Archive for September, 2012

How One P&G Manager Learned the Power of Storytelling

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

The news reporter in me always enjoys learning “the story behind the story,” so I was fascinated to read how storytelling caught on at Procter & Gamble. And because P &G products are used in millions of households and organizations, I expect you’ll enjoy the story related in Paul Smith’s new book, Lead with a Story.

Director of Consumer Research for P&G, Smith relates in his book how at first he was perplexed by the long-time CEO’s behavior during Smith’s first presentation to the head of the company. A.G. Lafley didn’t look once at the slides Smith had so carefully prepared; instead, Lafley had chosen a seat at the head of the conference table–but with his back to the screen! What’s more, he didn’t once turn his head around to view a slide.

Only  later did Smith realize that “he wasn’t looking at my slides because he knew something that I didn’t know until that moment. He knew if I had anything important to say, I would say it.” In other words, his CEO was listening for a story!

In an excerpt of Smith’s book published in TLNT, he also relates how P&G came to appoint a statistician as official corporate storyteller. Read about it at



CEO Requires Good Grammar

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

At first glance, one CEO’s hiring requirement–excellent grammar, regardless of the job–may seem a bit extreme. But Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, and founder of Dozuki, a technical documentation company, makes a good case for his stance.

As one whose ears scream “Ouch!” when I hear or read all-too-common grammatical errors, I understand and sympathize with Wiens’ irritation at improper use of the English language. And after reading his rationale (for starters, he says people who regularly make grammar mistakes (and I would add spelling errors) “look stupid”), I have to agree with the points he makes.

In Wiens’ article on the HBR Blog Network, his reasons for the grammar-centric policy include the following:

  1. those who “write for a living” need to be grammar experts
  2. good grammar establishes credibility, especially in an age centered on online communications
  3. people who don’t pay attention to the details of grammar don’t pay attention to the details of their jobs, either–regardless of their specific responsibilities

He sums up his perspective by saying, “In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything…. All applicants say they’re detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.”


Brain Study Confirms Stories Are Powerful

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

A recent neurological study confirms what writers have long known from experience: The human brain makes little distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. So, for example, when a person reads sensory descriptions, such as the smell of lavender or cinnamon, the words generate a reaction in the sensory cortex, generating a nearly identical reaction as the experience described. In other words, stories are powerful!

In an article in The New York Times, Author Annie Murphy Paul says that “The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Dr. Oatley says that fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky…. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Storytelling practitioners would make a case (from their own experiences of audience reactions) that hearing well-told stories produces a similar reaction. How about you? What’s your experience with storytelling? Does your organization generate good experiences with descriptive stories?