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From school to Bored Room. Leaders as educators

I remember sitting waiting for our history lesson to start, but our normal teacher didn't appear. Instead we got a relief teacher, straight out of university by the looks of him.

I remember his unkempt hair and relaxed dress style.

"I want you to take your text books out", he said, predictably.

"groan", was our collective response.

"....and I want you to sit on them".

We didn't see that coming.

"Today we are going to be looking at the Battle of ... "

"But how are we going to do that if we're sitting on our books, sir ?...", a boy interrupted.

By this time, the teacher had our attention.

And we became even more wide eyed and incredulous when he divided the class into two, drew a battle line in chalk on the floor, and made us defend our positions.

Did we learn anything that day? Can I remember that lesson, years down the track? Did we get good marks on the assessment that followed?

Of course.

That teacher knew that how we learn and retain information isn't always by listening to someone drone on and on and on.

It is through the art of storytelling.

By making us participate in the story of the battle right there in the classroom, we became active listeners.

We engaged with each other and our "leader" in this case, the teacher.

Ad David Kold would describe, years later, we learn by feeling, thinking, watching and doing.

"Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.
~ Confucius C.440 BC"

How engaged would your stakeholders be if you found a way of telling them a story they could participate in? Would they be more engaged with the outcome if given a chance to participate? Would they be willing to share ideas if they could contribute to the story in a relaxed environment and away from the conference room or bored (sic) room?


OH&S: Stories to live and work by

Pay attention. Take notes, there is going to be a test on this later.

To "pay attention" means to focus attention on something that is regarded as important.

Nowhere is this more critical than in OH&S of course, but how attentive is the audience?

When it comes to Occupational Health & Safety we can be lulled into the false belief that "it can never happen to me".

Yet witness Piper Alpha or the Pike River Mining Disaster.

It was said afterwards that contributing to Piper Alpha was:

There had been no full safety drill in the last three years, the training and safety procedures were lacking, there were many new staff unfamiliar with the layout of the platform, and that problems raised by safety audits had not been fixed.

It logically follows that the bigger the potential risk the more attention staff and managers should pay to the messages we are told. But how effectively do we earn that attention?

Having sat through OH&S inductions that are fact laden and positively dreary, even when the safety stakes are high, this should be THE place to use real life stories. As I learned on a visit to a minesite.

I had been invited to sit in on yet another business induction program. The attendees were a mix of white and blue collar, and were obviously the names drawn out of the hat for that particular week. They were slouched in their chairs waiting for the signal that the day was over.

Then in rolled a guy in a wheelchair. Let's call him James.

I have never seen so many people sit up en masse.

"I made a mistake" he said "I was in a hurry as it was nearly tea break time and had to drop off a part for a lorry that needed fixing down in the quarry. I didn't pay attention and I felt the vehicle I was driving in, slide. it rolled 4 times before I was thrown through the windscreen. I was lucky, if you take a look at this video you will see how the dummy in the drivers seat of the same kind of vehicle, breaks his neck"...

By telling his story, James captivated the audience.

And the Q&A session that followed was interesting too, with genuine interest from an engaged audience.

Would the attendees have remembered a fact sheet or instructional video about always putting on seat-belts before engaging gears? Or will they vividly remember the presenter rolling in to the auditorium in his wheelchair, telling the story of his workplace accident and the disability that resulted?



Storytelling in the theatre of war

It's often said that armies win the war but lose the peace, and there some obvious recent examples.

In the US, the University of Delaware is looking at how storytelling might help soldiers transistion from combat to peacekeeping.

The team is led by Prof. Kristina Winbladh, who has this to say about the programme:

“In the military, misunderstandings can cost innocent lives,” she continued. “Storytelling is powerful because it puts information into context, something current military training scenarios lack.”

She and her team are being funded by the research arm of the US defence department. The plan is to build a database of stories that soldiers and officers can draw upon for training and learning.

She talks of creating a "body of knowledge" to "teach other soldiers about various cultures or regions and help them, and the people they interact with, remain safer in unfamiliar situations".

Unfortunately, for my point of view. this does not appear to a programme that will facilitate word-of-mouth storytelling. The stories will be available, via a database, in virtual reality formats. In simple terms, as interactive games.

However, the principles are sound. How might you engage a soldier to learn about cultural sensitivity?  Soldiers are not recruited for their mediation and diplomacy skills, after all.

As Kristina rightly says, storytelling puts information into context. In doing this, it helps make the information relevant to the soldier.

In a business context, often sales and customer service people are your foot soldiers. They are employed to close deals. In fact their wellbeing depends upon this.

Getting over 'soft' concepts such as branding, technical facts and anything strategic that doesn't lead to instant gratification can be difficult.

Here are a few tips:

  • Sales people are ambitious. They respond to future stories, where they are part of something successful. Find ways to weave branding, product development, user experience initiatives and general strategy into your stories.
  • Your added-value may be in product, process and/or service advantages that must be 'sold', but product and service training is typically boring. Use stories to help your people leverage these benefits. Rebrand that boring course into an opportunity for them to increase earnings. Use stories to show them how to convert product attributes into benefits.
  • Interactive learning does not have to be virtual. Get teams to act out success stories. Get individuals to share their stories. Tell your story, warts and all, to get the ball rolling.


Storytelling and the power of purpose

Late last week, I was send a press release about Proctor and Gamble's plan to set up storytelling 'lofts' to feed its innovation pipeline.

More on that shortly, but first a step back to see what's driving this.

It is consistent with P&G's publicly stated core strengths.

Marc Pritchard, Global marketing and brand-building officer, explains:

.... big ideas are the currency of our industry ...lift the entire brand and make it relevant in (consumers') lives ...big ideas that are so engaging and so surprising that they invite people to participate in our brand communities ...

These big ideas are conveyed through storytelling and P&G relies upon these stories going viral to build its brands. In some cases these are pure product stories (like the Old Spice campaign), in other cases purpose stories (how a P&G product or donation/grant has resolved a problem).

Storytelling is central to P&G's brand strategy.

Back to the storytelling lofts. Behind this initiative is Shane Meeker, who has a track record in bringing storytelling into P&G's design and branding.

He was asked how the concept of story can become synonymous with the concept of brand.

For me, when you look at the essence of a brand’s idea it all comes down to what story they are telling and if it is inspirational or not. This is especially true if you are trying to be a “lifestyle” brand. In other words, a good story is the true difference between being seen as a commodity or a brand that you really buy because it represents part of who you are or what you want to be. So, a question I always ask brand teams to consider is, “Do consumers truly want to be a part of the journey you are promising?” Remember, a journey usually assumes a certain level of excitement, chaos, danger (figuratively speaking of course), mystery and discovery. Or why else would we be interested in being a part of it?

While details on the 'lofts' are scant, it's likely a forum for employees and stakeholders to learn how to build, develop and tell compelling stories.

Need to inject some innovation into your organisation?: Perhaps I can help. Spaces at my Storytelling workshop in London are limited. It has been featured in the Sunday Times and the FT, and has been attended by leaders from many FTSE100 companies.


Organisational learning: Why storytelling can change minds

How do you change a mind? I suppose that a good starting point is to examine the personal circumstances in which your mind was changed.

  1. What stimulated the change?
  2. Was it a single event or a series of events
  3. In not an event, who was the catalyst?
  4. Which other media influenced the change?

In my coaching programmes, I encourage leaders to create their personal story: where they came from, how they got to where they are, what challenges they faced and how they overcome them and where they are heading.

During this process, it's evident that situations change people. Successful people learn, change and adapt. That's why they're successful.

But everyone has the capacity to change their minds.

Harvard professor and author Howard Gardner has identified seven key factors in 'how minds change'. One key factor is resonance, which 'involves not reason but emotion or intuition'.

He goes on the say that changing maids means altering 'mental content'. Such content includes stories.

Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds
by Howard Gardner: 2004

How Minds Change: Seven Key Factors

Mental representation cannot exist without content; it requires format or form. However, different forms or formats affect different types of people. The seven factors to consider in any effort to change minds show the importance of format. They are:

1. “Reason” – Appeals to reason can involve deduction, induction, analogies, categories or other forms of thought and rational presentation. Reason is particularly important among educated people and those who consider themselves intellectuals.

2. “Research” – Data, evidence, statistical analysis, anecdotes and other informational products enhance and support rational arguments.

3. “Resonance” – This involves not reason, but emotion or intuition. Rhetoric, an important  mind-changing tool, is most effective when it includes reason, evidence and emotional resonance.

4. “Redescription” – The more ways you express a new idea, the more convincing the new idea is apt to be. A teacher changes students’ minds most effectively by offering the change to them in varied formats: a story, a picture and a logical progression.

5. “Rewards” – Material resources can be rewards or incentives for changing your mind. For example, some compensation systems reward new ways of thinking or acting.

6. “Real world events” – Sometimes an actual event forces a change of mind. For example, some people changed their minds about life in New York after 9/11.

7. “Resistance” – The stronger people feel about an existing viewpoint, the more habituated they are, the more set in their ways and the harder it is to change their minds.

Habits, custom, experience and emotional attachment are forms of resistance.

Changing minds involves altering mental content, which is made up of these elements:

1. “Concepts” – “Human beings think in concepts,” or ideas and categories. These are the basic elements of mental content.

2. “Stories” – These elements of mental content describe sequences in time.

3. “Theories” – These are formal, systematic accounts of processes, usually stated in an “if-then” or “because-and-therefore” format.

4. “Skills” – These forms of mental content are competencies or capabilities, such as playing a musical instrument, laying bricks