June, 2011 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
We have just finished running our Storytelling for Business Leaders public workshops right across Australia, which went really well.
It's always great to hear so many stories in these sessions. Stories that increased our understanding on a whole range of topics, stories that made us laugh, and stories which had a real emotional impact on us. It's also very motivating to see the passion of people to want to make a difference back in their organisations and the people they work with.
We are now back, head first, into delivering a wide range of projects with our clients. It's still important for us however to keep sharing our insights and learnings around the power of using stories in business.We hope you gain something from this months newsletter.
We hope that you enjoy reading Anecdotally. Feel free to pass this email on to your colleagues and friends if you think that they would enjoy it too.
Please contact us with your comments, suggestion and ideas.
— by Andrew OKeefe
Lubutu became the alpha male of the chimpanzee group at Taronga Zoo at the young age of 8 years and has held the role for nearly 10 years. He is a constructive leader, well liked by most members of the group. But he faces challenges and behaviours that every human leader is familiar with. Not least of which is that at least one of the other adult males aspires to take the top job from Lubutu.
The (behavioural) similarities between Lubutu and human leaders is striking. But its not that surprising, given that chimpanzees and humans share about 99% of their DNA and that factories and offices have only been the habitat of humans for 250 years.
Robert Winston describes instincts as that part of our behaviour that is not learned. And like it or not, a lot of human behaviour is instinctive rather than rational.
In his new book, Hardwired Humans, Successful Leadership Using Human Instincts, Andrew O’Keeffe explores how the nine key instincts hardwired into us play out in the workplace. The premise of the book is simple and powerful: learning about human instincts can help us understand some of the things that happen in our workplaces and develop better strategies to deal with them. The book is entertaining and easy to read. Each chapter describes an instinct, its implications for leaders and useful strategies to deal with it.
The book is peppered with examples from Australian workplaces, from the chimpanzee group at Taronga Zoo and the gorilla group at Melbourne Zoo and from the work of Dr Jane Goodall who has studied Chimpanzee behaviour in the Gombe Stream National Park in Zimbabwe for 50 years.
Some of the things explained in the book:
how understanding our instinct for social belonging can help in organisational design and why team size of seven is ideal- why we naturally seek to avoid loss, causing us to assume the worst and why people get very upset over seemingly little things (milk, carparking etc.) and how understanding this instinct enables us to manage change more effectively
how we unfailingly jump to conclusions and why the first things you say are so important
why in social settings most groups will have four people and if another person joins the group either someone will move away or the group will splinter into a two and a three.
Hardwired Humans provides a practical framework that helps makes sense of human behaviour that will enable leaders to be more effective. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and will refer to it regularly. It doesn’t hurt that the book is well-referenced and some of our favourite authors/researchers feature (such as Robert Cialdini and Robin Dunbar).
Andrew interviewed me several times while writing the book and has included in the book some of our thoughts on story and its relationship to our instincts.
A simple exercise is nearly always more powerful than long explanations. A couple of weeks ago I was reminded of such an exercise I use to run to illustrate how simple rules can create patterns quickly and how simple rule changes can make a dramatic difference.
This is how it works. Get your group up on their feet and into an open space. Ask them to look around at the other participants and without letting anyone know who they chose, ask them to pick a friend and an enemy.
Now ask everyone to arrange themselves so that their friend remains between them and their enemy. Within seconds the groups is flung to the extremities of the space.
OK, now ask them to put themselves between their friend and their enemy. Again, within seconds everyone is squashed to the centre of the room.
The debrief might have questions like this:
What did you notice between the two rule sets?
What patterns formed?
Could you describe these patterns?
Are they recognisable?
Could you predict where each person would be in the pattern at the end?
Would you get the same result if you ran it again?
Would you get the same result if you started in the same spots?
These patterns and the processes of adapting continuously is a nice analogy for complex systems in organisations. You can do things to affect overall patterns but it’s impossible to predict specifics in detail. This is a great way to start a session on complexity. Thanks Stuart French for sparking this memory.
» Back to top Storytelling for Business Leaders - Public Workshop in New York
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 have just completed a series of our highly successful and critically acclaimed 'Storytelling for Business Leaders' workshops right across Australia.
The workshop is 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.
We only have one more publicly available workshop we are planning to run this year. Shawn will be in New York in September. Don't miss your chance to develop this key business skill.
We are lucky enough to work with a huge range of people in our work and, without exception, everyone gets a huge amount out of working with stories from their organisation.
From Chief Executives of large multi-nationals, to members of the Australian Defence Force, to Power Plant workers, we have seen them all get engrossed in the stories we have collected from their offices, barracks and sites.
It doesn't matter if the room is full of expensive business suits and ties, or hard hats, high visibility jackets and steel capped boots, the response is the same. The stories 'pull' them in.
Not only do you have all the power of story in terms of engaging emotionally, giving concrete examples of specific behaviours in action and allowing multiple meanings to be gained. But also because they are stories from their organisation, that feature them, people they know, or people like them, it creates an added element of connection and engagement.
We are often asked if our approach of collecting stories from within an organisation, and then working with these stories with groups from within the organisation works best with a certain type of business, industry or level of people. What we have found is two main things:
People are fascinated by, and get value from hearing, stories from within their organisation, no matter who they are or at what level they sit; and
We have yet to see any company, in any sector, in any country not get the benefits of using story to gain insight and inspire action.
Provide your example before your reasons - introducing PERP
I want to expand a little on Mark's post and on the communication structure we're proposing. I hope you don't mind, but let me start with how the idea emerged.
My first real job back in the 1980s was to work for Oracle Systems, the database company. One day my manager asked me to give a presentation to a group of customers who were coming in that afternoon. I went into the boardroom, set up my slideshow and then realised I had no idea on how to give a presentation. I called my manager in and confessed by ignorance and he gave me a crash course. At the end of his instruction he suggested I join a Toastmasters club, which I did.
At Toastmasters a meeting often starts by the chair asking someone to give a little 3-minute impromptu talk on just about any topic the chair nominates. You have no time to prepare, you just have to talk. Thankfully Toastmasters provides some strategies to structure your response and one that I remember was called PREP: Point, Reason, Example, Point.
Wind forward to the 21st century. After working with stories for some time now we've learned that telling a story before giving a rational argument can be effective in helping your audience to really hear what you're saying and perhaps even influence them in a new way of thinking. We came to this view after learning about the confirmation bias which tells us that if someone has a strong opinion, and you offer an alternative opinion, your attempt only serves to reinforce their strong opinion. Telling someone a story first, however, seems to loosen them up to hear your argument. We think this has something to do with the fact that stories provide a pull approach (the listener pulls the story to them) rather than a push approach (the teller pushes the information at the listeners).
So rather than Point, Reason, Example, Point (PREP) we are suggesting you should rearrange your responses to be Point, Example, Reason, Point (PERP); a small but significant change. And of course your example should be a story. And if you are uncertain what we mean by a story, please check out the story test.
This change to PERP will require us to change the way we present in organisations. The common approach goes something like this:
20 slides with lots of opinions, research, and clever argument.
"Now I would like to show you some examples." Well, you've already kicked off the confirmation bias and if they felt strongly against the idea they are just digging in their heels.
"Welcome everyone. I would like to share a couple of examples that go to the heart of what we are facing and where we need to get to."
I found a productivity missing link this week. I’d heard about Instapaper before and even created an account way back when but never really understood just how useful it is. In short, Instapaper helps you save long web pages for reading later on—on your browser, iphone or ipad.
In my experience you need to be in the mood to read long pieces. But when I’m processing emails or my Google Reader list of RSS feeds I rarely feel in the mood to read the longer posts. I guess I’m in this ‘get things done’ mindset and long reading doesn’t figure. Now I simply save the blog post or web page with the press of a single button on my browser and it’s saved to my Instapaper account.
Now this is where the magic happens. Later that night I’m at the airport waiting to pick up Sheen, so I pull out my iPhone and open the Instapaper app and start reading those longer posts I saved during the day. What’s most impressive is how Instapaper strips away all the paraphernalia that was on the website leaving you just the text in a clear, readable font. No junk advertising. Brilliant!
For those of you following Apple’s announcement of its latest operating system, Lion, might have noticed that they have built in a ‘read later’ function into Safari which might spell the end of Instapaper. I think we will have to wait a number of versions from Apple before we reach the sophistication of Instapaper. I think their turf is safe for the time being.
Each week we are posting on our blog a slide of one of our favourite story quotes.
They are designed, not only for you to enjoy personally, but also to be downloaded and used in any presentations you are giving where a great quote on some aspect of business storytelling will come in handy. To allow this we have created a higher quality image that can be downloaded
Check out the new quote we add each week and if you have missed any of the previous postings please check them out at the links below:
Here at Anecdote we constantly keep our eyes peeled for any academic research that focuses on any aspect of 'story' and its potential benefits. We believe it is important to have scientific based evidence on the power of story, and the elements that make it such an effective mechanism.
I came across an article recently that seem to do exactly do that, however upon closer examination it wasn't that simple. Let me explain.
Researchers in the US undertook a study (*1) looking at the effectiveness of a storytelling approach to controlling hypertension through diet and medication adherence. In the study, which appeared in the Jan. 18, 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers randomly assigned 299 inner-city African American patients with hypertension to receive either their usual care or to view a series of DVD's that presented stories of real patients with hypertension.
In the group that received the storytelling intervention they received a DVD showing other people suffering from hypertension talking about their experiences of living with high blood pressure. These 'storytellers' were chosen due to being identified as "exceptionally eloquent and persuasive" from focus groups of patients with hypertension. They were then videoed with these being edited into 1-3 minute stories and put on the DVD's.In regards to content, the first intervention DVD featured a number of these storytellers describing living with hypertension, gave lessons they had learned about how to best interact with their physicians, and offered strategies to increase medication adherence.
Both groups had their systolic and diastolic blood pressure measured at the start of the study, after three months, six months and at the end of the study after nine months.In terms of the results the authors wrote, ''"we found that differences in blood pressure favored the intervention group, and the significance of these differences was driven by the positive effect among those with uncontrolled hypertension. Patients with uncontrolled hypertension who were assigned to the intervention group experienced an 11–mm Hg greater reduction in systolic blood pressure than the comparison group. Meaningful advantages were also found for diastolic pressure among patients with uncontrolled hypertension.'
What did the authors believe accounting for the result? Although they admitted they had no direct evidence about the mechanism by which the intervention worked, they put forward a number of hypothesis.
Firstly the researchers believe that having the stories told by other sufferers of hypertension created the benefit of "homophily" (the perceived similarity between the characters and the patient) (*2). They also cited previous health based research that storytelling can change attitudes and behavior by decreasing cognitive resistance (*3). They also believed patients can “enter” the world of the characters and become absorbed in the narrative content, rather than focusing on the embedded subtext of behaviour change (*4). This they say; "may have rendered the viewers more susceptible to behavior change messages and suggested new ways of interacting with family and health care providers.''
So there you have it, storytelling lowers blood pressure. It is almost like the 'magic panacea' that fundamentally changed behaviour and made the health, and therefore the quality of life of these hypertension sufferers, better. This was the message that a lot of blog posts and twitter entries took from this research.However, there are a few things we need to take into account before we jump to this conclusion.
Firstly, we don't really know what we comparing here. In the research article the authors said; "The comparison group received an attention control DVD that covered health topics not related to hypertension." What does that mean? Did the control group get a DVD full of health advice/knowledge/education that actually had nothing to do with hypertension? Or, if we give them the benefit of the doubt, they did relate to hypertension what format were they in? We just don't know what we are comparing.
Also not discussed openly is the rather important fact that after the study: ''Blood pressure subsequently increased for both groups". So even if storytelling did make a difference, in the long term it did not fundamentally change behaviour. We know this to be the case. Real behaviour change is not created by a powerful story alone, it must be reinforced by all the elements involved in behaviour change (i.e. personal motivation, building ability, the impact of others, space etc.).
I fundamentally believe in the power of storytelling to be an important part of the behaviour change process. However, before we start looking for studies and 'facts' that back this up, we really do not to go back to the source research, read it and analyse it in some detail. Human behaviour is a complex area, and there are no simple solutions to how the change it.
(*1) Houston, T. et. al.: (2011) "Culturally Appropriate Storytelling to Improve Blood Pressure A Randomized Trial" in Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011;154:77-84.
(*2) Green MC, Brock TC: (2000). "The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives". J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000;79:701-21.
(*3) Slater MD, Rouner D.: (2002) "Entertainment, education and elaboration likelihood: Understanding the processing of narrative persuasion". Commun Theory. 2002;12:173-91.
(*4) Hinyard LJ, Kreuter MW.: (2007) "Using narrative communication as a tool for health behavior change: a conceptual, theoretical, and empirical overview". Health Educ Behav. 2007;34:777-92.