February, 2013 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Here at Anecdote, we're passionate about upholding the principle of 'show don't tell'. This means not just telling people our opinions or views about business storytelling and its benefits, but showing those benefits by sharing our own stories.
But it's not just a one-way street. We're constantly learning new things from the stories people tell us and the experiences they share with us. It's one of the reasons we love running workshops and other events so much—because we're always learning something new.
And we're eager to hear more. We'll be running many more workshops throughout the year and look forward to not only sharing some of our stories, but also hearing yours. Please join us if you get the chance.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy reading this month's Anecdotally.
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- by David Gelb
I thought it only appropriate in the week of the 85th Academy Awards to do our first ever 'Movie Review'. And what it is even more appropriate to do it this week is that the film - Jiro Dreams of Sushi - is about an 85 year named Jiro Ono.
Now, you're probably wondering; "Why is Anecdote doing a review about a film that's all about a Japanese sushi chef?". Well the film isn't really about sushi. It's certainly not simply stunning shots of food on plates (although there is plenty of that). It is rather a more challenging film about the complex nature of the search for perfection, the constant desire to improve and the discipline that it takes to become the world's best. It's really a film about obtaining expertise through some of the elements of deliberate practice. Let me explain.
Jiro Ono is the owner of a basement-level restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, situated at the Ginza subway station in central Tokyo. Despite the fact that the restaurant is underground, has just ten counter seats, and its bathrooms down the hall, it has the distinction of being the only sushi restaurant in the world with three Michelin stars.
Watch this two minute trailer for the film to get a better idea of the restaurant, of Jiro himself and how the film looks and sounds.
The documentary focuses on Jiro, his sons, their suppliers, the apprentices, the produce, and the product. All with a central theme about the quest for perfection. There are a number of different elements that make this film fascinating, but three aspects stood out for me about how to achieve excellence.
The first is about who you work with to supply your goods. When his eldest son Yoshikazu takes us to the teeming Tsujiki market to get their fresh fish it becomes clear that one of the reasons Jiro has been able to keep up such high standards in his food is because his suppliers share the same demanding standards as he does. It's almost a code of practice between the two parties that unless it is the absolute best, the best of the best, it doesn't get supplied. There is a later scene in the film where Jiro's rice supplier tells a story about refusing to sell the same rice he does to Jiro to the Grand Hyatt because he thinks they won't know how to cook it to the same standards as Jiro.
The second aspect is about the length of time, and the effort it takes to master a skill. The apprentices who work for Jiro take more than a decade to learn the ropes, and many more years of hard work and dedication, to become a sushi master. There is a scene where one of his staff talks about when he got to finally make the egg sushi (after being there for 10 years!) and his first 200 were rejected, is absolutely incredible.
Bit for me, the most incredible part of his story is that even in his old age, after years of success and critical acclaim, Jiro is still focused on improving his craft and reaching 'perfection'. He thinks (and dreams as the title suggests) about sushi all day long and his passion motivates all around him to continually strive for better, and to grow.
"I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is."
David Gelb's film masterfully captures key aspects of this profession of dedication. It reminds the rest of us, regardless of what we do, that in order to be truly successful, one must be constantly looking for ways to improve, find more effective methods and grow by small steps.
With incredible food and well placed humour, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is definitely a film I would recommend. Just a word of warning, don't watch it on an empty stomach!
It's certainly been a busy start to 2013. We're working on:
Delivering a Leading to Engage program for a group of leaders at a business and document management services company.
A strategic story for an international, research group with major businesses in health care, nutrition and high-tech materials.
A strategic story for the Diversity and Inclusion team at a large consulting firm.
Running a series of Storytelling for Leaders workshops for CIOs, and other executive teams at a number of clients.
Delivering a number of Storytelling for Leaders public workshops and webinars. Last week we offered a version of our program online for the first time. It was an enjoyable experience and we learned a lot. We'll continue to develop and deliver this offering.
Shawn has been giving a number of talks and conference speeches for corporate clients.
Upcoming Events that we're running or attending:
Storytelling for Sales public workshop. Melbourne. Wednesday, 20th March 2013. See the breaking news section below for more information.
There’s no definitive plans just yet, but it looks like we’re heading to London in June this year. If things work out, we’ll run a public workshop as part of this trip. Stay tuned for more details, or get in touch if you’d like to arrange for us to work with you while we’re there.
You have to realise you need too, before you can learn
I was recently running our new Storytelling for Sales program with a group of Financial Planners from one of Australia's largest Bank's, and one of the things that became apparent very early on in the session was that a number of the participants thought they were already using stories to help sell their products.
I was really pleased to hear this and asked one of them to share one of the stories she was using. She said sure and explained to me, and the group, that when she is talking about one of their products she will tell this 'story';"One of my other clients, who is just like you, had this product, and they have been able to retire 5 years early because of it".
I asked her how she told this, thinking it may have been the 'summary version', but she said; "Exactly like that".
Now, the way she told this means, for us, its actually bordering on not being a story at all. It's a pretty anaemic one at best. Its skeletal, with no flesh on it all. And, most importantly, its probably not helping her sell her product.
However, with a small amount of work she could easily make this into a really compelling story. She could tell more details about what actually happened and the role her product had in this. She could bring the client 'to life' by talking more about them, who they were, their character, their family, their life. She could contrast their actual lifestyle before and and after they retired. Lots of ways to make this a more compelling story.
It has all the raw ingredients for a great story, but until she moved past the belief that it was already telling a good story, then she may not have invested the time and effort to make these improvements.
We see this all the time. People intuitively know that stories are important, and that they should be telling them, and they think they are. But they're either not, or in the case above, they're telling such 'watered down' versions of stories, to have no or little impact. Until they realise this, they struggle to invest the effort to allow the new learning to begin.
Lets be proactive with organisational storytelling
Stories are created in organisations whenever something remarkable happens, and people love to remark on how leaders react under pressure because the way anyone reacts under pressure reveals their character. With this thought in mind I have been reading an excellent book called Crucial Conversations and I was struck by the following anecdote about a leader who was put under pressure and how she reacted.
Greta, the CEO of a mid-sized corporation, is two hours into a rather tense meeting with her top leaders. For the past six months she has been on a personal campaign to reduce costs. Little has been accomplished to date, so Greta calls the meeting. Surely people will tell her why they haven't started cutting costs. After all, she has taken great pains to foster candour.
Greta has just opened the meeting to questions when a manager haltingly rises to his feet, fidgets, stares at the floor, and then nervously asks if he can ask a very tough question. The way the fellow emphasises the word very makes it sound as if he's about the accuse Greta of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.
The frightened manager continues.
"Greta, you've been at us for six months to find ways to cut costs. I'd be lying if I said that we've given you much more than a lukewarm response. If you don't mind, I'd like to tell you about one thing that's making it tough for us to push for costs cuts."
"Great, fire away," Greta says as she smiles in response.
"Well, while you've been asking us to use both sides of our paper and forego improvements, you're having a second office built."
Greta freezes and turns bright red. Everyone looks to see what happens next. The manager plunges on ahead.
"The rumor is that the furniture alone costs $150,000. Is that right?"
Of course what happens next determines the type of story that gets told in the organisation.
Greta might have said, "Excuse me, but I don't think that my new office is an appropriate topic for this forum." In which case a story of the leader's hypocrisy will fly around the organisation in a flash.
Here is what Greta actually said: "You know what? We need to talk about this. I'm glad you ask the question. It'll give us a chance to discuss what's really going on." And this conversation led to Greta investigating the costs of the new office and committing to drawing up new plans designed to save 50% of the costs or cancel the project altogether. Now her team knew she was serious about cost cutting and by encouraging dialogue created an opportunity for a positive story to travel.
In organisational storytelling there can be too much emphasis on finding and retelling persuasive stories.
We should also help leaders take actions that create the stories that help the organisation. We can be proactive and improve an organisation's storyability.
We’re excited to announce that we’ll be running our first Storytelling for Sales public workshop in Melbourne on Wednesday, 20th March 2013.
We are all looking for better ways to sell; to build relationships with our clients, to understand their needs and to communicate our products and services with impact. We all want to stand out from our competitors.
Anecdote’s Storytelling for Sales Program develops your story skills to help you do exactly that.
Tickets for this special workshop are only $495, but there are only six places available, so there’s no time to waste. Register now.