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Story telling


You know, like a bulldog, I wouldn't let go until I understood. Why, why, why? ... the rounds Morita came across an American buyer who looked at the radio and ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Story telling

Story telling
  • Based on the article by Telling Tales Stephen
    Denning, Harvard Business Review, May 2004
  • Also draws heavily from Good to Great by Jim
  • and Made in Japan by Akio Morita

  • In the mid-1990s, the goal was to get people at
    the World Bank to support efforts at knowledge
  • Steve Denning had strong arguments for bringing
    together the knowledge that was scattered
    throughout the organization.
  • He made PowerPoint presentations that emphasised
    the importance of sharing and leveraging this
  • But with little effect
  • In 1996, Denning began telling people a story.

The story of Zambia
  • In June of 1995, a health worker in a tiny town
    in Zambia went to the Web site of the Centers for
    Disease Control and got the answer to a question
    about the treatment for malaria.
  • Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the
    world, and it happened in a tiny place 600
    kilometers from the capital city.
  • But the most striking thing about this picture,
    was that the World Bank wasn't in it.
  • Despite its know-how on all kinds of
    poverty-related issues, that knowledge was not
    available to the millions of people who could use
  • This simple story helped World Bank staff and
    managers envision a different kind of future for
    the organization.

  • At the International Storytelling Center, Denning
    told the Zambia story to a professional
  • The feedback?
  • There was no real telling.
  • There was no plot.
  • There was no building up of the characters.

  • Who was this health worker in Zambia?
  • And what was her world like?
  • What did it feel like to be in the exotic
    environment of Zambia, facing the problems she
  • The anecdote was not a story at all. Denning
    needed to start from scratch to turn it into a
    "real story."

Do stories really have a role to play in the
business world?
  • Analysis is what drives business thinking. It
    cuts through myth, gossip, and speculation to get
    to the hard facts.
  • Its strength lies in its objectivity, its
    impersonality, its heartlessness.
  • Yet this strength is also a weakness. Analysis
    might excite the mind, but it hardly offers a
    route to the heart.
  • A route to the heart is needed to motivate
    people not only to take action but to do so with
    energy and enthusiasm.

  • Leadership involves inspiring people to act in
    unfamiliar, and often unwelcome, ways.
  • Numbers or PowerPoint slides won't achieve this
  • But effective storytelling often does. In fact,
    in certain situations nothing else works.
  • Although good business arguments are developed
    through the use of numbers, they are typically
    approved on the basis of a story--that is, a
    narrative that links a set of events in some kind
    of causal sequence.
  • Storytelling can translate those dry and abstract
    numbers into compelling pictures of a leader's

What is a good story?
  • A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an
  • It should include complex characters as well as a
    plot that incorporates a reversal of fortune and
    a lesson learned.
  • The storyteller should be so engaged with the
    story--visualizing the action, feeling what the
    characters feel that the listeners become drawn
    into the narrative's world.

Lessons from stories
  • Go through the following stories and try to draw
    a lesson from each of them

  • At an IBM manufacturing site stories circulated
    among the blue-collar workers about the
    facility's managers, who were accused of "not
    doing any real work," "being overpaid," and
    "having no idea what it's like on the
    manufacturing line."
  • One day, a new site director turned up in a white
    coat, unannounced and unaccompanied, and sat on
    the line making ThinkPads. He asked workers on
    the assembly line for help. In response, someone
    asked him, "Why do you earn so much more than I
    do?" His simple reply "If you screw up badly,
    you lose your job. If I screw up badly, 3,000
    people lose their jobs."
  • While not a story in the traditional sense, the
    manager's words--and actions--served as a seed
    for the story that helped counter the perception
    about managers' being lazy and overpaid. The
    atmosphere at the facility began improving within

Circuit City
  • In 1973, one year after he became CEO, Alan
    Wurtzels company stood at the brink of
    bankruptcy. At the time, the company was a
    hodgepodge of appliance and hi-fi stores with no
    unifying concept. Over the next ten years,
    Wurtzel and his team not only turned the company
    around, but also created the Circuit City concept
    and laid the foundations for a stunning record of
  • When Alan Wurtzel started the long turnaround, he
    began with the question of where to take the
    company Wurtzel resisted the urge to walk in with
    the answer. Instead, he began not with answers,
    but with questions. Wurtzel stands as one of the
    few CEOs in a large corporation who put more
    questions to his board members than they put to
  • He used the same approach with his executive
    team, constantly pushing and probing and prodding
    with questions. Each step along the way, Wurtzel
    would keep asking questions until he had a clear
    picture of reality and its implications. They
    used to call me the prosecutor, because I would
    home in on a question, said Wurtzel. You know,
    like a bulldog, I wouldnt let go until I
    understood. Why, why, why?
  • Adapted from Good to Great by Jim Collins.

The Stockdale Paradox
  • Admiral Jim Stockdale, was the highest ranking
    United States military officer in the Hanoi
    Hilton prisoner-of-war camb during the height of
    the Vietnam War. He was tortured over twenty
    times during his eight-year imprisonment from
    1965 to 1973. He shouldered the burden of
    command, doing everything he could to create
    conditions that would increase the number of
    prisoners who would survive unbroken, while
    fighting an internal war against his captors and
    their attempts to use the prisoners for
    propaganda. At one point, he beat himself with a
    stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately
    disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put
    on videotape as an example of a well-treated
    prisoner. He exchanged secret intelligence
    information with his wife through their letters,
    knowing that discovery would mean more torture
    and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would
    help people to deal with torture. He instituted
    an elaborate internal communications systems to
    reduce the sense of isolation that their captors
    tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix
    of tap codes for alpha characters. Once the
    prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using
    the code, swish-swashing out We love you to

  • Jim Collins eagerly looked forward to the
    prospect of spending an afternoon with Stockdale.
    As they got talking, Stockdale remarked, I never
    lost faith in the end of the story, I never
    doubted not only that I would get out, but also
    that I would prevail in the end and turn the
    experience into the defining event of my life,
    which, in retrospect, I would not trade.
  • After a period of silence, Collins asked, Who
    didnt make it out?
  • Oh, thats easy, he said, The optimists.
    Collins was completely confused.
  • Stockdale explained, The optimists, Oh, they
    were the ones who said, Were going to be out by
    Christmas. And Christmas would come, and
    Christmas would go. Then theyd say, Were going
    to be out by Easter. And Easter would come, and
    Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then
    it would be Christmas again. And they died of a
    broken heart.
  • Adapted from Good to Great by Jim Collins.

The hedgehog and the fox
  • In his famous essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox,
    Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs
    and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable.
    The fox, a cunning creature, can devise several
    complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the
    hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles,
    around the hedgehogs den, waiting for the
    perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, and crafty
    the fox looks like the sure winner. The
    hedgehog, on the other hand, waddles along,
    searching for lunch and taking care of his home.
  • Minding his own business, the hedgehog wanders
    right into the path of the fox. Aha, Ive got
    your now! thinks the fox,. He leaps out,
    bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The
    little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and
    thinks, Here we go again. Will he ever learn?
    Rolling up into a perfect little ball the
    hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes,
    pointing outward in all directions. The fox
    bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog
    defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back
    to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new
    line of attack. Each day, some version of this
    battle between the hedgehogs and the fox takes
    place, and despite the greater cunning of the
    fox, the hedgehog always wins.
  • Adapted from Good to Great by Jim Collins.

The Boeing 707
  • Until the early 1950s, Boeing focused on building
    huge flying machines for the military. However,
    Boeing had virtually no presence in the
    commercial aircraft market. McDonnell Douglas had
    vastly superior abilities in the smaller,
    propeller-driven planes that composed the
    commercial fleet.
  • In the early 1950s, however, Boeing saw an
    opportunity to leapfrog McDonnell Douglas by
    marrying its experience with large aircraft to
    its understanding of jet engines.
  • Led by Bill Allen, Boeing executives debated the
    wisdom of moving into the commercial sphere. They
    came to understand that, whereas Boeing could not
    have been the best commercial plane market a
    decade earlier, the cumulative experience in jets
    and big planes they had gained from military
    contracts now made such a dream possible.

  • They also came to see that the economics of
    commercial aircraft would be vastly superior to
    the military market and they were just flat-out
    turned on by the whole idea of building a
    commercial jet.
  • So, in 1952 Allen and his team made the decision
    to spend a quarter of the companys entire net
    worth to build a prototype jet that could be used
    for commercial aviation. They built the 707 and
    launched Boeing on a bid to become the leading
    commercial aviation company in the world. Three
    decades later, after producing five of the most
    successful commercial jets in history (the 707,
    727, 737, 747, 757), Boeing stood as the greatest
    company in the commercial airplane industry,
  • Adapted from Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Sonys transistor radio
  • Sonys first transistor radio of 1955 was small
    and practical Morita saw the United States as a
    natural market business was booming, employment
    was high, the people were progressive and eager
    for new things, and international travel was
    becoming easier.
  • Morita took his little 29.95 radio to New York
    and made the rounds of possible retailers. Many
    of them were unimpressed. They said, Why are you
    making such a tiny radio? Everybody in America
    wants big radios. We have big houses, plenty of
    room. Who needs these tiny things?
  • The fidelity was not as good as a large unit, but
    it was excellent for its size. Many people saw
    the logic of this argument, and Morita was happy
    to be offered some tempting deals.
  • The following is Moritas narrative The people
    at Bulova liked the radio very much and their
    purchasing officer said very casually, We
    definitely want some of these. We will take one
    hundred thousand units. One hundred thousand
    units! I was stunned. It was an incredible order,
    worth several times the total capital of our
    company. We began to talk details, my mind
    working very fast, when he told me that there was
    one condition we would have to put the Bulova
    name on the radios .

  • I told him I would check with my company, and in
    fact I did send a message back to Tokyo outlining
    the deal. The reply was, Take the order. I
    didnt like the idea, and I didnt like the
    reply. After thinking it over and over, I decided
    I had to say no, we would not produce radios
    under another name. When I returned to call on
    the man from Bulova he didnt seem to take me
    seriously at first. How could I turn down such an
    order? He was convinced I would accept. When I
    would not budge, he got short with me.
  • Our company name is a famous brand name that has
    taken over fifty years to establish, he said.
    Nobody has ever heard of your brand name. Why
    not take advantage of ours?
  • Fifty years ago, I said, your brand name must
    have been just as unknown as our name is today. I
    am here with a new product, and I am now taking
    the first step for the next fifty years of my
    company. Fifty years from now I promise you that
    our name will be just as famous as your company
    name is today.
  • Adapted from Made in Japan, by Akio Morita

Sony Radio
  • While making the rounds Morita came across an
    American buyer who looked at the radio and said
    he liked it very much. He said his chain had
    about 150 stores and he would need large
    quantities. That pleased Morita, and fortunately
    he did not ask Morita to put the chains name on
    the product. He only wanted a price quotation on
    quantities of 5000, then 10,000, 30,000, 50,000
    and 100,000 radios. Morita was thrilled! But back
    in his hotel room, he began pondering the
    possible impact of such grand orders on the small
    facilities in Tokyo. Sony had expanded its plant
    a lot since outgrowing the unpainted, leaky shack
    on Gotenyama. Sony had moved into bigger,
    sturdier buildings adjacent to the original site
    and had its eye on some more property. But Morita
    did not have the capacity to produce 100,000
    transistor radios a year and also make the other
    things in Sonys small product line. Sonys
    capacity was less than10,000 radios a month. If
    the company got an order for 100,000 it would
    have to hire and train new employees and expand
    its facilities even more. This would mean a major
    investment, a major expansion, and a gamble.

  • The following is Moritas account I was
    inexperienced and still a little naive, but I had
    my wits about me. I considered all the
    consequences I could think of, and then I sat
    down and drew a curve that looked something like
    lopsided letter U.
  • The price for 5000 would be our regular price.
    That would be the beginning of the curve. For
    10,000 there would be a discount, and that was at
    the bottom of the curve. For 30,000 the price
    would begin to climb. For fifty thousand the
    price would begin to climb. For 50,000 the price
    per unit would be higher than for 5000 and for
    100,000 units the price would have to be much
    more per unit than for the first 50000.

  • He mentioned I know this sounds strange, but my
    reasoning was that if we had to double our
    production capacity to complete an order for one
    hundred thousand and if we could not get a repeat
    order the following year we would be in big
    trouble, perhaps bankrupt, because how could we
    employ all the added staff and pay for all the
    new and unused facilities in the case? It was a
    conservative and cautious approach, but I was
    convinced that if we took a huge order we should
    make enough profit on it to pay for the new
    facilities during the life of the order.
    Expanding is not such a simple thing getting
    fresh money would be difficult and I didnt
    think this kind of expansion was a good idea on
    the strength of one order. In Japan we cannot
    just hire people and fire them whenever our
    orders go up or down. We have a long-term
    commitment to our employees and they have a
    commitment to us.
  • Adapted from Made in Japan, by Akio Morita

Organisational culture
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Broke a lock on a closed door
  • Wanted people to have free access
  • Tom Watson
  • A salesman made a huge mistake
  • Watson remarked that the millions of dollars
    had gone into educating the person.

Choosing a story
  • Different occasions demand different stories.

If your objective is Sparking action
  • You will need a story that describes how a
    successful change was implemented in the past,
    but allows listeners to imagine how it might work
    in their situation.
  • In telling it, you will need to avoid excessive
    detail that will take the audience's mind off its
    own challenge.
  • Your story will inspire such responses as "Just
    imagine" "What if"

If your objective is Communicating who you are
  • You will need a story that provides an engaging
    drama and reveals some strength or vulnerability
    from your past.
  • Include meaningful details, but also make sure
    the audience has the time and inclination to hear
    your story.
  • The responses should be "I didn't know that
    about him!" "Now I see what she's driving at."

If your objective is Transmitting values
  • You need a story that feels familiar to the
    audience and will trigger discussion about the
    issues raised by the value being promoted.
  • Use believable (though perhaps hypothetical)
    characters and situations, and never forget that
    the story must be consistent with your own
  • The responses may be "That's so right!" "Why
    don't we do that all the time?"

If your objective is Fostering collaboration
  • You will need a story that movingly recounts a
    situation that listeners have also experienced
    and that prompts them to share their own stories
    about the topic.
  • Keep the discussion spontaneous and ensure an
    action plan is ready to tap the energy unleashed
    by this narrative chain reaction.
  • The responses may be "That reminds me of the
    time that I" "Hey, I've got a story like that."

If your objective is Taming the grapevine
  • You will need a story that highlights, often
    through the use of gentle humor, some aspect of a
    rumor that reveals it to be untrue or unlikely.
  • Avoid the temptation to be mean-spirited, and be
    sure that the rumor is indeed false.
  • The responses may be "No kidding!" "I'd never
    thought about it like that before!"

If your objective is Sharing knowledge
  • You need a story that focuses on mistakes made
    and shows in some detail how they were corrected,
    with an explanation of why the solution worked.
  • Solicit alternative and possibly better
  • The responses could be "There but for the grace
    of God" "Wow! We'd better watch that from now

If your objective is Leading people into the
  • You need a story that evokes the future you want
    to create without providing excessive detail that
    will only turn out to be wrong.
  • Be sure of your storytelling skills.
  • Otherwise, use a story in which the past can
    serve as a springboard to the future.
  • The expected responses are "When do we start?"
    "Let's do it!"