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?)

What ‘Showing’ Versus ‘Telling’ Looks Like

A big sin in storytelling is to “tell” rather than “show.” Screenwriting master Robert McKee calls this habit of using exposition, “furniture dusting.” Have you ever seen a play that starts with the “servants” coming out at the beginning to dust the furniture in the “parlor,” all the while talking about the master and mistress of the house and what’s been going on? This is intended to get the audience up to speed and share the back story. It’s downright lazy, says McKee. He’s right.

Sure, some “telling” is necessary. But, it should never be in replace of using other creative ways to show what you are committed to.

A good example of how to show off your commitments is through corporate social responsibility programs. For instance, take the Dyson company, known for their innovative vacuum cleaner technology. We recently bought a new Dyson vacuum cleaner. On the box we found a story of the James Dyson Foundation. It reads:

In schools and universities, the James Dyson Foundation North America encourages young people to realize their engineering potential. It could be prototyping new environmentally responsible designs, disassembling everyday applianaces or tackling fun, practical tasks. As well as inspiring tomorrow’s engineers, the foundation also supports medical and scientific research projects around the world.

What do you think they are dedicated to? Beyond just selling vacuum cleaners and parts, clearly they support innovation and engineering breakthroughs overall.

What stories do you have that show off your commitments?