The ponytail and why your stories must be true

Posted by  Mike Adams —August 27, 2020
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Communication

Have you heard the story about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in zero gravity? The story goes on to explain that they were much smarter in Russia and just used pencils. It is told to mock excessive government spending and the love of complex technology.

But there is a problem with this story… It isn’t true! It’s an urban myth.

It turns out that, in the early years of space travel, both Americans and Russians used pencils in space. Pencil tips can break and float into sensitive electronic equipment. So, a solution was needed. At a modest cost, a private inventor developed a pen that would work in zero gravity, and both groups purchased the design. This is not such an interesting story, and it doesn’t make the point we were after.

What happens if you tell a story that isn’t true, and you are found out?

Of course, your credibility is gone. We teach leaders and salespeople to use purposeful stories to build rapport and to progress their business opportunities. And credibility is a critically important resource in business. So, you need to find true stories to tell.

Here’s a story I would tell if I wanted to make a point about our love of complex technology.

The ponytail

On Christmas day, 1985, I was in Java, Indonesia, operating an electronic survey instrument two kilometres deep in an oil well. I was sick from food poisoning and feeling homesick in a country where Christmas isn’t commonly celebrated.

The oil well I was surveying had a leak—a hole in the steel casing. I was running an experimental ultra-sonic scanning tool that, theoretically, could measure the thickness of the casing with enough accuracy to locate a hole.

That was the theory, but all I got was unintelligible data.

We winched the tool to the surface to see if it could be repaired. On the rig floor, as I was explaining to the company man that my fancy piece of equipment was not working, a rough young man with southern US accent called out, “Y’all looking for a hole? I can run ya a ponytail!”

It turns out that a ‘ponytail’ is a length of frayed rope attached to a weight. It is lowered into the casing on a slick line cable. When the frayed rope passes a hole in the casing, it catches, and a spike on the cable indicates the depth of the hole causing the leak.

A piece of frayed rope did a job that $300,000 worth of electronics could not, and I had one more thing to feel sick about.

Mike Adams About  Mike Adams

Mike is an expert facilitator and story consultant who has helped numerous national and international companies, across many industries, to tap into story-powered sales. He is also the author of the international bestseller Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell. Connect with Mike on:

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