The Final Step To Powerful Storytelling: The Real Payoff

The final stage in the four steps to powerful storytelling is the Transformation & Return. 

The most important part of storytelling — to keep it from being relegated to just an anecdote – is that you must share how someone changed. Someone was one way at the beginning of the journey and now they are another way. You have to share how a person or a set of persons is different and how that has meaning for whomever you are talking to. A transformation has to have occurred, and it leads people to believe they could change, too. Otherwise, what is the point, right?

Luke Skywalker found his courage and his place (not to mention his father much later down the road). Frodo’s quest lay in a spiritual awakening. The series of events I shared over the last few days about James Dyson could have been reduced to just a historical timeline by an inventor. But, in his story, he can say to this day, other manufacturers try to copy Dyson technology. It changed the entire vacuum cleaner industry’s focus. And, I am sure if he were here to tell you his story he would talk about epiphanies he had along the way, how he is different and what lessons were learned.

When you think of a story you wish to share in an organizational setting, think about what was transformed. How were you or the company changed? How is your department, company, industry better? How was that customer’s life changed?

But, it doesn’t end there. The final part of this step is to then share what it means and how life is better for others.  After their  journey where the hero achieves a victory, they return home not to go back to life the way it was. Frodo returned to the Shire forever changed and eventually passed on to the West. Luke Skywalker continued to fight the good fight with his friends. And, James Dyson, now successful, didn’t settle for just changing the vacuum cleaner industry. He birthed a foundation, the James Dyson Foundation, which seeks to inspire and encourage young people to study engineering so that they may bring the world better design and innovation.

This is where the story can be elevated from survival and individual gain to inspiration and community gain. A story that can convey a message, wrapped in a narrative with meaning, can inspire change in people just by them listening to it. And, we all know that — from the business world to the non profit world – we all could use a dose of inspiration right now.


Step 3 To Powerful Storytelling: The Achievement or So What?

The third step in telling a good story in a business or non-profit setting is to share the “win” or the Achievement. ” This is where you or someone slays the dragon. (Click here to read steps one and two.)

Every good story has a villian or adversary that puts up a roadblock. And, this obstacle must be overcome. Luke Skywalker blows up the death star. Frodo throws the ring in the fire (among other achievements along the way). And, for James Dyson, his story continued when he decided to keep his patents alive, paying the hefty royalties to do so, even while on the verge of early bankruptcy. He thought he might need it someday. And, he did. In 1999, he won a copyright infringement suit against Hoover, one of the largest vacuum cleaner manufacturers in the world. In essence, he slayed the copycats.

The achievement is simple, really. What happened? Just say it. We cut the head of the enemy off with our sword. We won the funding. We sold him the deal. We won the court battle. This could be the shortest section of your story. But, it’s the pay off. Give it to your audience directly and succinctly.

This step is where most action films stop. But, the ones who continue on to the fourth step are the ones who receive the accolades and awards. Can you guess what it is? On Monday, we will discuss the fourth and final step of the Hero’s Journey and how you may apply it to your own communication.

Step 2 To A Powerful Story (or all the Stuff That Happened from Things Being One Way to Things Being Another Way)

Part two of the Hero’s Journey, as applied to organizational storytelling, is the Journey. Yesterday I wrote about how the story starts – the Call. Today, we tackle the largest part of any story  – what actually happens or the expedition.

In some of the most famous stories of all time, like Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the journeys are long and arduous. Luke Skywalker meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi. He goes to the alien bar. He meets Hans Solo. He attempts to rescue Prince Leia. He learns to fly. The Hobbits go to an inn where they are almost killed. They run into the Nazgul. They go to Rivendale. They meet the elves, and a hundred  other adventures. But, in business storytelling, the journeys — while they contain details and “happenings,” needn’t be so drawn out.

For instance, James Dyson, whose story I began to tell yesterday spent 5 years and built 5,127 prototypes to deliver to the world the first bag-less vacuum cleaner. Those numbers alone can be enough to showcase a pretty long journey.

But, you still must follow some basic rules, such as how and where you discover the road really is harder than it seemed at first. You meet friends along the way. But you also run into obstacles, the largest of which is the villain (or dragon or adversary). You  must introduce the villain. Otherwise, you might as well just recite a timeline. In a business setting you might say, we all knew we were fighting inertia, the economy, the competition, a specific  naysayer…”

James Dyson discovered that major vacuum manufacturers were not interested in his new technology. Want to know why? They weren’t really the enemy. (It’s really interesting if you can identify a villain that is not so obvious.) The enemy for James Dyson was the vacuum cleaner bag. Did you know the vacuum cleaner bag industry was worth $500 million dollars every year? (Who knew?) The manufacturers were not interested in giving up such a lucrative accessory, so they turned him away. But, then he eventually licensed his design to Japan and the royalties from that deal allowed him to manufacture a machine under his own name.

I am sure there are many, many things that happened in Dyson’s Journey that we do not know about. But, you don’t have to weigh it down with endless detail. In business storytelling, you give just enough of those details to give it some color and scenery. Include twists and turns. Show how you thought it was going to go one way and then it didn’t. That will make it more interesting.

Tomorrow, we discuss part three: The Achievement. (And, you thought just having a bag-less vacumn cleaner was enough?)

Step 1 of the Hero’s Journey for Organizational Communication

Yesterday I wrote about the Hero’s Journey and how using this simple pattern can elevate your ordinary communication style to one that is more powerful and effective.

Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher and writer, identified the pattern:

A hero is called to leave his common everyday life to explore the wonders of the world.  Mystical forces are there encountered and a conclusive victory over an adversary is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure – forever changed and more powerful – and with this new power, understanding and wisdom — can (and does) bestow benefits and gifts upon his fellow man and the Universe is now a safer place. The End.

Step one of the pattern is The Call. The hero ventures forth into this new world after hearing a call to action.

Because, really, something had to start this whole story. Gandalf shows up at Frodo’s house looking for the ring. R2D2 shows up at Luke Skywalker’s ranch with a message that he accidently encounters.

There also is a sense of a resisting this call to action, as if you know the journey you are being called to is going to be hard. For instance, Frodo and the other Hobbits didn’t want to leave the shire. Luke Skywalker felt there was more but he couldn’t leave his aunt and uncle.

But, they all felt like there was something more. Frodo was given the ring and enticed by Gandalf. Or, in Luke’s case, his Aunt and Uncle were killed. In a business setting, it might look like the following.

In 1978 James Dyson, now founder of the Dyson vacuum cleaner company, noticed how the air filter in a spray finishing room was clogging with powder particles. So, he designed and built an industrial cyclone tower, which removed these particles by exerting centrifugal forces greater than 100,000 times those of gravity. And, he thought – could the same principle work in a vacuum cleaner? That was his call.

(Note: You can read this on their version of an “About Us” page. Brilliant communication move on their part.) 

Every story you want to tell in business had a beginning. What was wrong that you believed could be better? What idea did you have that could move the organization from point A to Point B? What did someone say when they brought this idea to the meeting? There are a myriad of ways stories start. But, they all have a call, a beginning.

Tomorrow I will write about part two of the Hero’s Journey for organizational storytelling: The Journey.

4 Steps To A Powerful Story (Warning: You’ll Never Watch a Movie the Same Way Again)

Using the storytelling technique in business communication appears to be the new cool kid on the block. But, there’s a secret about this storytelling business. It’s not a big secret, but people seem to want to discount it because it seems too simple. The truth is, there is one basic story pattern that humans around the world accept as a story (versus an anecdote, message or just a series of events). It is called the Hero’s Journey.

I did not make up the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher and writer from the 1930s and 1940s is widely credited for examining it thoroughly and explaining why we are so drawn to this pattern. His book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, explores this monomyth, as he called it.

For business, the good news is you don’t have to follow all 17 – yes, 17! – steps of the Hero’s Journey to have effective business storytelling. The difference between classic storytelling and applying storytelling techniques to business communications often comes down to this: Storytelling in business does not require a full saga. You don’t have to take people through a narrative epic. There isn’t time for that anyway. Just one wrinkle can be enough to elevate an anecdote to story. But, it does have to be follow some basics.

First, know your purpose. You want to tell a story that is going to drive people to a place. What is the message you are trying to get across? What is the meaning of your story? Once you know that you are ready for your Hero’s Journey tale.

Over the next few days, I will explore the four necessary parts of the Hero’s Journey that a business or organization should use when using storytelling. (I will now apologize in advance that I am about to ruin your ability to watch a movie without running the steps in your head to see if the director knew what he was doing.)

The basic pattern goes like this: A hero is called to leave his common everyday life to explore the wonders of the world. Mystical forces are there encountered and a conclusive victory over an adversary is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure – forever changed and more powerful – and with this new power, understanding and wisdom, can (and does) bestow benefits and gifts upon his fellow man and the Universe is now a safer place. The End.

Sound familiar? What does this have to do with business and how on earth do you break that down into a communication that makes a positive change in your organization or business?

Tune in tomorrow and we’ll begin to break down the four main parts. And, you’ll see there are heroes all around us.