that made you think, "Wow. If everybody worked that way, things would got a lot more smoothly around here". Got followed up with; "when have things gone as smooth as clock work?". There were many more examples of this throughout the session, and each time it seemed to get great results at eliciting stories.
When I raised it with Shawn afterwards he wasn't even aware he used this as a a technique, but in talking it through and making him aware of it, he began to realise he used it all the time. He even told me a story that Mark had told him of doing some story elicitating work and asking; "When have you been most elated at work, or most disappointed?" He got a load of blank stares and shaking of heads, until one of the guys piped up; "We don't get 'elated' or 'disappointed' we either get 'stoked or 'gutted'".
I think the use of idioms and slang work in eliciting stories for a number of reasons. They give a far greater richness than can be delivered from just words alone. 'Gutted' has a far greater impact than 'disappointed' for example, it has a far greater emotional reaction. Also by using the right idioms for that audience it shows them you are 'talking their language' therefore building rapport, trust and the relationship. It shows you understand them and are part of their 'community'. It also increases your chances of the question being understood.
This technique really came to the fore when we started collecting stories at a large electricity generating company. We were doing this out in these huge power stations, with he guys (and they were mainly guys) dressed in their work boots and protective clothing, with a natural distrust of us as "city boys". Using idioms and slang in the majority of our questions really worked as a way to get them to tell stories. It put them at ease, used language and terms they understood, and created a degree of informality that seemed to help them to tell stories.
We have also used this insight into some of the questions we have developed for eliciting family stories in Zahmoo , which can be found in the 'Online Resources'. Examples of using idioms include things like; "Do you remember a time when Mum or Dad went through the roof over something you did?", "What was something your spouse has done that just blew you away?", "Did you ever get off on the wrong foot with someone who then became a good friend?" or "Have you ever been at death's door?".
We also have used slang to get people to recall moments and tell stories about them. Examples include; "When did you really come a gutser as a kid?" or "What did you put the kibosh on that you wished you hadn’t?".
I would therefore strongly recommend trying to consciously use idioms and slang when asking questions to elicit stories. The results I have seen in different settings, groups and people have proven to me they really do work as a way to help people recall moments, and therefore be able to tell stories about them. Go on, have a crack!
This is for all you iPad owners. If you want to write and really just focus on your writing then I highly recommend IA Writer by Information Architects.
What I like about it is its minimalists qualities. One font (refined for writing on the iPad), all the basic punctuation at your fingertips and, if you want, the ability to only see your last three lines for maximum focus.
There is also something about writing on your lap without a full blown computer humming away.
FedEx is the biggest freight operator in the world, with a 44% share of the air express market. Its fleet of 645 aircraft and 71,000 trucks carry an average of 5.5 million shipments each day. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Fred Smith started the company in April 1971. Initially business was slow. During its first night, FedEx shipped a mere 186 packages. But volume picked up rapidly and service was expanded. FedEx was an overnight success. Then the roof caved in. Because of rapidly inflating fuel prices, costs surpassed revenue, and by mid-1974, FedEx was losing more than $1 million a month.
Smith asked his disappointed investors for more money to keep the company afloat, but they refused. Then he did something very unexpected...
"I was in Chicago when I was turned down for the umpteenth time from a source I was sure would come through. I went to the airport to go back to Memphis, and saw on the TWA schedule a flight to Las Vegas. I won $27,000 starting with just a couple of hundred and sent it back to Memphis. The $27,000 wasn't decisive, but it was an omen that things would get better."
He went back to raising capital with renewed vigour and soon raised an additional $11m.'
But what might have happened to FedEx had lady luck been against Smith on that pivotal evening? Would the company have survived and prospered?
Recent research shows that getting people to reflect on positive events in an organisation’s history has little effect on how positive they feel about the company or its prospects for future prosperity. But getting people to consider how positive historical events might have turned out differently led to a significant increase in engagement and in optimism for the company’s future.
This is a bit counter-intuitive, especially for advocates of positive psychology. After all, in Martin Seligman’s research the evidence clearly showed that reflecting on positive events led to much higher levels of happiness. He advocates an activity called ‘three blessings’ whereby you reflect each day on three positive things that happened that day. His research shows that becoming more conscious of good events reliably increases your positive feelings. But even Seligman noted that we “rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted”.
The key to this puzzle seems to hinge on whether we have ‘adapted’ to the positive experience yet. Significant historical events are not surprising any more, they are expected or they we meant to be - they are no longer surprising. More recent events on the other had are still surprising to us and thus have a greater impact.
This effect doesn’t just apply in organisations. Lovers who reflect on how their first meeting might not have happened reported higher levels of satisfaction with their relationship than those who were asked to describe how the first meeting happened and how they started dating (Koo 2008). Americans record higher levels of patriotism when asked to reflect on how things might have been had Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride never taken place than people who reflect on the event itself (Ersner-Hershfield (2010).
So, FedEx staff are likely to show more commitment to the company if they reflected on how lady luck might have turned her back on Fred Smith, and what might have happened as a result.
1. Koo, Minkyung; Algoe, Sara B.; Wilson, Timothy D.; Gilbert, Daniel T., It's a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people's affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 95(5), Nov 2008, 1217-1224.
2. Ersner-Herschfield, Hal, Galinsky, Adam.D., Kray, Laura J., and King, Brayden G., Company, Country, Connections: Counterfactual Origins Increase Organizational Commitment, Patriotism, and Social Investment, Psychological Science, October 2010, 21:1479-1486, first published on September 3, 2010
3. Seligman, Martin, E. P., Authentic Happiness, Free Press, New York, 2002.