Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Story-Telling: inspirational wisdom

Since the beginning of times storytelling was an integral part of human existence. That was a way to transcend knowledge, warn against hazards, inspire, scare - choose any communicative function you like - storytelling has it all.
Have you ever thought how many versions of Cinderella there are across cultures? From the 1st century BC and ancient Egypt to African legends (where Cinderella often was male) up till Pretty Woman with unbeatable Julia Roberts, there are thousands of tales and variations. Why? Because the plot is simple, it stays in your memory for a long time and it is highly educational: the moral is clear - be conscientious, obedient and have a small shoe size, and you will get your Prince Charming all right.

Storytelling is becoming increasingly important in the modern world of speed and technology. We are so swamped by zillions of informational stimuli that it takes a truly powerful emotional charge to break through to our conscience. That is the reason storytelling is now at the top of the list of key leadership competencies. Put concisely,
Stories can capture our imaginations and make things real in a way that cold, hard facts can't.
Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and ManagementWhat is more - storyteller has the power to transform change-resistant organizations. I will not bore you with technicalities of storytelling (e.g. composition, audience awareness, presentation, message, impact, reaction response, etc.), even though it is extremely important to tell the story right, otherwise the result might be quite the opposite. There are tons of information available online and in the bookstores on the subject (I will just quote one book, which I think is good - Storytelling in Organizations), but it is more a guidebook for those who already has the grasp of what presence is and is a confident with presenting (even though those two words sounds similar, there is a chasm of difference between them). For those who are only beginning, it would be best to combine the knowledge from the book with:

  • acting classes
  • voice practice and
  • building presentation skills

heeb-storytelling.gifYou can start with small things. For instance - here is a short exercise for you and your team.

Next time you are having a meeting where you would like to build a little more trust, a little more teamwork and create some convergence, ask everyone to come prepared with a story, a poem, a song, a picture (with a story around the picture) and share those with the team. At the end of the exercise note how the atmosphere in the group will change.

I would be genuinely grateful if you share your experience adding a comment here.

In the meantime, here are some stories that have been travelling around the net for a looooong time, and I am sure many of you have seen them. Read through a couple of them and try to observe how they influence you. How are they constructed? Why are they memorable?

Finally - what is YOUR personal story?


Five lessons to make you think about the way we treat people.

1 - First Important Lesson - Cleaning Lady.
During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school? Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. "Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello'. I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. - Second Important Lesson - Pickup in the Rain.
One night, at 11.30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others." Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.

3 - Third Important Lesson - Always remember those who serve.
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well how much is a plain dish of ice cream?", he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4 - Fourth Important Lesson. - The obstacle in Our Path.
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5 - Fifth Important Lesson - Giving When it Counts.
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it saves her." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away". Being young the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

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