Small Story = Big Empathy

With storytelling, smaller is bigger. I recently met a screenwriter and he told me about a project he’s working on, a cross-cultural romance. In his story, a feminist from the West falls in love with a chauvinist from the East. He was having trouble creating the backstories of these characters, why they are together despite their differences. We kept coming up against sticking points and the story wasn’t working.

I asked him why he needed to tell this story? He said when he was 19, he met a woman who changed the trajectory of his life. He was what he called a ‘thinker’. He hadn’t seen much of the world and was very sheltered. He met a woman who was adventurous, what he called an ‘explorer’. They become very, very close. And because of her, he experienced a lot of things for the first time, going to clubs, meeting people from different sexual orientations and different worldviews.

She changed the way he lived his life. They were so close that they would spend hours and hours and hours talking. Their relationship was a platonic and yet closer than a normal friendship. He loved her, but he knew he wasn’t in love with her and that one day the relationship would end. Eventually, it did as they went their separate ways in life.

The story he wanted to tell was this process of getting to know her, of exploring the world through her eyes. He felt he owed her a lot and he would never forget her.

It was the story of a ‘thinker’ and an ‘explorer’ who fell in love but didn’t end up together.

His story wasn’t about a big culture clash and diametrically opposed worldviews. It was a coming of age story where someone learns new things about themselves. And through that process understands what they need in life and in a future partner. In this story, two people realised that even though they loved each other and grew together, they were on different paths. This is a big step in a person’s maturity.

It’s something that we’ve all experienced. We have all learned from a relationship that ultimately has no future. It’s a beautiful moment of growth. We go through our lives owing a lot to those people and experiences.

This is a universal moment, and it’s going to connect very deeply with an audience. One of his goals is to create a story that is cross-cultural. This hits the mark, many cultures around the world have these coming of age situations.

He went from telling a big grand story full of drama and tension to a beautiful contained moment in time that was authentic. One that many would believe and connect with because it is true and they had a similar experience.

How does this relate to the world of business stories? A very common thing I hear is, why would anybody care about my story? We tend to discount our own stories because they aren’t always a big grand adventure. This could not be more wrong, the power is in the small moments of authentic emotion someone else can connect with.

This is the power of empathy.

These small empathic connections transcend time, space, culture, everything. Moments of empathy are crucial to telling a story about a new product or service. Critical to telling a story to break down silos between different departments. The perfect way to explain a cultural shift or change within an organisation.

It’s small, not big. It’s real, not fantastic. This doesn’t mean don’t dream big. Create an ideal future state you want to inhabit after a new project or service has launched. Paint the grand vision of where innovation is taking us. But among the big dreams, there has to be small pinpoints of authentic emotion. Truthful connections are the glue that holds the grand vision together.

This is why narratives are so powerful. Stories are your day to day and the narrative is the future. The narrative is the future place that you want to inhabit together.

Good stories are a collection of small moments that add up to empathetic connection, to inspire, connect and build trust to bring your audience into your ideal future state.

Don’t be afraid of your own story and don’t be afraid of the small things. Even if the vision is grand, it’s the intimate emotions that build the empathetic connection you need to make your story something you can leverage to meet your business goals.

This is how culture is changed, built and created. This is how new products and services are launched. This is how innovation solves problems and propels solutions forward.

It’s through empathy. It’s the small moments. It’s the beautiful things.

Story: A Tool For Design Lead Innovation


Once upon a time there was a president who was known primarily by his initials, JFK. He and the nation he represented was upset that Russia was beating them in a competition called the space race.

Every day the USA and Russia ran against each other to be the ‘first’ when it came to exploring outer space. Russia had sent the first cosmonaut into space. Since that first was taken, he decided that the USA would be the first nation to send a person to the moon. 

One day he delivered a speech to inspire all in the land to dream as big as he did.

“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

 NASA and the government and many, many others worked for seven years to turn that statement into a reality.

Because of that they worked and worked and worked until one day, a man called Neil stood on the moon and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Until finally they learned that all innovations start with a vision for a future. If that vision is stated clearly and shared with passion that future can become reality.

Does this story sound familiar? Yes of course it does, it is the story of the space race in the ’60s that resulted in the first moonwalk. A dream that has long fascinated humanity and finally one day became reality.

That is not the only thing that should feel familiar, let’s examine the story structure itself. If you have seen any Pixar movie, you would have seen this sequence played out –

Once upon a time there was __________________

Every day, ________________________________

One day __________________________________

Because of that, ____________________________

Until finally _______________________________

Pixar uses this formula to tell all of its stories. The character and plot changes, the structure is the same.

For anyone working in innovation, working within an established structure to produce vastly different outcomes should feel familiar. Innovation projects work with its own framework, it is known as the double diamond of design lead innovation.

Story is an core part of the design process.

The double diamond creates a framework for innovators to solve complex problems in a process focused manner. What if there was a structure of gathering and telling stories that strategically worked within the double diamond process of innovation? What if I could you that such a framework exists? But first, a story…

Why Innovation Needs Stories

Innovators are at their core of their beings’ explorers. They are willing to go where no one has gone before, to visualise a future that others would say was impossible and make it their job to make those crazy visions into a reality.

How do you make a new future feel real? We must be able to state our goals as a vision with a mission for the future. We then must be able to connect the dots between where we are today and our desired future state.

In 1805 the explorers Louis and Clark were looking for inland waterways to connect the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean in the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Their mission was to explore the unknown territory, establish trade with the first nation people and affirm the sovereignty of the United States in the region.

Every day on their journey they wrote in their journals the things they did, the places they saw and what they learned. This helped them understand not only where they had been, but where they were going. These stories gave their journey meaning. The mission included establishing trade with the first nations people, in order to do that we must record stories about the people they meet so they can share all of the important information back to the US government.

Let’s dissect this exploration into three different story tools that slot into the innovation process.

Using The Ancient Wisdom of ‘Story’ To Shape Our Future

Innovators are the explorers of the new world and not the new world as in Christopher Columbus discovering America. The new world of the future, the world that is yet to come. The wisdom of our ancestors is important for shaping our future. They intrinsically understood and used the power of storytelling to navigate the world, because well, there was nothing else. Story was the most powerful tool on the planet, and what guess what it still is!

Bold statement, but true, I will lay out the process below:

Creating the Future Ideal State with Strategy Narratives

  • Establish your grand Vision and Mission For The Future, when JFK declared America’s vision to set foot on the moon, he was making a stance to inspire the nation.
  • This vision is co-created with the whole team and ideally the organisation
  • This is critical to get buy-in from the greater organisation, it answers the question of what we are working towards together and creates the critical empathic buy-in is necessary to move a project forward

Building Proposals and Progress Updates with Storytelling

  • Creating simple story-driven content as opposed to a long report that is hard to understand, read and digest. Stories create accessible, interesting and digestible content. This keeps the team and organisation abreast of the changes as they are happening.
  • To motivate your team or organisation, people must see progress to feel inspired to continue through the murkiness of exploration. Remember the journals of Lewis and Clark? This is exactly the same concept! Reflecting on the day to day creates meaning and provides insights. What are we doing? Are we headed in the right direction? And most importantly the meaning behind why we are on the journey.

Gathering Deep Customer and Coworker Insights with Short Antidotal Style Stories

  • Check-In interviews with team members who are actively using the innovations in their work. This is key to chronicling the ongoing stories for use in reports and other updates
  • All explorers must understand and share learnings along the journey. It is impossible to achieve great things if you are not aware of all the details. Think of the level of detail that the engineers had to operate under to get to the moon. Without computers. Without the intimate knowledge of every step from all key players, they would not be able to understand what went right and what went wrong.

And Then What Happened?

According to master storyteller and novelist Neil Gaiman, the most magical phrase in storytelling is, ‘And then what happened?’

This a magical phrase because it means you have the audience hooked. And now I am hoping that you are asking the same of the process outlined above. So now what happens?

I will be presenting a talk with a special collaborator, Marco Regis, in Melbourne in June on this topic. I would love to send you the details and invite you along. Simply fill out the formand I will be in touch.

Or for a one on one chat, get in touch here, I always love talking story!


Organisational Narratives – Creating the Vision For An Ideal Future State

The future can feel like a scary unknown. A key challenge for businesses implementing a change program or innovation project is being able to project what a new ideal future looks like after the major milestones of a change project has been completed. How do you chart the course for a new way forward to engage employees, customers, partners and stakeholders in the journey?

An essential component to creating this vision is a strong organisational narrative – an audience-focused story of the planned journey from where you are to where you need to be… and the part everyone plays creating this new future state.

To create the path from today to tomorrow, a well-constructed narrative must not only define the future, it must also bring it to life. The best map in the world can only get us somewhere if we have a destination in mind. Similarly, without a clear vision of the future, we will never reach it.

The Future Is Now

As hard as we strive and plan for the future, it is always one tick of the second hand away. The future never arrives. It is always excoriatingly the present moment and the present moment only.

How do we plan for something that is always one step away? As we experience our present from moment to moment how do we ensure that we are moving by increments into the future that we want? By co-creating the story of where we want to be based on our direct actions today.

Co-Create Your Narrative

If you think of your organisation as a novel your narrative would be the title and the chapters would be made of stories from a cast of characters. The characters that come together to create the stories of the business do so through their work and roles. The stories don’t just come from the leadership team, they come from across the entire organisation. When gathering stories to create your narrative it is important to gather stories from every business unit and section.

To create a believable and achievable future to move into it is important to gather the stories from across the organisation for a desirable future. Collecting the stories of what is happening now is essentially understanding the place we are starting from to move into the future we want.

We run co-design storytelling sessions to collect these stories, looking for the best ones that emotionally capture the end result of an ideal future state. This is our primary tool to help an organisation identify, articulate and disseminate their innovation narrative, and then use it to create and promote key messages and produce collateral such as videos and communication materials.

Crafting and sharing organisational narratives, taps directly into people’s deeply-rooted need for stories. They enhance connection with employees and customers to engage them fully in your change journey.

Now that we know what stories we are working with, we start the visioning process. The process, simply put is finding the best story from what is happening now and then incorporating it into the new ideal future state. This makes the future feel not so far away, identifiable and achievable.  The emotional content, themes, and desires of today become the flesh that wraps around the bare bone goals of tomorrow.

Show, Don’t Tell

We have an end goal, we have a story that describes how this journey feels once we get to the end of it and now, we need to give it life. Life in the form of a video, a speech or content to deploy these messages over time throughout the organization.

Remember to show your story don’t tell it. First, we must define what ‘telling’ is. An example of ‘telling’ is a business goal portrayed as a dot point on a PowerPoint presentation.

  • Embrace new ways of working to create growth and cross-collaboration between teams to create new innovative solutions

Now let’s use story ‘showing’ to portray new ways of working in a story.

  • New ways of working is more than creating a Google-style campus with indoor slides and swing sets, it is creating space for well-being, mental health and flexibility to work your way. During our co-working trial phase, an interesting collaboration happened between our design and legal team. We moved the two different teams out of their walled separate offices and sat them in an open plan collaboration space. The legal team overheard the design team heatedly trying to solve a problem with signage on our new floor space designs. Tom from legal stood up and cleared his throat. He was able to step in and offer his knowledge regarding the size the sign had to be. This small conversation saved changes and extra tasks later in the project simply because the teams were aware of what each other were working on. This is just one of the benefits that we are going to see more of in the future.

This turns a mere goal for the future into a story of the future. It has a message about what is waiting for us when we get there. The message should be emotive, rich with details and feel tangible.

Finding the right story to ‘show’ your staff, clients and stakeholders the unique future they are moving into not only saves time, it inspires and motivates people to move into this positive future state. This is why story ‘showing’ is critical to make the ideal future state not only achievable but desirable.

The Future Comes Slowly

The process of creating the narrative of your ideal future state takes time. It is a process like any other and needs resources and time. Once the stories have been co-designed and set into motion, it becomes the momentum that is needed to drive and inspire change.

Curious about how a narrative can work for your innovation or change project? Email us to schedule a chat!

Why is ‘Just Do It’ more than a tagline, how is it a Narrative?

In this examination, I deconstruct Nike’s Narrative of ‘Just Do It’. We look at how this simple statement acts as a bridge between its external communications and it’s internal communication framework of Mission, Vision and Values. A good narrative does that for businesses. It unifies the vision of what drives people internally within the company and then invites their customers and clients through their marketing channels to join in that vision. This creates a seamless experience and places their customer center stage. Not only is ‘Just Do It’ a marketing tagline. It makes the Nike customer the main protagonist of their stories.

Narrative and Tag Line: Just Do It

Definition: What is a narrative? A narrative is an un-resolvable statement that drives a collection of stories forward.

Why is ‘Just Do It’ more than a tagline, why is it a Narrative?

Because it is a statement with no answer. It is open-ended and it is up to the viewer or listener to fill in the blanks.

Let me elaborate, if I said to you out of the blue, just do it. Your answer could be any number of things:

“Just do what?”

“For how long?”

“Why?”

You would have no idea what I was talking about.

But in the context of a story about sports or an active lifestyle, it could mean anything from –

Just get off the couch and go for a walk

Sign up for that Marathon

You can win this competition

The list goes on and on…

And that is the point!

This is how Nike has been able to use the same tagline for so long, it can evolve with the brand.

Simple open-ended taglines can also be a narrative. And a narrative is what lifts a brand from a product or service into a movement.

That is their external marketing. Let’s look at how that relates to their internal communication structure. How does the narrative work with the brand’s Vision, Mission, and Values?

A good narrative should be able to sit at the very top of the Vision, Mission and Values. It shelters them like the roof of a house and holds all of it together. Let’s examine the components of Nike’s internal communications structure and see how it relates to its external brand statement of ‘Just Do It’.

Vision Statement
Definition: A Vision Statement is a dream for a future.

Nike’s vision statement is ‘To remain the most authentic, connected, and distinctive brand.” The business continues to apply this vision statement to the way it tells stories and sells its products. This vision statement was emphasised in the corporation’s global growth strategy for 2015.

Let’s dissect the following words of Nike’s corporate vision statement:

  1. Authentic
  2. Connected
  3. Distinctive

Nike wants to be seen as real, have multiple touch points with their customers and be unique. This mission statement also uses the word, remain. This is key in understanding that they already see themselves as the market leader and in the vision for the company’s future they are going to continue to hold their space.

A good vision statement should represent an ideal future, a place that cannot be reached and should always be strived for.

Mission Statement
Definition: A mission statement reflects the day to day strategic plans that a company or business makes to continually move towards their view for the future represented in the vision statement.

Nike Inc.’s corporate mission is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” The company further states that everybody is an athlete, based on Nike founder Bill Bowerman’s statement, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” This mission statement represents the company’s strategic goal of reaching out to the global leisure and sports footwear, apparel and equipment market. The following main components are in Nike’s corporate mission statement:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Innovation
  3. Every athlete in the world

It is important here to note what has been left out. They do not mention footwear, apparel, and equipment anywhere. This is a wise strategic move if they wish to provide services in addition to products in the future. For example, smart sportswear with monitoring and feedback through software may be a core service in Nike’s future.

The point here is that there is room to grow and move.

A good mission and vision statement should not be revised every year. It should have enough room to grow so it stays true for the foreseeable future. It should be as short as possible so it is easy to remember and repeat.

For a business to be a truly powerful communicator it must co-create their future with their clients and customers, a cohesive narrative is what holds it all together.

The question now is does ‘Just Do It’ sit cohesively at the top of the framework we just explored? I would answer yes. ‘Just Do It’ does encourage authenticity and connection. If we look at the Vision statement it is inspirational and does provide room for innovation.

Want to learn more about how your business narrative can work for you? Get in touch for a free consultation.

Can Advertising Spend Buy You Love?

“Anyone can pay for something,” was a sage piece of dating advice I was given a long time ago.

Beatles might have said it best when they said –

“I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright
I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright
Cos I don’t care too much for money, and money can’t buy me love”

This advice has served me well. So well in fact that I can see its relevance everywhere.

Let’s apply this advice to marketing. Anyone can spend money to get in front of prospective customers and clients with paid promotions. But no amount of paid advertising can buy love in the form of a loyal fan base.

Love is rare, it is hard to come by in any context in life. How do we facilitate it in the bottom line driven realities of the business world? By building trust and empathy by being human.

Digital marketing relies on data. That data is used to create content and content is used to create engaging ads.

Data is only half of the picture. The other half is empathy.

There are analytics and algorithms galore, but they cannot replace authentic human connection. Digital agencies tell their customers how much they need to spend to get in front of as many eyes as possible in their target market. This works for a while, but if you don’t pay attention to the other side of the equation, you will always have to pay for attention. And the cost of paying for this attention can eventually impact the profit from sales.

We use a different approach: we focus on organic growth fuelled by the stories of your business. Stories by their very nature build empathy, create connections and brand loyalty.

Let’s go back to the beloved Beatles classic –

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love”

You may hear John singing these words in your mind now. It is a story about how true love is worth more than a diamond. A story where without the underlying love a diamond is just a rock.

The same is true for marketing. Creating content that puts human stories in front of other humans results in a connection that impact business growth. Authenticity draws your clients back again and again to a relationship built on trust and understanding.

Focus on the love, even though it takes longer to build. And yes, sometimes it needs a bit of a push to get things moving.

But ultimately, LOVE is created by a connection. Charting that connection through the shared stories of wins from your clients and customers creates momentum. As each story emerges to complete the larger picture, the tendrils of connection branch out into the world. The protagonists of each story have their own fan base. Taking control of the narrative as it unfolds means that all roads eventually lead back to you. Connection can only build more connection. We understand this and harness this power for organic marketing growth.

Marketing communication is a delicate balance of organic and paid. We believe in the power of listening to your fans and telling their stories. Explore the stories you have to tell and then show them to your community; they will love you for it.

A Story Bridges The Gap From Innovation To Implementation!

Working in an innovation space can feel lonely when only a small number of people outside of your team understand what you are trying to accomplish. Or you are proudly rolling out a new project that solves a client’s problem, but they don’t understand how they fit in the solution. The program may be badly needed, but if the people who need your service don’t understand how it helps them, it won’t succeed. It is impossible to sell a product or service if you cannot clearly define it to your ideal customer, clients or co-workers.

Seeing your concept with an unbiased point of view is sometimes called ‘The Curse of Knowledge”.  While you may understand the value that you deliver if you cannot concisely explain why someone needs your offering getting a ‘yes’ can be very difficult. This applies to work colleagues as well to clients. If you cannot convey why a new process is important or what the changes to a program mean it is very difficult to get people to comply.

We can solve this problem with a strategic narrative.

A narrative strategy distils a complex concept into a simple story to create clarity around a project, product or service. This shareable story assists in forming a culture of understanding around your innovative solution to motivate people to get on board.

Let’s explain this in further detail with a simple story.

Your ‘Story’ needs to cross the bridge that divides a ‘New Project’ from the land of ‘Implementation’. Once the ‘Story’ journeys across this bridge it explains where it is going to people in the land of ‘Implementation’. ‘Story’ is successful on its journey because people in ‘Implementation’ understand how they can help it on its way.

This is how a story can work to bridge the gap between a new product or service and being embraced by clients, colleagues or the community.

True innovation relies on a clear vision for the future. This is where understanding your unique story becomes truly powerful.

Stories are not born spontaneously in a magical puff of smoke; they are shepherded into the world by a guide and supported by a flock. This shepherd is a strategic narrative advisor who creates clarity around the story of your work so it can move into the future.

Creating the world that we will live in tomorrow requires a bridge to connect your vision to a community. Let your story do the work for you.

Let’s chat! Schedule your 15-minute strategy call now!

Why Should I Care About Your Content?

Attention and time are at a premium. If you find you are experiencing information overload, so is your prospective audience.

And yet things do manage to grab our attention, how does that happen?

If matters to you, it will matter to someone else. Viral content is something people connect with so much they want to share it.

How do we tap into this power of caring and sharing?

Does this sound familiar? “Write about what you know” or “You can’t sell something you don’t believe in.”

Personal experience wrapped in a story creates a message that sticks. Where do these stories come from?

Imagine two rings, one ring is your personal story and one is your audience’s needs or interests. The goal is to find the sweet spot, that place that overlaps. That is the place where you harvest your stories from.

This is key to telling a story that gets noticed. People only pay attention to something that directly relates to their lives. This is out of necessity, there is so much content out there.

Connecting with and harvesting your own stories is a skill that can be learned. It is process of uncovering why you think something is important. Then fleshing out this ‘why’ into stories that illustrate your connection to what you do.

The next step is thinking about your customer base, what are their needs? What stories would appeal to them? You need to tell the right stories to the right people to grab someone’s attention. Creating a story that stands out is imperative to creating the traction you want with your audience. Focusing on universal themes like health, love, success or loss are powerful because we have all experienced these situations.

How can you tell if you story is worth telling? Make sure the story resonates with you first. First ask yourself, what do I love about this story? Tell your story to other people, what did they find interesting about the story? Take that feedback away and start crafting a narrative that sticks. Make the theme is universal enough to speak resonate with a large audience and small enough to include your unique point of view. It is your life that gives the story it’s meaning.

I will be facilitating a workshop at Pausefest on February 13, exploring the world of Explainer Videos. I will teach the fundamentals of creating a narrative for your video and my co-facilitator will focus on DIY techniques for producing your video. For more tickets and information visit the Pausefest website.

 

 

Explore Your Story

Explore-Your-Story-Spendlove-and-Lamb

Where do your most meaningful stories come from? From your lived experience. They come from your childhood, your friends, travels or working life.

How do you identify the stories that move you? You don’t forget them. You see or hear something and it reminds you of that event or time in your life.

Take note of this and take a moment to explore this story.

Ask yourself –

Why do I keep coming back to this story?

What aspects of this story do I re-tell the most?

Does this story motivate me to do something different or remember what is important to me?

There are no easy answers to these questions. They are open to interpretation.

Your unique life is a well which you can draw on. All the wonderful stories you need to tell just waiting inside you.

Use them to illustrate a point in a presentation or create a blog post or explain your business to a prospective client.

Remember if it is important to you, it is important to someone else. It will resonate. Tell and share your story.

Everyone Is A Storyteller!

Tell-Your-Story-Spendlove-and-Lamb

What’s next?

And then what happened? 

Two magical phrases every storyteller loves to hear. Your audience is on a journey with you until the end.

How do you know if your story is good? Our collective experience of sharing life on this planet means if you think your story is good, most other people will too. Falling in love, falling out of love, finding the thing you are looking for and losing the thing you were looking for. Most of us have been there or will experience these situations.

We all have a story to tell. We do not need permission to tell them. We just need to start. What’s your story? Share it with me.

Blog to Educate, Not Advertise!

Spendlove-and-Lamb-Bill-Nye

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

You are valuable. You have knowledge that other people do not.

We all know something that someone else doesn’t. What do you want to share? This is the essence of blogging. In today’s world we are all educators. We are out there describing what we do to the world.

Why is this important to your business? Advertising is dead and educating is here to stay. It is important that people understand your why you do what you do. That is your point of difference.

If you are running short on time, reblog or share an image. It doesn’t matter if it is not your original content all of the time. It is important that you share what resonates with you and your brand.

It is important to have a voice. Your ability to share what interests you, connects you to the best audience. They say “Sharing is caring”, so go ahead!

Start writing, educating and learning!