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015 – Empty bunks in tall ships

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 18, 2018
Filed in Anecdotes, Podcast

Tags: persistence, vision, opportunities

It’s Mark’s turn to share a story, and so he tells a great one of how Janusz Kamiemski wanted to come to Australia but didn’t think he had any chance of doing so. It’s a great example of persistence with a twist at the end. He told the story at a TedX, so if you can speak Polish you can check it out here.

Shawn and Mark also touch on how it’s increasingly becoming expected of leaders to know how to use stories in a business context. However, as Shawn notes, many business leaders are unsure how. If you’re in this position or want more storytelling tips anyway, check out this blog post he wrote a couple of years ago.

tall ships

For your story bank

It was Australia’s bi-centennial in 1987, celebrating 200 years since the first fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour.

Tall ships sailed in from around the world to recreate it.

Janusz grew up in Poland and heard they were sending their own ship.

He’d never been on one, but had a dream to go to Australia and could never afford it.

It had a core crew, but eleven spare bunks for people to learn and become part of the crew.

Janusz saw the ad for the cruise to Australia. It was two months sailing each way and seven months in Australia.

Two-Hundred applicants in this first meeting – he thought there was no way he’d get it but applied anyway.

After a few months, applicants down to fifty. They went through year-long training program.

People started dropping out. A few weeks before, he still thought there was no way he’d get it.

A few days before sailing, he got a berth. He got onto the boat to sail and there were four spare bunks.

Janusz was amazed – he thought it was a trip of a lifetime and yet there were four spare bunks.

Podcast Transcript

Shawn:      

Welcome again to another episode of Anecdotally Speaking—this is our podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. Hi, I’m Shawn Callahan.

Mark:

And I’m Mark Schenk. And Shawn, you’re off to the U.S. soon.

Shawn:  

Yes, off to the US. I’m working with a couple of interesting organisations. I’m actually doing a public workshop in San Francisco, so hopefully we’ll see a whole bunch of interesting folk there. But I’m actually doing some work for a large games company, so you know computer games on your Xbox, PlayStation 3, all that sort of gear and what I’m noticing is there’s a bit of a pattern.

You’ve got these big creative companies that have an ability to craft and tell stories; they do that in their games, that is essentially what their business is. So, you’ve got this business talking about the fact that they are a story business, but many of the leaders who are not in the story crafting part of the business.

Mark:    

Not in the creative component.

Shawn:   

Not in the creative component, they’ve been told they are storytellers and they are freaking out a little bit cause quite frankly they are not exactly sure what to do. So, I just find it fascinating, you know we talk about big S and little s storytelling. You’ve got these companies doing the big S storytelling but the rest of the organisation, the people that are doing the sales and marketing, people that are just managing employees and engineers and creative folk who need to do the little s storytelling, have no idea how to do that yet.

Mark:   

So, building on that, recently I was in New Jersey running a two-day story-telling leaders programme and at the end got the group in a circle and everybody had a conch and the person holding the conch holds the floor and I asked them for a learning, an action, and a general comment and one of the participants made the contrast about the big difference between a story and assertion. So very, very different communication styles.

I had a diagram up that I had developed over the course of the workshop and anyway one of the participants walked up to it and he pointed to the line which is assertion statement, tell, push and he said I went and did an MBA for two years and all it taught me was to use this style and I had no idea that this other option was available to me, this story option. Yeah, I kind of get that thing where leaders are trained to not do stories and then they find themselves in creative organisations going what’s this story thing?

Shawn:  

Yeah, absolutely, so anyway it’s going to be good fun, I’m looking forward to that. Now I believe you’ve got a story for us Mark. Why don’t you lay it on us?

Mark:

So, this story was shared with me in Vienna in 2014. I was training a bunch of new partners in Europe and one of them, Janusz Kamiemski, from Poland, I was training him to deliver story telling for leaders and so if you are in Poland give him a call.

So back in 1987, it was the Australian Bi-centennial, celebrating two hundred years since the first fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour and so, as part of the Bi-centennial, tall ships were sailing from all over the world, kind of recreating that fleet entering Sydney Harbour.

Janusz grew up in Poland and he was saying he did not have access to boating or anything, he’d never even been on a ship, but he heard that Poland was sending a tall ship. They have a core crew, but they had eleven bunks for people to learn how to sail the ship and be part of the crew.

It’s a two-month cruise to Australia, several months in Australia and then two months sailing back, and he had this dream of going to Australia and there was no way he could ever afford it. So, he saw this ad for the tall ships and he went, ‘this is my ticket to go to Australia and have this experience that I’ve always wanted but there was no way I could ever achieve it, but the thing is I don’t know anything about sailing’.

Shawn:      

A limitation.

Mark:  

Kind of a limitation, he’d never even been on a boat. He turned up to the first meeting and there were two hundred people/applicants and there were eleven bunks available on the tall ship. And he went there is no way I’m ever going to get one of those bunks but I’m going to try. So, after a few months they whittled the two hundred down to fifty and those fifty people went through a year-long training programme.

Gradually people were dropping out but still a few weeks before there was no way he was going to get a berth and yet a few days before sailing they said you’ve got a berth and he went on that boat and there were four spare bunks when it sailed.

Shawn:

Ah no.

Mark:

And he went, I was amazed. For me this was the opportunity of a lifetime, I would do anything in my power to make this happen. I just turned up to every meeting, every training session and there I am on the boat and I could not believe there were four spare bunks.

Shawn: 

Wow, can you believe that, and he got to go on the trip of a lifetime?

Mark:

He said it was the most amazing experience of my life.

Shawn:  

Fantastic. That’s a hell of a story. So, let’s have a chat about what we like about that story, why it works.

I guess the first thing I would say is that I just love the fact it sets up this unattainable goal, what seems to be for him to be an unattainable goal. We love those stories. It’s very Cinderella. We love those stories of starting out low; there’s no chance, he’s got no money and then there’s this opportunity, the ticket to the ball. I think that’s a nice element. He needed a fairy godmother. That was himself in many ways, so I loved that part of the story. What did you like about it?

Mark:    

I was in the room when he told it and just the emotion that he told it with was amazing. It was such a big thing for him, a turning point in his life but also for him a huge realisation that by being persistent, having an objective and sticking it out you could achieve amazing things and that was kind of a business point that he attached to that story. I have got the advantage that in my mind when I’m telling that story I have the picture of Janusz in that room in Vienna sharing it.

Shawn:   

Yeah, it makes all the difference doesn’t it; you can relive it then. As we go through this section of the podcast there’s going to be things we say which we repeat over the various podcasts because there are certain key things that make a story work.  And of course, we’ve said this many times, but visual; I could see the tall ships. In fact, I remember in 1988 actually, the tall ships coming into Jervois bay in New South Wales, so I’ve got that image of those sails.

Mark:   

You might have seen that ship that Janusz was on.

Shawn:   

I could very well have done that, and it was spectacular, absolutely spectacular just seeing those ships. It’s like you sort of imagine this is the Captain Cook type ships, you would imagine Endeavour looked like to come into the harbour. For me I was reminded of that image as you were telling the story so again it just connects you to the visual element.

Even when you mentioned bunks I had that real sense of those cramped quarters. And I must admit I’m not much of a seafaring fellow so there is an element of feeling a little bit queasy when I hear stories of sailing ships etc so again multi-sensory experiences of some of these things. I’m just thinking some of that stuff you could amp up a little bit in that story, right?

Mark:  

So how could we make that story even better?

Shawn:

I wondering at what point do you finish the story? So, you finish the story right on the point of those bunks left vacant. That is a shocking and surprising end if you like and it probably does make a lot of sense there, but I was thinking in movies where time elapses and they do that, what do you call that in a movie? In the middle of a movie you have some period of time that has to pass.

Mark:     

The montage.

Shawn:  

The montage. So, there was a montage possibility there around all the training and attending classes that he did and I’m just wondering whether you could bring some of that element out, picking a few different things that he did, so that you really get that sense of the year that he put in.

Mark: 

Like the pre-dawn freezing, picking up frozen ropes.

Shawn:  

Yeah, all that sort of stuff. I think that could just raise the bar because each time you do something like that, the question is, is he going to get in? He’s going to put in all that effort, is he going to get in? And maybe the announcement of him getting in. How did he find out he got in?

Mark:   

Yeah because that’s a huge moment.

Shawn:  

Isn’t it ever? You know, did he get called up?

Mark:

In fact, that would really amp up that story.

Shawn: 

Do you know that answer to that?

Mark: 

No, I don’t.

Shawn:   

Interesting.

Mark:    

We’d have to give him a call.

Shawn:   

Send him a note. What do you reckon? Is there anything that jumps out at you?

Mark:     

I didn’t elaborate on what a talk ship was, I just assumed people know what a tall ship was and with just a few words I could have said, so a tall ship, you know those sailing ships from the seventeen hundreds.

Shawn:

Yes, pirate ships.

Mark:

I kind of assumed that people would know what a tall ship is. Maybe they do but with just a few short words I could make sure that they do.

Shawn:   

Yes, that’s a good point. Well what do you reckon, where would you tell a story like this?

Mark:  

When you’re asking people to do hard things.

Shawn:

Yeah, right exactly. Janusz has an absolutely kick ass connection story there. You couldn’t ask for better for getting a sense of his character.

Mark:

It says a lot about his character.

Shawn:   

So, for us building our story repertoire, yeah, you’re right, we’re going to have to knuckle down, we’re going to have to dig in, by the way a friend of mine over in Poland and then you tell that story and it just gives the sense that if you just hang around long enough attrition will work for you.

Mark:   

Yes, exactly.

Shawn:    

If we stay the course we give ourselves a huge chance. In fact, we’ve kind of seen that in our own business.

Mark:

Totally.

Shawn:

The fact that we are now into our fourteenth, fifteenth year, it’s the longer we are doing it, the more other people have fallen out of the business, but it just gives us more stories to tell, more experiences to have, more possibilities, more people we know, it just builds up.

Mark:    

I also think it has given us the opportunity to make all the mistakes and learn the lessons.

Shawn:    

Indeed, I was also just thinking about the vision element as Janusz had this vision of getting to Australia. I wonder what was driving that, did he say anything about that?

Mark:  

He did but I can’t remember exactly what it was but something that happened planted a seed as a young man that he wanted to go to Australia.

Shawn:

Right, because I think there was something there about having a vision that was drawing him along and making him persist in sticking with all the training etc, so that could be good to put in if you are trying to help people see the importance of having that longer-term vision.

Mark:    

So, a really good application of that story is the importance of having a vision.

Shawn:  

Yeah definitely. That’s terrific, ‘empty bunks’, that’s the name you called it?

Mark:  

Yes, in my story bank, ‘empty bunks’.

Shawn:   

I love that. What do you think in terms of rating?

Mark:  

Before we go onto the rating, something you said as we were getting ready that if you don’t think you have got great stories to tell then you should just go and do interesting things because it will very rapidly build your story bank, your story repertoire.

Shawn:  

Yes. In fact, any time where you have a situation where you feel like you are going to say ‘no’ to something, like I feel tired; say ‘yes’ to it, as all sorts of funny things can happen. I know that has happened for me multiple times.

Mark:  

Look, I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and I needed haircut, and I was wandering along Twelfth Street west up towards ninth avenue because I wanted to get myself near the Lincoln tunnel, any way I walked on and there was a sign to this barber shop. But it was down this very dodgy looking set of stairs and I thought ‘ohhh’ and I didn’t and I’m kicking myself because I might have bumped into this incredibly funky barber shop.

I let the ‘no’ get in the way. I should have done the interesting thing, which was to go down and get my hair cut in that barber shop.

Shawn:   

Yeah, you only have to set aside being mugged or something like that. Apart from that you’ll be fine. Let’s get onto ratings. I like the story but I’m not too sure I would tell it that often because it’s more someone else’s story. I’m thinking I’d probably give it somewhere between a 6 and a 7. It’s a good story but I can’t see me telling that story that easily.

Mark:

So, is that a 6.5?

Shawn:  

Yeah, a 6.5—lock it in.

Mark:    

Now, I agree with you about application because one of the criteria is not just is it a good story but is it useful? If I was going to rate that just on effect and impact of the story I’d give it an 8.5 but I’ll moderate that because of what you said. There are probably not too many circumstances where you could use it so after all that rationalisation I’m going to give it a 7.5.

Shawn:

Excellent, fantastic. Now, just before we finish up I just wanted to point out to people that there are a couple of resources starting to build with this podcast. If you go to the podcast page on our site, you’ll see that we’ve written out the story in a very shorthand way (enough for you to cut and paste it and pop it straight into your story bank).

So, you can have this ready-made story bank. You’ve now got a good 12 or 13 stories that you can add to your story bank. So, use that. The other thing that you’ll see eventually if you go back over the episodes, we’ve got the whole transcript of each episode being put into the blog post where the podcasts are described.

So, go and have a look at that because we tell other stories along the way. It’s just our habit to think of other examples. So, check that out too. I think they’re two really important things to keep building your story repertoire.

Mark:

Which is the purpose of this podcast.

Shawn:

Indeed. O.k. well, let’s wrap things up. Thanks very much for coming along and listening in to anecdotally speaking. And we’ll see you next time where we’ll help all of us put stories to work.

 

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one 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:

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