[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Storytelling for Leaders

This fall, I attended Story In Business, a 1-day seminar taught by Robert McKee, the guru of story. At 73 years old, he’s profound, charismatic, funny, and also pretty salty. (He curses like a sailor when he gets worked up.)

I’ve been to the 4-day seminar that has made him famous so I knew that McKee understood stories. At this event, I was delighted to discover he also understood business and leadership. I took lots of notes: 4,681 words to be precise (not counting the diagrams). I thought you’d appreciate me highlighting a few of my favorites insights rather that go through them line by line. :)

The mind is a natural receptor for story. If you can put your info in a story form, people will respond and act on it.

Above all else, leaders must make meaning out of chaos to other people. If you cannot make sense of the complex forces inside and outside of your organization, they will not follow you.

Story is the struggle to put life back into balance.

Story begins with a balanced life. A starting event throws things out of balance. Our instinct as humans is to restore the balance. So the core character focuses on something that, if the core character could get it, would put life back into balance.

This raises questions in the audience: How will this turn out? Will the character get what they want? If so, will it get them back to the balance they want? 

How many rotten films have you sat through to get the answer to these questions? :)
No matter how clever the camera work and music, a car being pieced together is a process, not a story.
The history of a family, no matter how admirable they are, is a list of events, not a story.

It’s about drawing the audience into empathy with the core character. 

They are enough like me therefore I want that character to get what they want (if I were that person in those circumstances I’d want it, too). When people root for the core character, they are actually rooting for themselves. This is why a story told well is so powerful.
Today people so identify with characters in fiction that you can lose a friend by rejecting a story they fell in love with. “The Piano” caused more divorce in America than any other specific film I know. [He made a handful of colorful comments about family, politics, morality...let’s just say he’s a cynic.]

Emotion is the side effect of change.

Business people these days are afraid of negative communication, from internal (“we’ve got a problem”) to external (telling customers about the dangers). All positive with no real problems produces no real emotion. Emotion is generated when people move from negative to positive (or vice versa). So the more powerful the change the stronger the emotion—the worse the negative the stronger the emotion when it’s solved.

Strategy is a reality story told between co-decision makers at the top of the pyramid of power.

There was so much more I wanted to include but deleted to keep this post reasonably brief. I’d highly recommend attending any of his conferences (with the caveat that they’re rated PG-13 for language).


What stories do you need to tell better?

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