Archive for August, 2013

Burning Man Inspiring Recruitment Tool for Creative Culture

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Executives at Burning Man? At first glance that sounds like a headline from “The Onion.” But as “Fast Company” reports, a high-end business service provides direct flights to the week-long Black Rock, Nevada, event, where plush accommodations and fine dining await groups of executives seeking creative inspiration–and even the possibility of finding great recruits who will fit into their business cultures. If they’re as unconventional as the founders of Google and many other 21st Century organizations, that isn’t as far-fetched an idea as it may sound.

“Fast Company” reports that Google Co-founder Sergy Brin has explained, “Larry and I searched (for a leadership candidate) for over a year” before he and his co-founder, Larry Page, attended Burning Man, where they met Eric Schmidt, now the chairman of Google. Commenting that Schmidt is a great fit with their approach to business, Brin added, “More companies should look at cultural fit.”

He’s absolutely right. Too many companies have traditionally sold candidates on the benefits of their organization by telling stories that paint an unrealistic picture of the type of person they want. The importance of identifying the personality traits and behavior styles that truly will fit into the organization is often overlooked. It’s an oversight that can be very costly, particularly in terms of low productivity and high employee turnover.

What does your company–or any you know–include unorthodox practices as part of its recruiting efforts? We’d like to hear how creative thinkers like the founders of Google find the people who fit well into their cultures. Share your stories with us!

Storytelling Is Only Tool that Inspires and Changes Behavior

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

31IR01Hm5+L__AA160_“Slides leave listeners dazed. Prose remains unread. Reasons don’t change behavior. When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works,” Steve Denning wrote in a column on Forbes.com. Storytelling and other “soft skills” garnered little respect in 20th Century business, Denning points out; instead, scientific data, numbers and left-brain analytical skills were highly valued. However, in the new economy based on innovation, storytelling is crucial to success.

Reporting on a book entitled, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, by Brian Boyd, Denning says the author scientifically explains why storytelling is important. Essentially, when people are treated like machines, as seen in many 20th Century analytically-based organizations, they eventually become dispirited and disengaged, just working for the paycheck. Any sense of being fired up by the organization’s mission quickly dissipates. But that won’t work anymore.

Storytelling has gained increased recognition as a valuable tool as we’ve entered the 21st Century, the book’s author says, because it is a central component of innovation, serving as a stimulus for creative thinking and new possibilities. As many other researchers and social scientists have explained in recent years, stories are the way people make sense of the world; when the brain is overwhelmed with data, it organizes the most important facts into a story, which also helps a person remember the data. Human beings have been making sense of their world through stories for so long, in fact, that social scientists say storytelling is imbedded in our DNA.

Has your organization embraced storytelling as a critical leadership and management tool? If not, it runs a high risk of being left behind in the new economy. With success determined by the ability to innovate, the winners will be those who tell the right stories to not only engage their people but to inspire innovative thinking.

What Storytelling Is

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A recent blog post by a professed storytelling consultant reminded me that, while there’s consensus on the power of story, there still is no agreement on on the essential elements of a narrative to qualify it as a story–and there’s no agreed-upon definition for storytelling, either. It’s important to call attention to the need for a generally understood definition for both words, not only for clarity and accuracy, but also because the English language has no other word but story to denote any message–and many messages clearly are not stories!

When I was under contract to the International Storytelling Center several years ago, a colleague and I created a signature organizational story training program, faculty guides and other support materials. In collaboration with the founder of the ISC, Jimmy Neil Smith, over a period of several weeks we deliberately chose each of the following words before reaching agreement on the following definition:

“Storytelling is a process of purposeful communication that effectively uses stories to successfully engage the receiver.”

I have since developed the 7 Secrets of Story, a central element of my Corporate Storytelling workshop that’s a valuable segment of the training. To learn what those secrets are, schedule a workshop for your organization or work team.  You’ll also learn how and why stories work; how to power up your own communications by identifying stories for specific purposes; and how to use tools for structuring your stories.

Writing Essays and Stories Requires Strategic Thought

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Jeff Bezos

“When Jeff holds meetings at Amazon, he asks people not to use PowerPoints but to write an essay about their product or program or what the meeting is to be about,” says Don Graham, chief executive of The Washington Post Co., who recently sold The Washington Post newspaper and two sister publications to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.

 In an interview in the Post by writer Ezra Klein, Graham continues that, after people at Amazon take time to read their essays, the meeting begins. Bezos’ point in requiring written essays is, as Graham explalins, “if you write at length, you have to think first, and…the quality of thought…to write at length is greater than the quality of thought to put a PowerPoint together.” I totally agree that you can’t write a cogent essay or a compelling story without giving it a lot of thought first–and throughout the process of completing the piece.

Bezos’ view reminds me of a meeting I had years ago with Jay Rockey, the revered “father of public relations” in Seattle and national leader in the profession. He said my work demonstrated that my top talents were writing and promotion.  After thanking him, I said I’d hoped he would comment on the strategic thinking that went into my work, which to me was a key differentiator.

Jay said, “Good writing requires strategic thinking.” That made sense to me–and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. Likewise, Bezos’ understanding of the writing process makes me eager to see what he’ll do with the The Washington Post–and what other newspaper leaders will learn from him as they search for ways to adapt and ensure their survival.