March, 2012 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Welcome to the March edition of Anecdotally.
An organisation that values something will be teeming with stories about that something. Whether its ethical behaviour, respect for the individual, teamwork, sustainability; if it is really important there will be lots of stories about it. And the more stories there are about the value, the more examples are likely to occur that bring that value to life. Organisations grow towards the stories they tell.
Our story-listening projects (purposeful collection of examples/events/experiences in organisations) always reveal great examples of things the organisation wants to see more of. Also, they often unearth patterns of stories that work against the organisation's strategy. If you value collaboration, or have a strategy of integration, you don't want stories about people getting in trouble for talking to their colleagues in another division without their boss' approval. Unchecked, the organisation will grow towards these negative stories and silos will be reinforced.
Many organisations know this and have simple processes to identify and share stories about things that are important and that they want to see more of. Ritz Carlton and Sparkspace are two good examples. Everyone of us can make a contribution in this. Simply notice actions or behaviours that you want to see more of and find ways to share them.
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- by Sam Sommers
I'm going to let you in on a very big secret. One that may fundamentally alter your view of the world. It's the kind of knowledge that may change everything. You have the chance to stop reading right now, it's up to you.
Don't say I didn't warn you..
For centuries human beings have tried to answer one question above all others. Through poetry, novels and, for me, years of teenage angst listening to Morrissey and the Smiths, what is the magic formula for love?
I have an answer, and I am kind of a little disappointed to be honest.
In Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World, Sam Sommers a psychology professor at Tufts University looks at the impact of context on our behaviour. From how you can explain gender differences more by socialisation than biology, to the notions of 'them versus us' and the bigots in us all. And then there is the chapter on love.
In it, reportedly written against the advice of his wife, he looks at how context plays a key role in love, and who we fall in love with. Using the latest research from the field of psychology, Sommers provides the magic formula for love.
For him, and proven by research, there are four things, above all others, which explain why we fall in love with the people we do.
You still have time to look away now and head off to read a Shakespearean sonnet or a modern twist on love from my favourite poet Roger McGough if you want to hold onto your romantic views of the wonder of love and the ways of the heart.
Oh well, here you go, these are the reasons Sommers argues, backed up by research, are the factors that impact on who we fall in love with:
Proximity / Familiarity: simply encountering someone more often makes them more attractive. Familiarity doesn't in fact breed contempt. It breeds liking.
Reciprocity: if you feel someone likes or is attracted to you, you like them right back more. Suddenly, that person becomes a little more attractive just cause we find out they like us.
Similarity: not only are we attracted to people with similar attitudes, life experiences and demographics, we are also attracted to people who look in the 'same league' as us. We don't really want the super model, just someone that looks about attractive as us.
Obstacles: the more people try and steer us away from someone, the more intrigued we often become. It seems the easiest way to get your teenage daughter to like the guy she just brought home, is for you not too.
That's it. Not very romantic is it!
The love example for me sums up this book. Using research, and a little bit of mischief, Sommers challenges us to think about the role context plays in our life. How its hidden force impacts all we do, and how most of the time we have no idea of it. He proves that how you see a situation depends on how you expect to see a situation; how you react to that situation depends on how well you understand what you’re supposed to do.
So for love, how many of us take into account those four aspects when we think about how we found our one true love? Do we take into account that the connection we feel and the way our heart sings during courtship has as much to do with how close we live to them, how often we see them and if they kind of look like us. Not very romantic, but shows the power of context on the decisions we make.
Sommers writes in an engaging, easy to read style that constantly shows glimpses of who he is as a person, a father, Professor and husband. Most of the time he is fun, humorous and witty. Other times he gives the impression of being a grumpy old man well before his time. Either way, his writing is enjoyable and you don't die wondering what he thinks.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book. He writes with a very light hand on potentially very dense material. It may not be as in-depth or as 'academic' as what I would like, but I am a geek in this kind of stuff, so I may not be a fair reflection of his potential audience!
The added bonus of this book, for all you busy people out there, it's compact, just under 270 pages, and very easy to get through. Well worth a look.
When working with collaborative networks/communities of practice, there are a few simple rules. Etienne Wenger repeatedly reminds of one of them - 'When in doubt, ask the group'.
Another of these has been reinforced over the past two weeks as I have been working with five different groups to 'launch' their internal staff networks around sustainability. This second simple rule is 'Always follow the energy.' Simply put, this rule tells us that the things that are most likely to get done are the things people are most interested in.
With every group I have asked them to generate ideas for actions the group should take. A nice, logical list of actions appears. Actions that will help make the organisation behave a little more sustainably. Once this is done, I ask the much more important question: 'Which of these actions are you most interested in being part of?' Normally, quite a few items on the list get no votes. Sometimes, new items get added. There are always 2 or 3 actions that people are most interested in.
Another tip is to start the process of generating action times by having the group work individually for three or four minutes. This always leads to more, and often better, ideas being generated. See the 'Blog Posts You Might have missed section for more information on effective brainstorming.
Kevin and I spent a recent Saturday working with the leaders of a consulting firm to help them learn their strategic story. When we create a strategic story with a company we make it clear that it's not about rote learning the story. The best outcome happens when a leader can tell the important plot points of the story using their own experiences and personal anecdotes. And to do that the leader must understand the story not just learn the words, and meaning-making takes time.
There is no magic here and you might laugh at how simple this sounds, but the best way to help people work out what their story means is to get them talking about it. Our job is to facilitate a conversation about the story elements as they learn each part. And through that conversation new elements become more or less important. For example, I was watching one leader describe what was most significant for him in a part of the story and then we discussed how others felt about it and I noticed that he changed his mind about the most important elements. Making meaning of the story affects what you will say and how you will say it.
Our shift from just helping people to learn the story to helping people understand it might seem simple but I sense this is one of those small things that can make a big difference.
Congratulations on your appointment as IBM's CEO. I'm looking forward to seeing how the company changes under your wise guidance.
I'm writing this letter because I've just read the transcript of your interview at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit held last year. I hope you don't think this too bold but I would like to make some suggestions on how you could make even better use of stories in your public presentations.
It was interesting to note that on the news of your appointment the Fortune interview was reported in Harvard Business Blogs and The New York Times and in both cases they led with the story of how you were offered a senior role and how you asked the recruiter if you could think about it. When you told your husband that night he listened and just said, "Do you think a man would have ever answered that question that way?" It got you thinking about the importance of self-confidence.
What was interesting for me was that this story was right at the end of the interview in the Q&A session, yet that was snippet most attractive to the journalists. Imagine the additional impact your talk could have had if you added other anecdotes through-out your talk.
Let me start by saying that you seem to have a natural style for sharing stories. You're relaxed, willing to have a laugh and poke some fun at yourself. This conversational style is appealing. It's easy to listen to. So with that as a great base where are the opportunities for stories?
When Jessi asked you what was different at IBM between when you joined and now there was an opportunity to tell two stories: first to recount a specific incident in the early years that, say, illustrated the idea of inclusion and then tell a contrasting anecdote from the present. People really like stories they can see in their mind's eye. So when you told your husband story we could all see your husband saying what he said. Our visual sense, even if only triggered in our mind, is our strongest sense and this is one of the reasons why stories, especially visual stories, are so memorable.
When you were talking about the simple things you do to engage your people, such as asking everyone's opinion when they don't speak up and then asking people what they think of that idea--which is a fabulous approach for a senior leader--there was an opportunity to tell a story which would start something like "you know, these small actions can have a big impact. I remember being in our board room with Lou and Sam ..." We also love stories about people in power and celebrities. Everyone would have been on the edge of their seat wanting to hear what happened next.
As a general rule whenever you share an opinion like "Go and make a new market" people are waiting to hear a story of how you helped IBM do that. Stories share information as experience unlike opinion that shares information as fact. We learn best from experience.
It's true that throughout the interview you shared many narrative snippets such as the reference to the tough times in the '80s. The difference between these high-level narratives and a cracking story is a matter of detail. Memorable stories are moments that we can relive with the storyteller.
Anyway, that is probably enough from me. All the best with your new job and I'm hoping to discover a year from now a transcript from another one of your presentations laden with great stories. yours sincerely
Bufferapp.com is a simple, free service that helps you spread out the tweets over the day so your followers don't get overwhelmed with all the great ideas you tweet. I'm just starting to use it and it seems promising. It let's you schedule messages to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can decide what days of the week to include in your schedule and I like the fact you can download an app for your iPhone and send your tweets directly to Buffer on the go. Thanks to @darrenP3 for this tip.
The media world loves experts with strong opinions and the ability to explain them confidently and authoritatively. We hear them on TV and read them in newspapers and online every day. Yet a 20-year study shows that these are the very people who are least likely to be accurate in predicting what will happen in the future.
In 1984, Philip Tetlock commenced a study to examine the accuracy of expert predictions. He found these experts fell into two main groups that he called foxes, who know many things, and hedgehogs who know one big thing. Foxes draw on many ideas and sources of information and are quite tolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity. Hedgehogs tend to interpret the world using their favourite theory or dogma and very confident in the ‘rightness’ of their view of the world.[Tschoegl et al 2007]
Tetlock, a psychologist, is Professor of Leadership at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. His research found that, in the main, experts were no more accurate in their predictions than random guesses. But he clearly showed that foxes produce much more accurate forecasts than hedgehogs. He also found that when faced with their erroneous forecasts, foxes tended to acknowledge their error and adjust their thinking. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, rationalise their errors away on the basis that they were ‘nearly right’ or ‘unpredictable events interfered in the outcome’ or by pointing to the few occasions when they had got it right.
The implications of this research are many, but one that that reinforces my own experience is to be wary of highly confident people proclaiming a view and running down those with alternative perspectives.
It's my view that Tetlock’s findings are also relevant in our organisations. We love to treated complex (wicked) problems as if they are technical problems that can be predicted and solved. The experts who stridently proclaim their opinions as being facts are often wrong. The people who stride the corridors and make the most noise are not necessarily the stars. The leaders who are most confident they are excellent at leading people are often the worst leaders.
In media and in organisations, the hedgehogs get the airtime. But the foxes are the ones to listen to.
1. Tetlock, P. (2005): Expert Political Judgement: How good is it? How Can We Know?, Princeton University Press.
2. Gardner, D. (2011): Future babble: Why Expert Predictions are Next to Worthless, and You can do better, Dutton, London.
3. Tschoegl, A.E and Armstrong, S., Review of Philip E. Tetlock: (2007): "Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know?" in International Journal of Forecasting, Volume 23, Issue 2, 2007, pages 339-342