Category Archives: Storytelling

Chip Heath & Dan Heath: Made to Stick

Chip and Dan Heath have a writing style that turns important ideas into simple formulations, and illustrates them with compelling case studies. Their three books (to date) are all best-sellers and each is well-worth reading for any manager, professional, or entrepreneur.

Of the three, the first is not only the one that made their name, but the one that, for me, has the stickiest ideas: Made to Stick.

Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Chip Heath

Chip Heath is a graduate of Texas A&M University where he studied Industrial Engineering. He went on to do a PhD in psychology at Stanford University. He is there today, as Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Graduate School of Business, having also held academic posts at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1991 to 97) and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (1997-2000).

Dan Heath

Dan Heath has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has been a researcher for the Harvard Business School and also co-founded an innovative academic publisher, Thinkwell, whch provides school level textbooks. He now works at Duke University, as a Senior Fellow at The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), where he also founded the Change Academy.

The Heath Brothers’ Books

Chip and Dan Heath have written three books together:

Each of them describes a series of steps for being effective in doing something – communicating ideas, making change, and taking decisions. I strongly recommend you to read these books – I have gained a lot from each of them. Here, all I’ll do is summarise the main content.

Made to Stick

Why is it that some ideas circulate easily? People like to share them and, when they do, the ideas are memorable, compelling and soon become pervasive. They seem to be almost made to stick.

If we can understand the answer, perhaps we can also make our own ideas sticky. This is the substance of the Heath’s ideas, which they present in a handy acronym: SUCCESs.

Simple: We need to simplify our ideas by whittling away every superfluous detail to find their core, which we can then communicate to others.

Unexpected: One way to get attention is with surprise, and then we can hold that attention by stimulating curiosity.

Concrete: Real stories and examples make our ideas solid. Abstract theory is the enemy of engagement with your ideas.

Credible: People need to believe your idea for it to stick, which means giving them examples they can relate to, demonstrating your authority, and providing ways they can access proof for themselves.

Emotional: We make choices and remember ideas, when they trigger powerful emotions, so you need to demonstrate what’s in it for your audience, in terms of self-interest and emotional payback.

Stories: We are story-telling creatures, and we use stories to guide us in how to respond to situations. They make things real and inspire us.

Switch

One of the key roles for managers is to make changes in our organisations. But it is fiendishly difficult. The Heaths argue that the reason is a conflict that’s built into our brains, between our rational mind and our emotional mind. This idea will be familiar to readers of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.

The Heaths use the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is the powerful emotional aspect of our brain, which can easily take us where it’s going anyway, while the rider is our rational side that needs to motivate the elephant to go in the right direction. They offer a three way prescription to:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

Direct the Rider
Here, we have to find out what works and repeat it, discover specific steps that will get people where you need them to go, and create a direction to go and a reason to go there.

Motivate the Elephant
We don’t do things because we know they are right, we do them because they feel right. So we need to appeal to people’s emotions as well as their reason. We also need to make change easy, by presenting small, simple steps. Finally, they advocate instilling a growth mindset.

Shape the Path
Change people’s environment to shift behaviours and make the changes feel easier. Then turn the new behaviours into habits, by making repetition easy. Finally, use successes to spread the ideas and engage others.

Decisive

Back to Kahneman! Our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities. We jump to conclusions and then become overconfident that we’re right. We look for confirming evidence and disregard other information that conflicts with our prejudices. We’re distracted by  emotions – which make emotionally resonant ideas sticky.

In short, we’re rubbish at making good decisions!

And knowing it doesn’t help, ‘any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see’, say the Heaths. But luckily they also give us a four-step framework to help us make better decisions: WRAP.

Widen Your Options
Yes or no, this or that, big or small. Narrow choices make bad decisions, so the first step is to explore a wider space of options. And the book shows you how.

Reality-test Your Assumptions
Stop trying to show you’re right and start trying to prove you’re wrong. Only if you fail, then you can start to be confident in your assumptions.

Attain Distance Before Deciding
Shift your perspective in time, place or emotion. How will this decision look in five years, what do people do somewhere different, what would you tell your friend to do?

Prepare to be Wrong
Overconfidence hides the flaws in your thinking, so look for the things that can go wrong and find ways to alert yourself when events mean you need to shift decision.

Summary

What? You want more of a summary than summarising three chunky books in a thousand words. Just go out and read them!

By the way, there are lots of great resources linked to their books, on the Heath Brothers website.

Jennifer Aaker: Story Power

Jennifer Aaker wants you to get your message across. And her conclusion is that the best way you can do it is by telling a story. Stories are powerful, memorable, and impactful.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Short Biography

Jennifer Aaker was born in 1967 and grew up in California. She studied psychology at UC California, Berkeley, under Daniel Kahneman and Philip Tetlock, graduating in 1989. She went on to win a PhD at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1995.

She went straight into an academic role as Assistant Professor in the School of Management at UCLA Anderson. She then returned to The Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1999, becoming a full professor in 2004, and General Atlantic Professor of Marketing in 2005.

We try to avoid framing our management thinkers in terms of their family members, but it is relevant to note in passing that Jennifer Aaker’s father is David Aaker – now an emeritus professor of advertising. Clearly he was influential in Aaker’s interest in branding and you can watch the two Aakers in conversation about brand and marketing.

However, she has moved away from that as her primary interest, focusing on two areas:

  1. the psychology of happiness, and how it relates to our perceptions of time and money
  2. how we can communicate via social media, using the power of storytelling

The two link together, because small acts, often mediated by social media messaging, can have an effect on our happiness.

In 2010, Aaker co-wrote The Dragonfly Effect with her husband, Andy Smith.

Brand Personalities

Jennifer Aakers came to prominence researching the personalities we associate with brands. Her idea was to see if there are a small subset of ‘personality types’ that consumers associate with brands. These would be like the ‘Big Five’ personality factors* in people. Each one is clearly distinct from the others and together, they account for a large proportion of personality traits.

Her assessment was that bands do have ‘personalities’ and that consumers make consistent interpretations. So her research set out to narrow the number of different personality types down to five. In her paper**, she shows how she reduced brand personality labels down to:

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

The personality dimension that a brand chooses to emphasise will influence consumer buying and loyalty choices. She advocated that brands can select a dominant personality type to emphasise, and present related characteristics to its audience. This creates a way to communicate brand identity and values.

Interestingly, subsequent work show that her five dimensions are far more parochial than the true Big Five Personality Factors. Outside the US, where she conducted her work, other brand personality dimensions are dominant, including Peacefulness in Japan, and Passion in Spain.

The Dragonfly Effect

The metaphor Aaker and Smith chose is one of a dragonfly’s agility being dependent upon it co–ordinating the use of four wings. In communicating effectively using digital media, Aaker and Smith’s four components are:

  1. Focus
    What one goal will you pursue?
  2. Grab attention
    How will you seize your audience’s attention in a noisy environment?
  3. Engage
    What story will engage your audience and appeal to their emotions?
  4. Take action
    What will you ask of your audience, and what difference will they make?

What Goal?

Before you communicate, you need to decide on a goal. It will need to meet five design criteria:

  • Humanistic – affecting people
  • Actionable – inspire action
  • Measurable – clear success criteria
  • Clarity – cannot be further simplified
  • Happiness – achieving the goal will make people happier

Grab Attention

To grab attention, your message must  be at least one of:

  • Personal
  • Unexpected
  • Visual
  • Visceral

Engage

To engage your audience, you need to tell a story. Stories connect the audience to the story-teller and create an emotional response. This is important because we primarily make our decisions emotionally, and use reason to justify them afterwards.

Take Action

People should fee ready and able to take action. As much as possible, make it easy for them, and fun. And the more they feel you are offering them something that is uniquely tailored to them and their circumstances, the more readily they will act.

Jennifer Aaker talking about her Research on Happiness

… and how it relates to social media.

 


* The Big Five Personality Factors are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism

** Dimensions of brand personality, Jennifer L Aaker, JMR, Journal of Marketing Research; Aug 1997; 34, 3

Nancy Duarte: Story Telling

Almost anyone who calls themselves a manager, a leader or a professional has to create and deliver presentations. Whilst oratory and rhetoric have their origins in classical times, it would not be unreasonable to argue that the modern presentation is the most recently invented new literary form. Yet, as a way of communicating, its newness means many of us use it very badly; throwing data, diagrams and bullet points onto a screen with little thought about who we are speaking to and what their needs are.

But presentations offer us a powerful medium to communicate ideas and to persuade. No one has done more to understand how to do this well, and to offer her insights to the world than Nancy Duarte.

Nancy Duarte

Short Biography

Nancy Duarte studied maths at college, which I think is important: she clearly has an analytical brain and can understand data deeply. So part of her success comes, I suspect, from fusing that with an understanding of design. Her husband, Mark Duarte, started a design company in Silicon Valley in 1988, about which Nancy Duarte was sceptical. However, after making some sales calls for the business, she landed three large accounts (including Apple, for whom the company still works) and she became persuaded. She joined the business in 1990 and is now the CEO, while Mark is CIO and CFO.

As a general design agency, Duarte had little to differentiate itself from its many competitors. Nancy Duarte’s big insight (from reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great) was the need to specialise deeply, so they picked something other agencies shunned: helping their clients to create great presentations.

Some of the key points in Nancy Duarte’s career are:

  • Helping to create AL Gore’s slide deck, which he used in his presentation (and subsequently movie) An Inconvenient Truth
  • Attending UCLA’s Management Development for Entrepreneurs (MDE) MBA-level programme
  • Linking up with the other great presentation guru, Garr Reynolds, and subsequently writing her first book, Slide:ology
  • Discovering the pattern of contrasts in many great speeches and presentations
  • Turning these insights into a TED speech (below) and her second book, Resonate

Nancy Duarte’s Ideas

Nancy Duarte’s first book, Slide:ology, shows how to create great presentation graphics to show information in a clear and compelling way. But it is her second, Resonate, that contains her big idea. She describes it as a prequel to the first, and in it she sets out how you can craft a narrative flow that will make your ideas resonate with your audience; making them persuasive. Of the relationship between the two books, she says:

‘Gussying up slides that have meaningless content is like putting lipstick on a pig’.

Let’s forgive her both the cliche and the insult to porcine-kind: her point is well made. Great slides do not make a great talk, they can merely enhance it.

If you present and want to make an impact, then put Resonate at the top of your reading list. It is filled with ideas and illustrations. Let’s summarise the two big ones.

The Hero’s Journey

Duarte emphasises the importance of your presentation telling a story, and she uses several models to help explain how to do it, including The Syd Field Paradigm for screenplays. This has a three act structure, where act 1 sets up the story, with a key plot point towards the end. Act 2 creates a confrontation, with a major event around the middle. It ends with a vital plot development. And act 3 resolves the story.

Her primary model, however, is the idea of a Hero’s Journey, first developed by Joseph Campbell. Star Wars is, famously, modelled on this archetype. The distinctive point of Duarte’s analysis is this. When you build your presentation, cast your audience as the hero. You need to be their mentor and guide: showing them a possible new world, helping them to overcome their resistance to entering it, and then building their loyalty to the new idea., so they feel they can re-enter their familiar world having achieved a triumph and feeling enriched.

The Contour of Communication: The Sparkline

What I think lifts Duarte’s thinking to a new level and introduces insights that were certainly new to me, is her way of illustrating the form of a presentation and her insight into where a presentation’s power comes from.

Contour of Communication

 

Duarte suggests that all great talks, speeches and presentations alternate between what is and what could be. They start with what is, develop a sense of imbalance and then suddenly reveal what could be. Through the middle part, the second act, they alternate between the two, creating a greater and greater sense of contrast, before moving to the end section with a final transition that ends with the reward, triggered by a call to action. The dotted line represents the audiences future.

Contrast, Duarte says, creates contour, and you can contrast present and future, pain and gain, resistance and action, emotion and reason, information and insight… anything. And she offers three modes for doing this: your content, emotional register, and delivery style.

The Secret Structure of Great Talks

Nancy Duarte’s TED video is one of my favourites. For some reason, TED does not allow embedding of this particular video, so click the image and watch it on TED.

Nancy Duarte: The Secret Structure of Great Talks

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Seven Ways to Interview Well

Going for a new job?

Maybe it’s the next step in your career ladder: maybe it’s the first.

Maybe you’ve chosen to shop around: maybe circumstances have forced you into the job market.

Whatever your circumstances, the ‘job interview’ is going to be an important stage in the process.  For some it is feared, while for others it is a chance to show off.  However you feel about job interviews, you will need to use it to your advantage and do it really well.

Interview

1. Homework is not just for school

There may have been an excuse for not knowing all about your potential employer before you arrived at the interview twenty years ago, when a trip to the library and a review of the papers came up blank; but no more.  If you have not reviewed their website, checked out key people on LinkedIn, and searched for relevant press coverage, you are just preparing yourself to be tripped up at interview.

Don’t just focus your interview practice on yourself and how you will respond: learn about the people who may be interviewing you.

2. Look good – Feel good

Interview dressing is not about being fashionable or elegant, it is about showing that you know how to present yourself appropriately in the business environment of your prospective employer.  This will be different if you want to work in a retail chain, an architect, a fashion house or a law firm.

My top tip is to hang out opposite the entrance to where you want to work, or their local branch, or one of their top competitors.  Watch the people going in and out, to get a sense of the prevailing dress code.  If in doubt, when you call to confirm your interview, ask about dress code.

3. First Impression

Nothing conveys your qualities as quickly as your very first encounter with your interviewer/s.  A good posture, eye contact, a pleasant smile and a good handshake will say: ‘I am confident and looking forward to our meeting.’ On the other hand, slouching, evasive eyes, a frown or grimace and a limp handshake will say ‘I am fearful and I don’t want to be here.’

It’s all obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised how many people fail at this step.

4. Short and Sharp

Keep your answers short and sharp – around three minutes will create a good balance between terse and wordy, and will demonstrate you are in control of your thoughts.  Practise answers to obvious questions like:

  • ‘why do you want this job?’
  • ‘why should we hire you?’
  • ‘what are your strengths?’
  • ‘… and your weaknesses?’

A god way to control your answers and show structured thinking is to apply the ‘rule of three’ that make a good speech effectively:

  • ‘There are three reasons I what this job…’
  • ‘I think there are three things that distinguish me from the other able candidates you will be speaking to…’
  • ‘My three greatest strengths are…’
  • ‘The three aspects of my professional skills I’d like to develop most are…’

Then summarise each in around a minute.

5. Telling Tales

Human beings love hearing stories: it is the most powerful rhetorical form.  And if you are wondering how or why they are relevant in a job interview, the answer is simple.  When I conducted interviews, the most important thing for me was to hear evidence for the loose assertions most candidates offer.  I wanted to hear what had really happened and also get an insight into how candidates think and deal with challenges.  Package your experiences into compelling 60-90 second stories.

6. Structured Response

You are bound to get some questions you haven’t prepared for. – despite the presence of books that seem to offer a comprehensive list.  You need to think on your feet and structure your answer to show the rigour of your thinking and the flexibility of your mind.  Try the AREA approach:

  • Give a clear Answer to the question
  • Explain your Reasons for that answer
  • Cite Evidence or Examples to support your answer
  • Reiterate the Answer before you .

7. Show you are a 3G Candidate

Research by Harvard Business School guest lecturer and founder of Peak Learning, Dr Paul Stoltz, employers are really looking for a 3G mindset.  Your job is to figure out what that means for your particular prospective employer and to find ways to demonstrate it in yourself.  A 3G mindset, according to Stoltz, combines:

  1. Global: Able to think about the ‘big picture’ and look above the detail when you need to.  To understand the connectedness between parts of the job role, the organisation and the business/social environment.
  2. Good: The desire to do good, be good and serve.  This is about integrity and sensitivity to others – colleagues, partners and customers.
  3. Grit: The resilience, tenacity, and determination to persevere and see the job through, in the face of adversity.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might find Helpful

Why Story Telling Matters

For fifteen years or more, I have been collecting stories that I can tell in seminars, training workshops or keynotes.

I have well over a hundred packed away now, but my interest started in the 1980s when I cut out an entry from the Guardian’s ‘Notes & Queries’ column:

It is a much quoted maxim that there are only seven stories in fiction and that all others are based on them. Is it true, and what might these seven stories be?

I’ve just wasted 20 minutes looking for that cutting (I know it’s somewhere in my filing system) and then discovered in as many seconds that I no longer need it: you can read the answers that the question received here.

The Seven Basic Plots

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