story

Story matters. Choose wisely.

Stories are how we sense-make our world.

 

 

Story wars

Not everything is a story. But ‘story’ is the trend in terms of marketing and digital in particular.

In organisations, there are a few camps in the story wars.

On one side we have the social scientists. In this group we have the behaviourists, the ethnographers, the anthropologists, who consider stories as a way of sense making, and of helping people create meaning (at work and beyond). The humanists. In the workplace, these are the change agents, the organisational psychologists, the culture practitioners.

On the other side we have the marketers. In this group we have the branders, the advertisers, the sales pitch creators. This group understands that stories told well create desires that can be met by products. The sellers. In the workplace, this is the sales and marketing team.

And then we have the creatives. Here are the people who have looked at the craft of story. The writers, illustrators, the performers. The tellers. These practitioners are not limited to one part of an organisation. A leader can be a natural at story performance. A researcher may be adept at finding the story within the data.

Types of storytelling

Daniel Pink tried to bridge these worlds in his book To Sell Is Human. He equates the process of storytelling with the need to create currency for ideas and in terms ‘trade’: we all try to persuade, every day. There is such mixed practice around what stories are and how they are used that frustrations sometimes boil over, as in this slightly NSFW argument by designer Stefan Sagmeister at a conference earlier this year.

Trevor Young, AKA the PR Warrior provides a pragmatic definition of organisational storytelling, the sweet spot between all the definitions in a recent post on this topic.

smart organisations look to storytelling as a way to gain a competitive advantage and use stories to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace; to be successful, these stories – and the perpetuation of them in the community in which they operate – need an organisation’s employees and partners to become involved. Essentially, it becomes a cultural thing.

Many communicators are caught between these worlds, and in the skirmishes. The challenge is to remember that in organisations we communicate for a purpose. Communicators have to find a path between these different forms of sense-making. They have to wear all of the ‘story’ hats and understand the difference between story sharing as culture, storytelling as motivation, and story as information.

Everyone IS a storyteller, because we are human. It is impossible for us not to tell stories. But there is a difference in kind between sharing stories around the contemporary campfire –  the dinner table, the water cooler, and sharing them in a public space (whether that space is real or virtual).

 

Help employees tell their stories with simple tools

The Universe is made of stories, not of

Crowdsourcing is a growing feature of organisational communication; but it is not entirely new. In near-bygone times of the employee newsletter, stories sourced from the frontline were a staple form of content. People like to hear what people like them have done. In particular, people like to hear how people like them have solved a problem, achieved a goal or overcome a challenge. These stories are the lifeblood of organisational life.

As digital communication expands the ability to capture and share stories, it is important to give employees tools and resources to help make their sharing effective. In particular, understanding the basic nuts and bolts of what makes a story a story is a useful reminder.

The four Ps – people, place, plot and purpose

This short video from the clever folk at StillMotion provides a beautifully simple model for helping people shape their information in a way that tells a story.

 

Once…then…then…

There are many tools that help people listen for, capture and shape stories. Various sentence structures provide ways of outlining the context, the characters and the challenge. Perhaps the simplest of these is the Pixar model (adapted from a range of sources)

Once there was a ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

There is always more than one perspective

Organisations are microcosms of the rest of the world. In the world there are millions of stories that overlap, different experiences of the same event. Any story-work within organisations or communities needs to recognise this diversity of experience.  This TED talk from novelist Chimamanda Adichie is a compelling example of how multiple stories shape our existence.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
– Chimamanda Adichie

The idea of managing multiple stories in the organisation is at the heart of my work on ‘strategic story worlds

Keep it human

There is an abundance of material on storytelling available on the web. It is important to come back to the basics before embarking on any formal storytelling activities.

We are human, we are already hardwired to use story as our means of making sense of the world. By being conscious of this as a start point, it is possible to ensure ‘storytelling’ in organisations is not a trend or just a process to be followed to get people ‘on the same page’ but is instead a fundamental part of the sense-making capability of an organisation and its people.

4 Qualities for The Future of Storytelling

The Future of Storytelling Prize includes four criteria for successful entries. These are helpful guidelines for all creators, writers, producers, and makers of transmedia projects.

1. Interactivity: Quality of user experience

2. Story-Driven Content: Communicates a clear narrative

3. Emotional Resonance: Strikes an affective chord with the user

4. Design Execution: Innovative, original, and beautifully crafted

Full details of the prize here.

What’s Your Company Storyworld?

It has been a great few days at the IABC    World Conference, and I’ll be writing up highlights for the blog shortly.

Until then, here is the resource page for my session on Transmedia Storytelling for corporate communicators.

The slides are available on Slideshare.

The subject sparked some great conversations, and I want to keep that going. Leave a comment or get in touch with your thoughts about how you can tell your corporate story in a different way.

How storyboards shape your storytelling

Garr Reynolds, better known as PresentationZen is, alongside Nancy Duarte, one of the authorities on presenting and presentations. He posted recently on using storyboards to help craft your story and refine your message. He includes some excellent clips from Pixar’s Bug’s Life and Toy Story storyboard process.

A good storyboard artist is a good storyteller. The drawings do not have to be pretty, but they must have the meaning and the feelings behind the idea –  Garr Reynolds

One of the examples of the storyboarding process Garr includes shows the late Joe Ranft in the storyboard and pitching process for A Bugs Life.

See his full post here Presentation Zen: Storyboarding & the art of finding your story.

Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum

As part of Bite’s Stop Content Pollution event, filmmaker and digital ambassador Puttnam spoke about the challenge facing communicators in a crowded content marketplace.

I’d be very surprised if there were graduates coming out of media courses who had been told that their principle job is storytelling. I would be very surprised. They are being told that their job is impact. Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

Lord David Puttnam

via Lord David Puttnam: Online commercial strategies have ‘actively damaged’ news and information relaying | The Drum.

Release Control of the Corporate Narrative—and Reap the Rewards | IABC World Conference

What lesson does Disney’s Frozen have for internal communicators?

In the lead up to the IABC World Conference, this came up in the conversation with Natasha Nicholson, Executive Editor of IABC’s CW Magazine about how transmedia storytelling is changing the game for internal communication.

We discuss the difference between stories and story worlds, seeing the corporate story from multiple perspectives and the idea that sometimes, communicators need to ‘let it go’ when it comes to trying to control the message.

A good story is still a good story, but the ways in telling it are now very different and the ways of sharing it are a lot more open.

Release Control of the Corporate Narrative—and Reap the Rewards | IABC World Conference.

The full interview runs 14 minutes and is available here.

IABC World Conference Banner

Why comms plans fail: understanding complexity and the breakdown of narrative

Internal communication is a Frankenstein’s monster of practices, disciplines and theories. Part corporate communication, part change, part behavioural science, part craft. Increasingly it seems that the smartest thinking in internal communication is coming from fields outside of the traditional communication space. Cognitive studies, data, technology, knowledge management, UX, design and anthropology are providing new ways of sense-making.

A great case in point is the intersection of design thinking, user experience (UX) and progress in neuroscience. Dave Snowden is the founder of Cognitive Edge, and in this talk at LEANUX14 provides a potted introduction to complexity theory. He does a pretty solid job of demolishing the traditional approaches to communication and change through establishing a change vision and defining the future state, arguing that humans – and organisations – are far too human and complex for that to work.

Keynote: It’s the Process, Jim, But Not As We Know It – Dave Snowden at LEANUX14.

There are many notable things here, but I love these quotes about how we sense make through story.

You manage what you can manage, and you don’t waste time and energy pretending you can manage things in an ordered and structured way when the world is more complicated than that.

Stories are unique to human beings. People remember a story, whereas they don’t remember a document or a best practice tear sheet.

The stories that profoundly influence us though are not the stories told in highly facilitiated workshops by new age fluffy bunny consultants who really get their rocks off by getting more profound stories than anybody else. They are actually the day to day micro fragmented narratives of the water cooler, the school gate, the checkout queue, the beer after work. It’s those small micro fragments which fundamentally influence who and what we are…we recall those stories as if from nowhere in contextual need.

All human storytelling traditions (until Disney got hold of them) are deeply negative dark stories because we learn from failure, we don’t learn from success.

Snowden’s explanations of how organisations as complex systems naturally resist and defy the attempt to change them in a linear way is thought provoking stuff and points to why so many communication efforts fail abjectly. He provides some cautions in terms of how designers, Lean and UX practitioners approach change.

  1. Stop mandating idealistic and ideological future state models
  2. Don’t try to replicate without taking into account context
  3. Over-simplifcation is the enemy, face the complexity
  4. Rebranding is disingenuous
  5. “Pragmatic compromise should not lapse into prostitution”
  6. Compromising excessively is as bad as not compromising at all…
  7. Don’t replicate the how, unless you know the why

There is much here that applies directly to internal and change communication and (at the risk of falling into the trap of the second point). It’s worth spending the time to explore this disruptive view which is a challenge to the traditional approaches adopted by many communication practitioners and a way of seeing organisations as they are, rather than how we want them to be.

A big HT to @semanticwill for RT:

Is Adobe Voice really a storytelling app?

When the interwebs went a little crazy for the announcement of Adobe Voice, the new iPad-based ‘storytelling’ app, my first reaction was skepticism. After all, ‘story’ and ‘storytelling’ are terms that get bandied around a LOT. Rather than be critical initially, I deleted a snarky tweet, went to the app store and gave it a try.

Wow. Let me repeat that. Wow. I created my first Voice in about 15 minutes. I’m not saying it’s going to win a Golden Lion, but as an example of what this can do a tool for pulling together an idea rapidly, you’ll get the idea.

As an occasional gadget geek, I have like shiny objects. But immediately I can see this has some real potential for helping people structure messages, think through what they want to say and get ideas across in a simple way. There are a variety of basic story structures to select from; promote an idea, explain a concept, share a personal experience, and even the classic hero’s journey. There are a selection of visual themes, the ability to draw from a broad range of icons, or the options to draw in files from the cloud, from Facebook or take a fresh pic on the spot. It is a very intuitive interface.

I’m excited by the potential something like this has for capturing ideas and helping people share their stories within organisations. In fact, I predict a Prezi like rush on people putting this to use. I’ll keep experimenting and save a longer post when I get some feedback from other #comms and #internalcomms folk.

In the meantime, give it a try and let me know how you would use this in your communication toolkit.

Note: I have no affiliation with Adobe and this is review is an independent perspective.