Telling Stories

Why do we tell stories? At home we read our children stories at bedtime, entering a world of make believe to calm them ready for (hopefully) a night of peaceful sleep. Around the campfire we tell each other ghost stories to make the most of the shadows flickering around the flames. At sea we tell tall stories of the one that got away. For creative thinkers, we use stories to bring our ideas to life.

In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers show us the power of stories to get people to act on our ideas. They introduce us to three basic plot types for structuring our stories. You can read another summary on The Workplace Improver Blog:

  • Challenge Plot: someone overcomes seemingly impossible odds, e.g. David and Goliath. Also used a lot in Hollywood e.g. the lord of the rings, raiders of the lost ark, terminator. Everyone plugs for the little guy. Great for motivating your audience to try something difficult
  • Connection Plot: two people bridge a huge social gap to form an emotional connection, e.g. Romeo and Juliet. Great for motivating groups to work together or be more accepting of something a little different.
  • Creativity Plot: someone has an ‘aha’ moment, e.g. Doc Brown and the Flux Capacitor. Great for illustrating a breakthrough idea or motivating people to bootstrap i.e. do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Stories which Set the Stage

For workshop facilitators, stories are a great way to lead into a directive question. For example, take these two questions…gues which one draws more responses:

  1. What inputs do you need for class scheduling?
  2. Imagine you are sitting at your desk in your office about to write out the new class schedule. You have your computer in front of you and all your files and reports are in your filing cabinet. What information would you need to hand so you can set out the new schedule as easily as possible?

Note: examples paraphrased from The Secrets of Facilitation.

The idea here is to build up some context, and breathe a little life into your problem statement so people are actually there. You don’t want your audience to think about answers in a detached way, you want them to really engage and imagine themselves actually there and HAVING to solve the problem. The story style question helps people to paint a visual picture with all the answers right in front of them. No more stony silences, just an engaged audience starting to give considered answers.

How to develop a good story

In The Ten Faces of Innovation, IDEO tells us the first rule of storytellers:

“Keep it authentic and Entertaining. Strike an emotional cord. Make it a story people will want to pass on”

Keeping your stories simple, fun and emotionally rich is great advice. It’s also good to remember the difference between true and authentic. It’s a bit of an art, but you get better at it with practice. Here’s storytelling expert Stephen Denning with some advice on crafting a great story:

Virtual Fridge Magnets

I thought I’d leave with this quick idea for gathering your story telling space together. If you’ve ever tried mind mapping a subject that’s new to you, you might have found that you struggled with the overall structure. Ideas come, you put them down, create hierarchies and links, then want to start ver as your concept structure breaks down. By using virtual fridge magnets you get to throw your ideas down but without any links. Just pick them up and shuffle them around later. Just like fridge magnets but with idea snippets and statements instead of individual letters.

  • write your ideas out on post it notes
  • one idea per post it.
  • stick them up on a wall
  • move them around at the end
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