Blog

018 – Are you married?

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 15, 2018
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Podcast

Tags: safety, moments, attention-grabbing

Our story this week is a short one, but it has an impact. As you will see if you tell a story in an unexpected way, and the topic is possible death or injury, you will immediately generate interest from your audience.

Truck driver

We also talk about keeping track of the movies you watch, even rate them, using the IMDB app on your smartphone.

 

Using IMDB, I have also started a list of movies that have scenes or storylines that could help you make a business point. Here’s an example:

We know of a CEO who told a story from Hidden Figures, the movie about the African-American mathematicians, all women, working for NASA in the ‘60s on the space program. They did all the computations by hand to get spacecraft into orbit and back again. Then one day NASA buys an IBM computer and the head of the mathematicians, a woman named Dorothy Vaughan, sees the looming threat to their jobs, so she goes to the library and borrows a book on FORTRAN and learns how to program the IBM computer. Then she teaches all her colleagues to be FORTRAN programmers. These mathematicians become the first NASA computer programmers back in the 1960s. When the CEO tells this story to help his employees to think about industry disruptors he finishes by saying, “so what is your FORTRAN?”

For your story bank

Cheryl is starting a new job in HR at a big utility company.

She decides it would be good to get a feel for what happens in the field, so she organises to ride with some of her colleagues who work fixing telephone poles and the like.

Cheryl jumps into the truck and the driver, let’s call him John, turns to her and says, “Are you married?”

She is a little surprised by John’s question but replies, “Yes I am.”

Then John asks, “What colour eyes does your partner have?”

Wondering where this is going Cheryl says, “He has brown eyes.”

Lowering his voice, John says, “Look, I take safety seriously in my truck. I don’t want to have to look into your husband’s eyes at the end of this shift and tell him you have been hurt or killed. So when I tell you to do things for your safety, I’m expecting you to do them. Deal?”

“Deal.”

 

Podcast transcript

Shawn:      

This is Anecdotally Speaking—a podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. Hi, I’m Shawn Callahan.

Mark:

And I’m Mark Schenk. And welcome to episode 18 of Anecdotally Speaking. Now before we get started, it’s a Friday afternoon when we’re recording this, and Shawn and I have just had lunch at the pub and we were talking about movies and how the ratings given by critics can be very different from the ratings given by popular response.

And sometimes the critics give the movie a much higher rating than the punters.

Shawn: 

Yes, indeed, seen that.

Mark: 

Sometimes much lower and I had an experience just recently where I saw a critic review the movie Jumanji 2—Welcome to the Jungle, which I was heading to see that evening. And the critic gave it an absolute panning and I was kind of thinking I’ll just bail out; I won’t go.

But I went along anyway, and I loved it. I laughed so hard. It was very different from what I expected, and it caused me to ponder how the critics were absolutely slamming this movie and yet I found it really quite enjoyable. Anyway, tell us what you did, Shawn.

Shawn:     

I’ve noticed the same disparity around those two things. What I tend to do is use this app called the IMDB app. In fact, when I watch a movie I tend to pull out my phone, look at the IMDB app, see what the rating is especially when you’ve got so many movies these days on Netflix and things like that.

So now I’ve got into the habit of rating the movies that I see. I’ll watch it and think o.k. what am I going to give that? I really do have a habit of rating a lot of movies out of 7. Seven seems to be my default. And what I’m looking for to push it above that is actually emotion.

I watched two movies over the weekend; one was The Post — nominated for an Academy Award, starring Meryl Streep (her 20th nomination).

Mark:  

Just an average actress then.

Shawn:

And I must admit I really enjoyed it. It was really heavy dialogue and you had to follow it but by the end of that movie I really felt a lot of empathy for her character. And I was just rooting for her and the fact that she actually got the thing through and they were publishing these top-secret documents.

It had lots of connections with what’s going around at the moment—with Wikileaks etc. so all of those really nice connections. But at the same time, I watched Molly’s Game and I thought that was going to be quite a good movie—top notch actress.

Mark:       

Aaron Sorkin wrote it didn’t he?

Shawn:  

Yeah and again very dialogue driven—the sort of movie I love, and I got to the end and went ‘mmm, kind of interesting but I didn’t feel anything’. Emotion matters in storytelling, right?

Mark:  

It does. The reason I raise that wasn’t to talk about emotion, although that is an important point, is to highlight that Shawn uses this IMDB app to rate every movie he watches, and I found it really insightful. We kind of flicked through and I asked, ‘what are your favourite movies?’

There were two movies that had a 10, a bunch with 9s and so I’m going to start doing that because it’s a great way to keep track of your favourite movies.

Shawn:      

One of the reasons I started doing it was because people would ask me; what movies do you really love? When you watch a lot of movies they become a little bit of a blur to you and so I found this exercise was just a nice way to help me. Again, it’s just that reinforcement.

And right at the top of my list, and I’ve got a few that I rated as 10, but one that you found surprising was Whiplash.

Mark:   

Yes, great movie. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it was a 10.

Shawn:  

I did love that movie and I think part of it was because they reconciled the plot in the last 10 seconds. They say great movie making is around having an antagonist who is trying to achieve something, but they’re pitted against the protagonist who is also trying to achieve something and they’re bumping into each other. And that’s what that movie is about and that doesn’t get resolved until literally seconds from the end.

Mark:       

The final beat. And of course, these movies are great examples of what we call big S storytelling. What we focus on in this podcast is the little S stories: the ones that all of us can use every day to make a business point.

Shawn:    

In our field we can learn things from the big S end but you don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to do big S storytelling.

Mark:  

I walked into the office of the head of sales and marketing for a big company in Sydney and he had a huge white board and it was completely covered and it had the stages of a hero’s journey mapped out. I walked in and he was so grateful to see me and he said,

‘Mark, I’m struggling so much. I’ve mapped out the hero’s journey and I just cannot figure out who is the hero. Is the product the hero? Should the company be the hero or am I the hero?’

My advice was ‘please get an eraser and rub that out because that is not going to help you be credible or authentic. It’s just way too complicated for business.’ And he’d spent days working on this and it kind just didn’t go anywhere. So, your hero’s journey, as with other Hollywood plot structures, fantastic for Hollywood; way too complex for business.

And besides we’re not trained for it. We’re not trained to use these complex narrative structures; we are actually trained to get business results.

Shawn: 

You know there’s another thing out in organisational land at the moment, which is related to this. There are big companies out there that do big S storytelling. We’re talking about movie studios; game studios and they have creatives who are totally comfortable in that space.

But the weird thing is the CEO says ‘hey, everyone we’re a story business.’ The majority of the people in that business are not in the creative area. They’re the leaders of division lines, managers of procurement, HR; they make up the majority of people in those businesses in many cases.

And they’re freaking out because they’ve been told that they’re a story company and the story is everything but they don’t really know what it is. And they need to learn small S stories. That’s their contribution; the disparity between what the creatives do and what they do.

Mark:   

Absolutely. So, I guess we should move on with the story for this week. It’s an even number so over to you, Shawn. What have you got for us this week?

Shawn:    

This one’s a little story. I was at the Washington International Association of Business Communicators Congress.

Mark:

That’s IABC.

Shawn:      

We’re members of IABC. I was there to speak at the conference. One of the activities they got us to do was sort of a speed dating exercise, getting to know as many of the participants as possible.

I found myself sitting next to this lady. Her name was Cheryl, and when she found out I was working in the field of storytelling she said I had a very memorable thing happen to me which I now share as a story.

She had just joined a big utility company

Mark:   

What was Cheryl’s role?

Shawn:    

She was in HR and she’d just joined the company and she thought ‘it’s really important for me to understand the business. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for me to ride with some of the guys in the trucks, going around fixing the poles and the bits and pieces you do to keep these utilities running?’

She organised her first trip and jumps into the cab of this big old truck and the driver is sitting there (we’ll call him John). And John just turns to her and out of the blue the first thing he says, ‘Cheryl, are you married?’

She doesn’t know why he’s asking this. ‘Yeah, I am married’. He goes ‘so what’s the colour of his eyes?’ Again, she’s surprised.

Mark:   

Oh, this is getting creepy.

Shawn:      

She said, ‘his eyes are brown’ and then he just turns to her and really intensely and says, ‘I don’t want, at the end of this shift, to have to look into his brown eyes and tell him that you’ve been hurt, injured or killed. I take safety seriously and when I give you an instruction about safety you follow it. Is that a deal?’ And she said, ‘yes’.

And she told me it created this moment where she could not forget it. He attached the whole issue of safety into something that was personal. I heard that story and I loved it. So, what do you reckon?

Mark:      

Yeah, I love it too. It’s really easy to tell. It’s short but very impactful.

Shawn:   

And some of the best stories are like that. I often hear people say, ‘we don’t have time for a story’. A story like that is very short but has impact.

Mark:     

Huge impact.

Shawn:

That guy knew that as soon as he ran that approach with them it’d have this enormous impact when they were working with him. They knew he was serious.

Mark:  

Oh yeah. And it certainly got Cheryl’s attention because here she is sitting down in a conference months later relaying that story.

Shawn:   

And obviously she’d told it; it was something that was useful for her. And I guess one of the things that makes the story work is the idea that if the listener is thinking ‘what happens next?’ That’s like the driving force of a good story. If you can tell a story and the listener is thinking that you’re on to something.

I think this is what Cheryl had. She had this story that just through a few simple steps you’re going ‘oh my god, what’s happening next? Why is he doing that?’

Mark:  

With those two opening questions he’s really amped up the tension.

Shawn:      

Definitely. And then it gets released very quickly and in a memorable way.

Mark:  

Absolutely. One of the things for me that really sticks about that is the sense of danger. There’s a sense that there’s something weird going on.

Shawn:  

Yeah, something weird.

Mark:  

This John guy.

Shawn:   

There’s certainly that element of it and just the fact it’s unexpected. You don’t jump into a cab and expect to be asked straight out ‘are you married?’

Mark:  

And what colour are your partner’s eyes?

Shawn:  

Yeah, so I think those are some of the elements.

Mark:

Short story; lots of features. I really like it because it shows that stories with high impact can be really short.

Shawn:     

Yes, that’s true.

Mark:      

So how will we use this in business?

Shawn:   

Well for me this is a model of behaviour. Say if you’re working with the safety group in a big corporation and you wanted to get them thinking what things could they do to really help people understand that safety is vitally important. You could tell that story but then get them to bounce off that and come up with their own versions of that sort of thing they could do to model an intervention story.

In fact, I was working with a safety group recently and I was just trying to get them to think about how they could create their own moments of safety. They told me that the most dangerous place in their workplace was when anyone was working at height (even a couple of feet off the ground but in many cases many stories up) and they just wanted that message to be out there.

So, I asked them what did people do on their first day in this job. Of course, it was all the boring things. So, I said well what if you did this; take people up to the top floor of the building, onto the roof, harness them up, clip them in, and take them to the edge of the building?

They don’t really know what’s going on and then when they’re looking over the 12 floors down to the ground you say, ‘this is the most dangerous place in our business.’ They would never forget that.

Mark:

You betcha.

Shawn:   

So, you’ve created a moment.

Mark:        

We’ve got a bit of a theme happening in this little segment about moments. I’m not sure we’ve mentioned it previously but we actually read the book by the Heath brothers ‘The power of moments’ as part of our anecdotal book club a little while ago. A fantastic book, if you’ve haven’t read it it’s a very good read; just talking about how moments are really key parts of our nature and how they can have a huge impact, so here’s a couple of examples.

Shawn:    

I think they give great examples in that book what other companies are doing to generate, and it doesn’t have to be companies either, they’re talking about schools, they’re talking about research facilities, a whole range of different industries so yeah, moments are important.

Mark:   

So – other applications of that story.

Shawn:   

Yeah, I think probably you could expand it out to leadership, how leaders make a difference. That fellow in the truck was acting as a leader, right. It shows that leadership can happen at any level; it doesn’t have to be at the pinnacle of the organisation.

Mark:   

Yes, like the story about seven or eight episodes ago about Ray, the office guy who went out and handed the high visibility vest to the manager while everyone else stood there.

Shawn:    

And let it go by.

Mark:   

Walking alongside him. So, leadership occurring at all levels.

Shawn:   

It’s primarily a modelling exercise. It’s one to help people get a little insight. Now that’s a quick story to talk about really but what would we give it as a bit of a rating? Where would you put it in the pantheon of stories we’ve talked about so far?

Mark:  

It’s probably not a story that I’d use, I really like how it does dramatically amp up the tension very quickly and then release it and make a good point but I don’t think it’s a story I’d use a lot so I’m going to give it a six. It’s not about it being a good story but it’s about my use of it.

Shawn:   

I have a similar feeling for it so that would mean I’d put it in my traditional seven category. Great so that’s about all we wanted to say about that story. It was a quick one.

Final things I suppose in terms of things that are happening around Anecdote at the moment.  Are there particular things we need to cover off on?

Mark:

Well you seem to have a bit of an affinity for New Zealand this year because you are heading back there in a couple of weeks. What are doing over in New Zealand?

Shawn:    

True. Yes, one of the things we do is we provide our programmes and we license them to corporations to use internally for themselves. We have a new business over there, a big Insurance company that’s taken on and I will be running our storytelling for leaders internally. That means I will train them up on how to train their own people and they’ll start to deliver it out through their organisation.

These guys are natural storytellers already so it’s going to be just perfect for them. It’s going to give them purpose, a more of a systematic approach. They are doing it in a kind of an ad hoc way; they’ll have more of a systematic approach after they run our programme. So, I’m looking forward to that.

Mark:

Fantastic.

Shawn:   

Well let’s finish it all up then. All I want to say is thanks again for listening to Anecdotally Speaking, and tune in next week for where we put more 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:

Leave a Reply

*

code

Send this to friend

down
up