Filed in .
Many of you will be familiar with our business narrative workshop. It's a one day event where we cover how to find anecdotes in an organisation and then help your people make sense of the patterns they contain so new initiatives can be designed and implemented.
Every time we run this workshop the participants say it should be two days not one. So we are expanding this workshop and focussing it on how it helps people foster change in a productive way.
The problem is we are not entirely sure what to call it. Can you give us a hand please? I've created this poll to get your thoughts and would really appreciate any ideas.
Thanks for your help.
Filed in Quotes.
Life's little sayings have a big impact on how we think.
A stitch in time saves nine.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
They make up our common sense but as Einstein quipped:
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
I believe these aphorisms survive because they contain wisdom that work for us. But in the face of what we know about complexity there are some sayings that should go the way of the desert bandicoot.
Here are two that no longer make sense when things are complex:
- The definition of insanity is to do the same thing twice and expect a different result
- You can't fix what you can't measure.
Can you think of others that hold us back?
My friend Jackie hated having Nancy as her manager. She thought her to be cold, insensitive and overbearing and had, in the past, tried twice to get transferred to another department, but to no avail. Nancy was apparently a favorite with her employers, and since Jackie was both new to the area and the job, she felt she had no strings to pull. This only served to irritate her more.
Then one evening while she was working late to finish up a quarterly report, Jackie felt suddenly sick to her stomach and was on her way to the restroom when she collapsed in the hall. The next thing she knew she was being placed on a gurney and wheeled out to a waiting ambulance. In the sea of faces hovering over her, the only one she recognized was Nancy's, and in the blur of activity, she could feel Nancy squeeze her hand and hear her say, "Don't worry, Jackie, I'm here. I won't leave you."
It was a promise Nancy kept. Over the next few days as Jackie, a newly divorced mother of two, lay in a hospital bed, coming to terms with the damage done by the stroke she had suffered. Nancy not only stopped by to see her two and three times a day, offering never-ending words of encouragement and bringing mail and get-well messages from co-workers, but also stepped in to see that Jackie's two daughters were cared for and that every aspect of Jackie's life was kept running as smoothly as possible in her absence.
When it was necessary for Jackie to leave the hospital and be placed in a rehabilitation facility, Nancy again made all of the arrangements and visited daily, and when Jackie was finally allowed to go home, it was Nancy who made it possible for her to travel to and from physical therapy each day until she was, at last, fully recovered and able to return to work.
By the time I met the two women, over a decade had passed. They still worked for the same company, though Nancy was about to retire, and Jackie was now the manager of her own department, a promotion she had earned the year following her life-changing stroke. It was obvious to everyone that the two women were the best of friends. I was a new hire for the company and learned about their history together when they invited me to lunch.
At Nancy's retirement party a couple of weeks later, I was standing next to Jackie as her dear friend was receiving accolades from the rest of her co-workers. Jackie looked at her and then whispered to me, "Can you believe I used to hate that woman? And if it wasn't for her, I'd probably be dead. Goes to show we never know who among us is an angel, doesn't it?"
None of us really knows about the people we decide to hate. We label them wrong and ourselves right and in so doing never realize that we are building a wall of separation that only grows stronger with time. We truly do block the angels from our midst. It is not until circumstance throws us together, as it did Jackie and Nancy, that we realize how very much we need one another and how very alike we truly are.
As a young girl living with my grandmother, any time I criticized another person in her presence, she would ask to see whose shoes I was wearing, a blunt reminder that unless I'd walked in that person's shoes, I had no right to judge. It was also a signal that I should stop talking and start thinking differently.
Even today, I sometimes catch myself looking down at my feet when I feel tempted to criticize. "Who am I to judge?" I'll ask myself in the next breath, realizing as I do that I have no idea what the target of my critical focus is really going through.
Of course, that doesn't always stop me, and sometimes the judgment tumbles into my thoughts or words and takes up residence before I even notice. But through my own self-experimenting, I have noticed that when I succeed in suspending judgment and allowing myself to look at others from another perspective, my joy increases. Judging others, I have discovered, does not let joy in. Stepping away from judgment does.
In the long run, all judging others really does is bring pain and block us from our ability to offer love. We were born to give, to bless, and to be a blessing, but when we are sitting in judgment, we can't. As Mother Teresa pointed out, when we are judging others, we have no time to love them. It is only in suspending judgment that we open our hearts to unconditional love and empower ourselves and each other to be the best that we can be.
An Excerpt from "May You Be Blessed"" by Kate Nowak
Gossip is badly maligned in business, but that's because most of us only have a limited understanding of the concept. For example, gossip is merely anything we say about someone when they are not there to hear it. And it turns out we spend 65% of our talking time recounting who has done what to whom—gossiping. Business leaders will be pleased to hear that only a small percentage of this time (about 5%) is focussed on maligning our colleagues. So what are we doing in the other 95% and why should we care?
Robin Dunbar, the evolutionary biologist best known for Dunbar's number of 150, which is the maximum number of people we can get our minds around in a social network, argues that this substantial gossip time is akin to primates grooming each building their social bonds. Primates do it with their hands, humans groom each other with language. Does this sort of exchange sound familiar?
"Did ya hear about Marcus smashing his quota a month before quarter end? How does he do it?" said Amy.
"He's a freak. I hear he's big on lead generation and knows the marketing guys really well. Last week I saw him over there with chocolates. He's pretty friendly with Fiona. By the way are you going to Friday drinks?" said Pete.
Well, this is the type of thing we spend about 65% of our talking time saying. Interestingly Dunbar and his colleagues note that both men and woman spent the same timing gossiping and talked about similar things (experiences and relationships) with two exceptions:
- When men were with woman, men gossiped less (less about who did what with whom) yet spoke more. Men became more authoritative, factual and attempted to be more entertaining.
- Woman spend 2/3rds or the time talking about other people's social experiences whereas men spend 2/3rds of the time talking about their own experiences
Dunbar puts these differences down to our evolutionary needs for men to impress woman to find a mate and for woman to be good at building social networks to support the raising of children. Our evolutionary development, of course, is way behind our social situations in the 21st century, but it stills affects how we behave.
Finally we should be aware that most gossip is in the form of storytelling. It's people recounting events. It's not what I call big 'S' storytelling (well crafted plots, legends, fairy-tales) but the type of storytelling we are involved in much of our talking hours. This type of small, almost invisible storytelling has the greatest impact on who we are, how people view us (our reputation) and how we see this world.
Dunbar, R. (1996). Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.
Filed in Business storytelling.
By popular demand, we've just added three more Storytelling for Leaders workshops. They'll be held in these Australian cities:
Melbourne, 23 September 2008
Sydney, 2 October 2008
Canberra, 20 October 2008
And we haven't forgotten Brisbane because our next Storytelling for Leaders workshop in that fine city is on the 27th August.
Here is the link to the full blurb and instructions on how to enrol.
One of the things I've learnt running this workshop is that many people think they know what a story is up till the point where they have to identify one. We use of a range of videos of people telling stories and use them to hone your skills in knowing what a story really is and what it is not. It's a kind of a curse really because after this workshop you can't help but notice the stories all around you. But without this knowledge it's impossible to find and tell effective stories.
Filed in .
Today is Anecdote's fourth birthday. Hip hip hooray! Wow, where did those years go? I still clearly remember going to the ASIC office four years ago to register our business name, a name we really couldn't believe was still available. I guess we started just before business narrative became popular.
Thanks to everyone we've worked with, our clients, partners, blog readers and friends of Anecdote. You are helping us achieve our two most important objectives: meeting the most interesting people and having the best possible conversations.
Filed in Strategic clarity.
I am reviewing Fred Kofman's book 'Conscious Business' subtitled 'How to build value through values. He uses a soccer game to illustrate 'a puzzling paradox' whereby coherent and rational individual behavior often produces incoherent and irrational systemic behavior. Systems theory teaches that to optimize the system, you must optimize its sub-systems. Kofman's soccer analogy kicks this into touch...I have paraphrased it below:
In soccer, the objective of each team is to win by scoring more goals than the opponent. Teams are organized into sub-teams, offense and defense. The objective of the offense is to score goals; the objective of defense is to prevent the opposition from scoring. If the coach decides to use management by objectives and performance-based incentives the resultant compensation system sees the offense receiving payment in direct proportion to the goals they score and the defense in inverse proportion to the goals they allow.
If the incentive system works, the team will end up defeating itself. The offense would rather lose 4 goals to five than win 1 to 0. The defense would rather lose 1 to 0 than win 5 to 4. There is no incentive for the offense to help defend their goal and vice versa. While each sub-team tries to optimize its sub-objective, it sub-optimizes the team's objective. Substitute 'operations' for 'defense' and 'sales' for 'offense'; 'revenues' for 'scoring' and 'costs' for 'preventing goals' and you can see how this would work in organisations, and how easy it is to lose sight of the objective of winning the game as a team.
Kofman's book is an excellent read, using anecdotes and examples throughout to illustrate his ideas. It is a 'must-read' for all managers and leaders.
1. Kofman, F., 'Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values', Sounds True, Colorado, 2006, p77-78
A company that values customer service should be teeming with customer service stories. But what do you do if this is not the case? The Ritz-Carlton has developed a narrative-based approach for ensuring customer service is in the minds of all their people. It was described in this Business Week article but I first discovered it reading Maxwell and Dickman's The Elements of Persuasion. This is what the Ritz-Carlton has done.
Everyone in the company is encouraged to submit stories of RC people going above and beyond. Each week a story is selected and sent out to all the RC hotels around the world and this story is read out at the Line Up meetings, the gathering of staff before starting a shift. Here's an example of one of these stories as told by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, which RC call their WOW stories.
Like a lot of good stories, it starts on a dark and windy night. In this case, a blustery February when the downstairs bar that Fran tends was largely deserted. "The only one in the room was an older gentlemen, the sort of executive that has been drinking the same scotch for the last fifty years." A young, good-looking couple--we'll call them Dick and Jane-- came in dressed in laua shirts despite the weather and ordered mai tais. They seemed a little morose, but Fran is the sort of bartender who can get anyone to open up, and soon they told their story. Dick and Jane had just been married. They had always planned to honeymoon at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Hawaii. In fact, they had a reservation already booked for six months in the future, but Dick had just been diagnosed with cancer--a particularly nasty form of Hodgkin's lymphoma--so they pushed the date forward and were in L.A. for chemotherapy. This might be as close to Hawaii as they ever got, so they were bravely trying to make the most of it. When Fran tells the story, at this point her eyes take on that slightly stunned look that comes to cancer patients as they struggle to find the right balance between hope and denial. Obviously, the couple's story touched her deeply.
Fran got someone to cover the bar and sprang into action. She found Don Quimby, the manager on duty and together they went to the banquet hall prop room and collected anything that reminded them of Hawaii--a fishing net, a collection of starfish and seashells, a poster of Hawaiian hula dancers at a luau--and quickly gave the couple's room a make over. They even filled a cooler with sand and stuck in a sign that read "Dick and Jane's Private Beach." Then Don found an electronic key from the Ritz at Kapalua that a previous guest had left behind by mistake and reprogrammed it so it worked on Dick and Jane's room door. Don put on a Hawaiian shirt and went out to deliver this new key to them. He led them to their "new Hawaiian Honeymoon Suite," where a complimentary bottle of Champaign was waiting. And for the next three days staff of the hotel did everything it could think of to make the couple feel like they were on a Hawaiian honeymoon of a lifetime.
Three times a week staff recount WOW stories in the Line Ups, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Each time a WOW story is told it triggers a conversation about what everyone sees as significant in the story and often prompts the retelling of other stories of things that have happened in their own hotel. So rather than receive a corporate directive on how to behave staff vicariously experience behaviour that everyone recognises as exemplary.
You receive a $100 if your story is selected and at the end of the year there is a competition to select the top 10 stories.
This approach has many of the features of Most Significant Change except that the conversation around the stories happens at the coal face rather than among the decision makers. Mind you, someone in HQ is selecting the stories and this process could be expanded to include a MSC style selection process with the decision makers.
If done well your organisation would definitely be teeming with values in action stories.
Rather than give a lecture to his fellow comedian, Jerry Seinfeld tells a story to convey his message. This clip is from Jerry's documentary, Comedian, about his time on the road doing stand-up after Seinfeld. I've just ordered it.
Hat tip to Garr Reynolds
Filed in Business storytelling.
I was excited to see the current issue of Scientific America has an article on storytelling called The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn. Perhaps a whole new audience for story work will emerge among the world's scientists.
But it got me thinking. When people first encounter storytelling they often are directed to storytelling with a capital 'S'. You know, the storytelling of epics, sagas, legends, myths and storybooks. They are told stories are everywhere and due to their theatrical introduction they believe its these big stories that constitute our omnipresent narratives. Sadly, they are mistaken. The vast majority of stories we tell and hear are small 's' stories: the anecdotes, recounts, gossip, story fragments, war stories and one about the fish that got away.
If the Scientific America article is your introduction to storytelling you could be forgiven for thinking that storytelling is important and you should start reading more literature, going to more plays and watching more epic movies. I would have preferred readers to conclude from the article that they should be more mindful of all the stories being told around them and to wonder about how the stories they tell impact others.
The article is a hotchpotch of tangentially related research that jumped around leaving the reader feeling dizzy and disoriented. It's interesting, however, that one of the quotes is this:
"Indeed, to this day people spend most of their conversations telling personal stories and gossiping. A 1997 study by anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar, then at the University of Liverpool in England, found that social topics accounted for 65 percent of speaking time among people in public places, regardless of age or gender."
Yet these conversational narratives only receive a sentence or two in the four page article.
I'm in two minds about this article. One the one hand a new audience might be left with the residual thought that storytelling is important. That's a good thing for our discipline. But it also might give storytelling a bad name among scientists and leave them with the wrong impression of where story is really having the greatest impact: among the billions of tiny story moments happening everywhere, all the time.
Thanks to Stephanie West Allen for the pointer to this article.
Last year Robyn and I ran an interesting project for a large government agency to help Aboriginal people join the department and become productive as quickly as possible. More importantly the department wanted to retain more of their Aboriginal staff who would often leave for a myriad of complex reasons. Of course the project was narrative based.