Archive for March, 2009

Like Ideo’s Process, Storytelling Transformational

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

A recent article on Ideo Founder David Kelley summed up the experience of working with him as transformational–in my view, the highest compliment any consultant can hear. After all, we’re called in to help organizations work through an issue that needs a fresh perspective and new tools, and the hope is that our work will to some type of significant change, or transformation, at some level. And it doesn’t need to be a huge transformation to make a big impact.

Like design, storytelling is a concept that at first may seem to be more about style than substance. But one of the best testimonials my work has earned was from an executive who, after a two-day intensive retreat, said, “Storytelling sounded too simple and basic to spend two full days on, but the further we dug into our stories, the more I realized how profound it is.”

To read the entire article on David Kelley and his work at Ideo, go to http://tinyurl.com/9zy9v4

Word-of-Mouth at Its Best: Storytelling

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Everything old is new again, as the saying goes, and it’s certainly true about a communication tool that’s been around since the beginning of humanity. There’s no better way to convey ideas in a memorable way than to tell a story, either as part of your message or, sometimes, as the entire message.

The ancient practice of storytelling, revived in recent years both as popular entertainment and as a powerful tool in business, is sure to play a valuable role in the currently hot practice being touted on the web: word-of-mouth communication. Stories are a natural way to generate “viral” marketing, create “buzz,” and bridge cultural divides; they are the glue that help people stick together and maintain lasting connections.

What’s the core story of your organization? How often and how effectively are you telling it? And where are you telling it? If you’re not already active in the Web 2.0 community, it’s time to join up–or risk being left behind.

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Just counseled a colleague on identifying values and qualities that will help her differentiate her services. Fun!

Down with Doublespeak, Part II

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The day following my last post, an article appeared in the Seattle Times about a Seattle DJ who also has had his fill of doublespeak. Columnist Danny Westneat wrote about Chukundi Salisbury, “a 38-year-old DJ, party promoter and street-culture magazine publisher.” Salisbury dared to speak bluntly at a community gathering that included a tribute and a posthumous award to a young black man who had been shot to death a few weeks prior.

As Westneat describes the scene at a local library meeting room, “Love had died, it was said. Had passed away. Had been taken from us.” As the euphemisms continued, Salisbury couldn’t contain himself. He strode to the front of the room and said emphatically, “Let’s be clear about this — Tyrone Love was MURDERED. He didn’t die. Somebody killed him and that person is a MURDERER.”

Later, in response to a question from Westneat, Salisbury explained, “somebody had to call out what happened for what it is.” Salisbury is particularly concerned about stopping black-against-black violence, and he believes that speaking clearly about it–and calling it what it is–is the key to turning things around and building a more caring, healthier community.

I couldn’t agree more. Euphemisms shield us from the aspects of reality we’d rather not deal with, but softening the impact by calling it something else perpetuates the problem. The first step to fixing what’s wrong with our world is recognizing that there’s a problem right in front of us–and calling it by name.

If you’d like to read Westneat’s entire column and more of Salisbury’s no-nonsense approach, go to http://tinyurl.com/afp6rv

Down with the Rise of Doublespeak!

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Is anyone else bothered–or even noticing–the rapid rise of doublespeak, which seems to have gained a dominate position in our daily communications? I can remember when the practice was derided as deceptive and dishonorable. Now it’s become not only accepted but often applauded as admirable oratory.

One famous example of doublespeak a decade ago was derided in the media because it was so blatantly preposterous. When President Clinton was challenged about his statement that there was nothing going on between him and Monica Lewinsky, he replied, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” And he followed up with a rambling, nonsensical explanation.

Recent news contains similar explanations in abundance. Sports stars aren’t taking steroids–until they say they are/were. Business leaders say their companies are doing well–until the collapse a few days, weeks or months later. Financial institutions are solid–until they all of a sudden need a bailout to remain in operation. The current stimulus package in Congress has no earmarks–until it’s revealed to have more than 9,000. It depends on what the meanings of the words “taking”, “well”, “solid” and “no” are, right?

How about this: let’s all be mindful of the need for clarity of thought and action–among our leaders as well as ourselves in every aspect of our lives. And let’s call people on their doublespeak. Don’t you think we’d all get along much better if we started with a clear understanding of who we are, what we’re doing and how we’re doing?

A CEO’s Job: Being There

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Gerry Grinstein, whose amazing, wide-ranging career includes stints as CEO of Delta Airlines and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, recently shared his views on great leadership with a downtown Seattle business audience. He listed the following as key traits of a CEO:

  • insightful
  • demonstrates integrity
  • intelligent
  • possesses good people skills
  • engenders among others a desire to follow to him/her

Responding to a question regarding a CEO’s role in a crisis, such as the recent landing of the U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River, Grinstein said simply, “A CEO’s job is to be there.” His point: an effective leader must remember that everyone else is always watching his/her actions, which communicate more powerfully than words, and learning through the CEO’s actions what s/he really wants and means.

Your thoughts?