December, 2011 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Everyone is talking about business storytelling these days. And why not? it's a powerful way to connect with people. We would like businesses, however, to go one step further and apply story thinking more widely to include storytelling, story-listening and story-triggering. Shawn has recently written about this wider approach to story-work on our blog. Love to know your thoughts.
We are running our one-day Storytelling for Leaders workshop in Wellington , New Zealand on 1 Feb 2012 and in San Francisco , USA on 7 Feb 2012. There are only a few days left to take advantage of the early bird discount which is available until 31 December. A ticket to this workshop would make an ideal Christmas gift for yourself or someone in your office. Click on the location links for more information or to buy tickets.
We would also like to thank everyone for an exciting 2011 and we hope you have a restful festive season. May you have plenty of stories to tell and retell. We look forward to catching up with you in 2012.
In this last edition for the year, we have:
In this edition, we have:
Book Review - Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change
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.
Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change
- by Timothy Wilson
Let's say Peter Yarrow of the 60s folk group Peter, Paul & Mary was working away in his basement, concocting a new drug that would cure early on-set diabetes amongst children. He wants to make a difference. He wants to do the right thing, and logically his recipe seems like it makes sense and will do the job. Without any testing to understand if it actually works or if it has any side effects, he then starts distributing his new found drug to children all over the world. What if you knew he had no medical training whatsoever as well? How would you react?
I am sure most of us would be horrified. How can you do something like this - to kids nonetheless - when you have no idea whether the drug works, or even if it has any negative side effects? It's just not right and its dangerous.
This is a scenario created by Professor Timothy Wilson in his new book Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change to show one of the key failings he believes in how most behaviour changes initatives are undertaken. How do we actually know what works in regards to behaviour change? What research and testing has been done to understand the impacts, and potential drawbacks of some well intentioned change initatives? What if some of the programs our governments spend millions of dollars on actually cause more damage than if you did nothing at all?
He uses Peter Yarrow in this example as, in 1999, he founded a nonprofit organisation called Operation Respect which aims to prevent bullying and violence amongst kids through a program called 'Don't laugh at me'. Very well intended, well funded and very publicly well supported (in 2003 Peter Yarrow was even honoured by the United States Congress for his work on Operation Respect). There is just one problem, we have no idea if this program works or not.
Timothy Wilson is Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and brings this academic rigour to studying behaviour change, particularly looking at programs targeted at at-risk children and youth. He is a strong believer in testing programs using a proper scientific method, with randomly selected treatment and control groups, and he makes this point over and over again, with numerous examples, how do you know if a behaviour change initiative actually works?.
An example is the D.A.R.E. drug abuse resistance program, which is used in 75 percent of school districts in the United States and in more than 40 countries, but has never been shown to work. Another example is Healthy Families America, which is a home visitation program designed to prevent child abuse in at-risk families. This program has been widely implemented throughout the United States, even though rigorous studies show that it doesn’t work.
The one that really fascinated me was around a program called "scared straight". The term was popularised by an award-winning documentary in 1978 directed by Arnold Shapiro and narrated by Peter Falk. The documentary is about group of juvenile delinquents and their visits with actual convicts. Filmed at Rahway State Prison, a group of inmates known as the "lifers" berate, scream at, and terrify the young offenders in an attempt to "scare them straight" (hence the film's title) so that those teenagers will avoid prison life. At film's end, the teenagers say that they have decided that they don't want to end up in jail.
As Wilson points out, this program seems to make logical sense. By showing these teenagers the consequences of offending, they can then make better choices to avoid incarceration. They can see where the behaviour is leading, and what actually means to be in prison, and change. It is also run by very well intended people who believe they are doing the right thing and making a difference.
There is just one little problem with this program - it doesn't work. In fact, it does more harm than good, increasing the likelihood that those teenagers who participated will commit crimes in the future.
The program has now been running for over 30 years at Rahway State Orison (now called East Jersey State Prison) with almost 50,000 at risk kids having gone through the program. Using actual research with this population, Wilson calculates that the 'scared straight' program has caused 6,500 kids to commit crimes they otherwise would not have committed.
He outlines the reasons why this is the case (its to do with trying to replace extrinsic motivation with intrinsic motivation, with the kids sense of identity, and with the power of peer pressure) and gives it his 'blood letting award' - for a 'cure' to a problem that actually does more harm than good.
Wilson has two points throughout this book. First and foremost, that a "common sense" approach to helping alleviate these problems is well-intended but may not help, and may actually make the problems worse. It is important to ask the question "does this [intervention] work?" He really stresses the idea of submitting interventions to study, emphasising that control groups are essential to proving that a program works. His other point is that there is another way, a way that has been tried and tested, and proven to work. It involves manipulating the narratives people tell about themselves to encourage positive rather than negative behaviour. Wilson calls this the “story-editing approach". It is all about changing the way at risk individuals perceive who they are, what they can do, and how they feel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It really changes some of the traditional ways of creating change, and some of the 'common sense' approaches to change, that simply don't work. It is great to be having this kind of debate about behaviour change programs, and what works. Throughly recommend a read of the Christmas break.
We've run many hundreds of anecdote circles overs the years. They are a great method of collecting examples that give insights into what's really going on. They also help people conclude for themselves what's going on and build their resolve to take action. Our ebook on anecdote circles was published in 2006 (and is due for a revision) is one of the most popular on the Anecdote website.
One of the keys to getting a rich set of examples is to help people relax - they are much less likely to share their stories if the atmosphere is tense, if there is 'power in the room' or if they are uncomfortable with the facilitator. Here are a few tips to help create the right atmosphere:
Make sure you, as the facilitator, are relaxed. Get there well in advance, set up, check your recording equipment and take a few deep breaths.
As people arrive, welcome them, introduce yourself and start chatting. Any topic will do, but make sure you say a few personal things. Last week, I started chatting about the weekend, describing how I'd been in Melbourne for my god daughter's 21st, how I'd driven back to Canberra, assisted by my son who just turned 17 and got his license...do not underestimate the importance of this step in the process. It is here that you set the tone for the entire session.
Avoid having masses of paperwork and stuff in front of you - I try to have a single page with the themes and questions, and a single page for notes. Remember, you are trying to create an informal atmosphere.
Discreet sound recording equipment is preferable. The days when each participant has a microphone in front of them are long gone and excellent small devices are readily available. I love my old Olympus DS4000 as it has a little stand that makes it easy to slide into the centre of the table.
Be absolutely clear about the recording - how it will be treated and what will be done with the anecdotes. If you unclear their confidence will be eroded.
We regularly get told that "recording the sessions won't work here". You'll face the same issue. My response is simple...make sure you are absolutely clear about the confidentiality arrangements, explain why the recording is necessary. There has not been a single session where people have been unwilling to have the recorder on. Of course, its easy for Anecdote staff to assure people of confidentiality - its our business and we are completely independent. It can be more of a challenge if the facilitator is part of the same organisation as the participants.
The end of 2011 has not produced a gentle slowing down of activity to prepare us for a relaxing break over the festive season. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the Anecdote team has been on the road for the past month or so and we are looking forward to a short break with our families and friends, before getting back into action in early January.
Since mid-November, we have been running lots of Anecdote Circles in some very different industries and settings. We've been exploring leadership behaviours for a leading wealth organisation and with with lots of very creative folks exploring agency and client experiences for a media client. We've also been running some with engineers and safety folks at a large coal mine in NSW. One of the outcomes of this will be an Anecdote 'offsite' in January to review our experiences and improve our techniques in preparing for and running anecdote circles, extracting anecdotes form transcripts and using Zahmoo to rate, tag and organise the collected anecdotes.
Upcoming Events that we're running or attending:
We ran our Storytelling for Leaders workshop nearly 30 times in 2011. Most of these are run internally for our clients or as part of leadership development programs. We occasionally run them as public workshops and we have set dates for two of these in 2012.
The workshop has a simple premise: that stories have an incredible natural power. This workshop is designed to help leaders and organisations can tap into this power in three key dimensions: Communication skills - how to get your message to stick; Influence and Persuasion - how to change behaviour; Insight and Empowerment - how to really understand what’s going on.
The dates and locations for 2012 are:
Wellington, NZ on 1 February 2012 - for more information or to book a ticket, go here
San Francisco, USA on 7 February 2012 - for more information or to book a ticket, go here
The early bird discount for both these events is available until 31 December 2011.
When we help companies create their strategic story we often discover that the process of creating their story has two effects:
It clarifies what the strategy should actually be or
It helps the people who crafted the strategy to understand what each other really meant.
This has been a surprise at first because we initially viewed our job as helping to communicate the strategy with stories and helping people in the company, particularly its leaders, become more confident business storytellers. It has become a welcomed surprise because when we help them notice the misunderstandings we can help the parties get on the same page. Without this discovery and correction there was a good chance confusion would reign as each leader told their version of the strategy. Now don't get me wrong, we do want people to tell their version of the strategic story but it's important there is agreement about the actual strategy.
It's pretty easy to understand why a story process works so well in uncovering these mismatched meanings. Just think back to when you were in a conversation and there was idea shared that you were having trouble to understand. Our natural instinct is to say "can you give me an example?" When we hear the example we often get a concrete instance of when this idea actually played out in real life--a story. Stories brings things into focus for us where we get to the understand the specifics in context and get to live the experience and identify with the situation. A good story will cause us to feel the emotions felt by the characters in the story. And as the research by Damasio (*1) shows, we can't make decisions unless we feel emotions.
This last statement might sound a little whacky to you. Can't we just weigh up the facts and make the best decision? It turns out the answer to that question is no. Damasio and his colleagues worked with patients with brain damage that eliminated any emotion. He found that without emotion people dithered and were unable to decide, even the simplest choices were impossible such as whether to have a cup of coffee.
(*1) Damasio, A.R., Tranel, D. & Damasio, H., 1990. "Individuals with sociopathic behavior caused by frontal damage fail to respond autonomically to social stimuli" in Behavioural Brain Research, 41, pp. 81–94.
We have been busy using and enhancing Zahmoo this year. One of the strongest pieces of feedback we've received is that our current payment gateway is putting people off because they have to enter their payment details before they can access the free trial, have a play and figure out if Zahmoo will work for them. We know its a barrier because we hate it when other applications require the same commitment from us.
So, in the next few weeks we will be implementing a new payment gateway that will make things much more straightforward. Keep up with the latest in Zahmoo by subscribing to the Zahmoo blog . » Back to top
The whole, complete and detailed story
Recent research quoted in the fantastic Psyblog has shown the benefits of telling ourselves the whole, complete and detailed story, rather than just select bits from it.
Ruby et al. (2011) (*1) found the benefits of this approach in regards to exercise. They asked a group of people to think about an upcoming exercise session. Each person tried to predict how much he or she they would enjoy their workout. Then after the workout they rated it again.
On average people's predictions were too pessimistic: they actually enjoyed their workouts more than they had guessed. This was true across men and women and across all age ranges. It was true for both moderate and challenging workouts and whether people exercised on their own, in a group or amongst others in the gym.
The reason the researchers put forward was that people focused heavily on the relatively unpleasant start of the exercise session rather than the more enjoyable middle section. They christened this effect 'forecasting myopia'.
As you can imagine, if people think they will dislike something then they are less likely to want to do it. It can hardly be a motivating factor to think something is far less enjoyable than it actually is.
So how do you overcome it? You tell yourself the whole story.
In a final study Ruby et al. asked people to think about their whole exercise routine, including the warm-up, the main workout and cool-down. It emerged that this method encouraged people to make more positive predictions of how much they would enjoy their exercise. This also had the effect of boosting people's intention to exercise in the future.
So it seems that telling ourselves the whole, complete and detailed story can both increase our view of how much we will enjoy exercise, and also boost our desire to want to do it. But does this view stack up in other fields? Could this approach help us in making good buying decisions?
Let's look at some examples outlined in a recent article on Psyblog. See if you can spot the pattern:
A camping holiday seems like fun when you abstractly imagine escaping the rat-race and getting back to nature. It doesn't seem so much fun when you're stuck in a cold, wet field, desperate for a proper hot meal.
A big, expensive DSLR seems like a good idea when you think about the amazing high-res photos you'll be able to take. But it turns out you can't be bothered to carry a big, heavy camera around all the time, so in reality it doesn't get used much.
You imagine that buying a wreck of a house and doing it up means you can realise your perfect lifestyle vision. When you move in and start work, all you really want is to get rid of the dust and mess and have a normal life: your vision is forgotten.
Unfortunately when we plan our purchases we tend to make the mistake of thinking in the abstract and forgetting about the day-to-day details. The further off in time and space they are, the more abstractly we think about them.
One of the problems of thinking abstractly about our purchases is that we tend to forget about the gritty details. And it's the details that have the ability to make us either happy or unhappy. We know this because research finds that our happiness is predicted better by the details of our everyday lives than it is by our overall life circumstances (see Kahneman et al. 2004 (*2) and Kanner et al., 1981 (*3)).
To make purchases that will give us the most happiness we need to think as concretely as possible. It might not sound as fun, but thinking about how we're going to use the item or service on a daily basis is more likely to guide us towards the choice that will make us the happiest. We can buy smart by telling ourselves the whole, complete and detailed story.
In their book Change Anything, Patterson et. al. carry on this theme by putting forward a change strategy they call 'Tell the whole vivid story". It is very much along similar lines as the two examples I have given above. As an example, they tell the story of Michael, an ex-alcoholic;
"When I'm watching TV, and advertisement will come on showing a group of people enjoying a martini in a piano bar. To this day that commercial can put my thoughts heading in a dangerous direction. My natural inclination is to start thinking "I can do that". Sure I am a recovering alcoholic, but why not enjoy a social drink with friends? What harm can that be? "But it's not my story, nor is it the whole story. My story plays out differently. if I join the group at the piano bar, I'll drink the martini. Then I'll be back tomorrow. Then I'll shift to hard liquor. I'll soon be on a binge, and one day I'll wake up lying in my own vomit or maybe even in jail. And by the way, that's not merely what might happen to me. That's what will happen to me".
So there are many benefits in telling ourselves the whole, complete and detailed story, rather than just select bits from it. Think about how you could use this in your work or personal life. Are you telling yourself the whole story around doing your expenses, or just focusing on the most unpleasant aspects? Are you thinking about a new role in abstract terms, without really thinking of the day-to-day aspects of the job and whether they are what want you want to do? Are you thinking about how a project might roll out, and not telling yourself the 'whole vivid story' of the challenges and difficulties you might face?
(*1) Ruby, M; Dunn, E; Perrino, A; Gillis, R; and Viel, S: (2011) The invisible benefits of exercise in Health Psychology, Vol 30(1), Jan 2011, 67-74.
(*2) Kahneman, D; Krueger, A; Schkade, D; Schwarz, N and Stone, A:(2004) A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method in Science 3 December 2004: 306 (5702), 1776-1780.
(*3) Kanner, A., Coyne, J., Schaefer, C., and Lazarus, R. (1981): Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life events in Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Volume: 4, Issue: 1