The story secrets of organizational change

In the world of Storytelling and Organizational Consulting, similar mantras are drilled into us – different words, similar meaning:

1. Make the audience the hero

2. Meet the client where they are

Both of these mantras speak to empowering people and companies, to help them feel, think, do, and see things differently so that they are called to action to enact change.

What this boils down to is – I see you (the client, the character, the company), where you are, for what you are…and I believe in you.

What this requires of us (those who lead change efforts and write the words to inspire) is patience, and a bit of scaffolding.

The best example I’ve seen of living out both of these mantras was Columbia University Professor William Duggan. I write about him often, and, nope, I probably won’t stop.

He had important words say, to teach, and to share. He drew us in carefully and artfully, by speaking the audience’s language (read, mostly MBA students), and skillfully partnering with them to help students come to important realizations themselves. Three acts. Small steps. A slowly built narrative balanced with equal parts logic and emotion at just the right times, each chapter asking for a bit more of us as we went.

In awe of his art, I asked him how he crafted his semester-long class. What was his secret?

Make the audience the hero. Meet them where they are.

He was teaching a slightly unconventional topic and wanted his students to come along for the ride. How often have we too had a great idea, something we care deeply about sharing, and want others to join in on? Hands up, everyone! I see you.

His reminder – you can’t do that by forcing an idea. That’s all head, no heart. He metaphorically held the idea and the a-ha out for his students in his out-stretched arm. And carefully crafted a sequence of steps where they’d be encouraged and motivated to keep reaching. One class after the other.

It’s not too much of stretch to equate this art to leadership.

But how often does our desire to push and prod instead of join and co-create take over our best impulses – especially under stress and threat?

How often does our desire to be seen as the hero and to not quite understand or empathize with where the client could be force us to push too far and stop the story? I’m certainly guilty.

To meet the client, the student, the reader where they are and to help them see that they are the hero is to recognize that we aren’t writing the story by ourselves. It’s not our story. It’s theirs. It’s not my change effort. It’s ours. Or, in many cases… it’s just theirs. And that’s a happy ending.

Advertisements

The Role of Educator as Storyteller

The role of storytellers and educators (who are masters at storytelling) isn’t all that different: help your audience see that they are the heroes of the story you are telling, the change initiative you are working on, or the learning program you are facilitating.

Leave space for the audience to be a big part of the narrative, so that they can see themselves in it,  believe in it, and themselves.

The best facilitators, professors, and change practitioners  I’ve seen can tell great stories, but they always find a way to point out the audience / client / learner as the hero in the story.

“It’s not me, it’s you”.

The more we can help others see and feel that, the better equipped others will be to craft more powerful stories and have the confidence to go after the challenges, opportunities, and allies that they need for each chapter of their narrative (or, lives).

Learning and teaching as art: The best, most inspiring example of this I’ve seen recently was as a student in Professor William Duggan’s class at Columbia Business School. All semester long we studied the hero’s journey of ‘famous’ businessmen and women, military leaders and cultural icons.

We were inspired by them but their stories of personal and professional triumph never felt out of reach. Their stories were not fairy tales.

We can study and learn from the quests, obstacles, and successes and failures of others and their stories – but none will be as powerful as putting ourselves and those we help in the driver’s seat of their own hero’s journey.

 

What’s the drill – March 21: StorySlam’s 5 minute storytelling challenge

In January I accepted the challenge to talk about what matters to me, in 140 seconds.

Tonight, I ventured downtown to check out another public storytelling test-kitchen… the Moth StorySLAM — an open-mic storytelling competition held weekly in NYC and across the country. Here, the rules were a bit different. Brave participants had 5 minutes to tell a true story related to the night’s theme.

What happened in the room tonight was simply inspiring and beautiful. Not only were the 10 stories remarkably polished and moving, but the support, engagement, and positivity emanating from the 200+ people in the crowd was an incredibly special feeling.

The event got me thinking about learning communities, trust, tribes, and the power of story, vulnerability, empathy, and theme to inspire positive change — not just in a 5 minute story, but in a lifetime.

StorySlam events are held in big cities across the USA. Check out the calendar, here.

 

photo (16) photo (17)

 

 

What’s the drill – September 12: And because of that…

Remember the Story Spine? The fantastic tool we use to apply elements of storytelling to a plethora of organizational situations and cases?

  • Once upon a time …
  • And every day …
  • Until one day..
  • And because of that …
  • And because of that …
  • And because of that…
  • Until finally…
  • And ever since that day ..

Today specifically we can talk about the Story Spine as a means of discussing risk and reward.

Take the phrase, “And because of that…”

Improvisers are taught, and become more comfortable with taking risks. They feel on stage, experientially, what it’s like to get out of their comfort zone. And because of that, they stretch, grow, and so much more.

Sometimes, off-stage, we take a risk (“until one day”) and wait for the reward (“because of that”). We see risk taking as a means to an end. It’s got to be something tangible, right?

“Where is my ‘because of that‘ already?”, we ask. Show me the reward! Let’s flip to the end of the story.

In truth, the other, “because of that’s” might not have been written yet. We often can’t see them coming although we hope they appear. It may take months, years for you to recognize what they are. You might find there are more than 3, perhaps dozens of “because of that” phrases. All we know sometimes is that the risk moves us forward, certainly in learning, and hopefully in tangible results.

If we are taking risks solely in pursuit of the reward we might never be satisfied with our story spine.

The point is that we as organizations and the people who run them have a responsibility to keep the story moving forward. Choosing to take risks and to use the call to action of “until one day” moves us forward, compared to the glacial, steady, predictable pace of “and every day”.

 

What’s the drill – August 21: Find the ending

And, in conclusion…

Sometimes as presenters, communicators and improvisers we spend so much time learning how to start our speech, conversation, or scene that we forget to brush up on how to finish them.

Here are some tips, pulled straight from the world of Improvisation and storytelling to help you find the elusive ending.

1. Know your objective – What do you want your speech to accomplish? Build in tie-back to your objective, and once you’ve achieved it, it’s a key sign it’s time to end.

2. What has changed? Kenn Adams’ story spine gives us a wonderful framework to think about communication and storytelling. “And ever since that day…”, what changed, for the character or for the world you described? Help paint the picture with emotional resolution.

3.  Re-incorporation – Reincorporation is comedy gold. To help find your ending, look to the beginning. What can you reincorporate?

4.  Button it up – Improvisers tend to end scenes on the biggest laugh – they like to go out on top. Once their objective has been achieved, and they have been changed, ending on a big laugh (otherwise known as a “button”) is always a good feeling.

5.  Have you solved the problem? If the problem you’ve established has been solved, your work is done. Be careful not to introduce new problems, or re-hash the same one. Simplicity is key.

6.  Did you answer the audiences questions? The audience has a circle of expectations: with the information you’ve given them, they have questions they expect to answered. Once you’ve done that for them, you can expect to have come to the end. 

A new way to think of change

In an Improv scene, a movie, a story, or a great presentation we find resolution by completing this sentence,

 “and ever since that day”…

What changed?

This change is brought about by what we call a tilt. Something a character says, does, expresses, and admits to, etc in a scene.

It is our goal in an Improv scene to be open to change and to actively seek it. This change then answers the question, “what was different about this day”.

As innovators, creative problem-solvers, leadership coaches, managers, trainers, and facilitators we push positive change.

“And ever since that day”….

The tilt, the catalyst for change, comes from being hyper-aware to what offers and ideas have already been expressed. What is around us that we can use? What are our characters feeling, expressing, and wanting and what honest reactions and desires can we pull from to help our characters organically grow and evolve?

We can think of it this way:

Once there was…
And every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since that day…

Improvisers want to be changed. The static scene and character that stays the same from beginning to end is not our friend.

To embrace change is to ask… “and ever since that day”… and to see the world of possibilities that appear when we making even one small tilt pushes us in a direction we couldn’t have predicted.

Once upon a time…Integrating story tips into your organization

“But one day”… is what’s known in storytelling as the tilt. The moment everything changed and our characters, world, and story transformed.

It’s just one part of what’s known as The story spine, by Ken Adams.

As someone who studied screenwriting in college, I have always been fascinated by how the worlds of storytelling and human behavior collide — essentially, studying how screenwriters craft powerful narratives built on human emotion, connection and transformation, and using some of those same secrets to positively affect human and organizational development.

Today I came across this blog, which shares some story rules pulled directly from Pixar Animation. I’ve posted them below. Which ones resonate and connect most with you – whether it pertains to leadership, transformation, presentation skills, or more?

http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

What’s the drill – May 15: Give your presentation skills a boost

Are you a detail or big-picture person? Do you describe or present information with all of your senses?

One simple exercise changed the way I look at presenting information – and its applications stretch from vision planning, leadership, presentation skills, story, learning retention and more.

It’s an exercise I first learned in an Improvisation class at BATS Improv, and then continued to read about in Kat Koppet’s book, “Training to Imagine”, and then applied to my workshops at DreamWorks Animation.

It’s called, Color/Advance.

Here is a basic example of how it works: Grab a partner and pick one of you to begin describing your day.

At any point, your partner can say, color… or, advance. Color means to add more description to your story – use all of your senses. When your partner says Advance, it is your job to then go back to advancing or continuing the story. Continue to switch back and forth, with the direction given by your partner.

Give your storytelling, imagination, creativity, and presentation skills a boost.

Also use this tool to learn what inspires or interests your audience – see what they want to learn or hear more about.

Color. Or Advance? Why not add both to your toolbox.