Blog

An anecdote’s point of view

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 28, 2008
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling

Ford Harding has just posted two versions of the same anecdote. The first paints the consultant as the hero while the second focuses on the effort of the client. Ford wants us to consider which version would we tell and why.

Version #1

Sometimes losing is almost as good as winning. Not long ago, a major power company was sued for breach of a twenty-year power contract. The plaintiffs were asking for damages in excess of one billion dollars, the value of the damages hinging on the discount rate used in their calculation.
Multiple experts offered the defendant ways to calculate the rate. We spent many hours educating the general counsel on the credibility of the alternative ways to calculate a discount rate and persuaded him of the intellectual superiority of our approach. When the arbitrators compared our estimation of the discount rate with the one provided by the plaintiff’s expert, they found ours more credible. The power company ended up paying the plaintiff only $115 million, far less than they would have had to pay if the plaintiffs had won or one of the other experts’ calculations of the discount rate had been presented.

Version #2

Sometimes losing is almost as good as winning. Not long ago, a major power company was sued for breach of a twenty-year power contract. The plaintiffs were asking for damages in excess of one billion dollars, the value of the damages hinging on the discount rate used in their calculation.

The attorney representing the company asked several experts to calculate the rate. He spent many hours with the power company’s general counsel evaluating the credibility of the alternative ways to calculate a rate, and selected our experts’ approach. When he took the case before arbitrators, they found his arguments both intellectually superior and more compellingly presented than those provided by the plaintiff’s attorney. The power company ended up paying the plaintiff only $115 million, far less than they would have had to pay if the plaintiffs had won or one of the other experts’ calculations of the discount rate had been presented.

There are a couple of other interesting features these stories display that are worth talking about. Each one is prefaced by a statement summarising the moral of the story. It’s an effective approach which I’ve noted in the work of Victor Frankl. It’s conversational and creates a mystery of sorts because we want to understand what is meant by the statement.

Both stories are without real people’s names. It’s the sort of story written up in case studies that gently washes an element of truth from what’s been said. It’s harder to check these stories out. Did it really happen? People love details and the best stories have the names of the characters. I understand what this type of business story lacks names in its written form: people are uncomfortable talking about what happens inside organisations. But when told orally names are important.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

2 Responses to “An anecdote’s point of view”

  1. CW Lin Says:

    I would prefer Version #2. This is because only in Version #2 could we see there is learning from wrong doings. The attorney representing the company spent many hours in evaluating the credibility of the alternative ways to calculate the rate. After that they found the arguments were both intellectually superior and more compellingly presented than those provided by the plaintiff’s attorney.They actually learnt through the process without being pushed. And, more importantly is, they can enjoy the pleasure of winning by their effort.

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks for your comment CW. The change in emphasis from the consultant as hero to the attorney as hero is an important change.

Send this to a friend

down
up