How language is redefining what’s possible – & how you can too

Wordstruck - language keeps us connected

Splashdown. It’s still an extraordinary thought that we can transport humans into space — and back again successfully. Watching Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley before they landed on 3 August was instructive. Their eyes were shut. Their feet twitching back and forth. Legs restless.

The anxiety for them, their families and the crowd of onlookers watching, must have been intense. White and red parachutes burst open above the Gulf of Mexico. A giant whoop of joy as the astronauts hit the water. Then the rather formal announcement: Welcome to back to planet Earth and thanks for flying Space X.

It was the US space agency’s first such landing in 45 years. And the first time a private company sent humans to orbit. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX has defied the odds of what’s possible.

 

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, we’re also redefining what’s possible. But we don’t fully realise it, yet.

Hetty Enzig, author and coach, puts it well: “During big transitional points in history, change happens before we have the language to describe it.” So true.

The speed of linguistic change since WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus first uttered the name of Covid19 on February 11 is phenomenal. On that fateful day he spelt out the letters. Now they are etched into the alphabet of our hearts.

And we’re all authoring a new lexicon. You can hire zutors for home schooling; you can tell your partner to stop doomscrolling if you’re sick of grim news over breakfast; a quarantini has never helped so much after a week in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne.

(My heart goes out to y’all Melburnians… the rest of Australia is with you — whatever the media says.)

Language helps us cope

Robert Lawson, a sociolinguist at Birmingham City University says, “Once you can name the practices, the events, the social conditions around a particular event, it gives people a shared vocabulary that they can all use as a bit of a shorthand. Ultimately if you can name it, you can talk about it; and if you can talk about it, then it can help people cope and get a handle on really difficult situations.”

Naming things has always been incredibly important to me. My first novel, The Pagoda Tree, was all about naming — and what happens to entire minority groups when they are misnamed or erased from the register. Naming and story-making are what give us back a sense of control, especially when the world is flying out of kilter. 

8 ways to harness language to stay connected

1. Keep it in the moment by asking: “How’s things?” Just that simple question or “What’s on your mind today?” is powerful. Then stay present to what happens.

2. Humour. In Australia, where all words can be shortened, you’ll hear: “how’s the pando going” or “got ya’ sanny?” (sanitiser). This week Daniel Andrews the beleaguered Victorian Premier praised all those Victorians who were staying in “iso” (isolation) in his daily media update.  

3. Choose words that reflect where the other person is at. A colleague said to me yesterday, “Did I tell you I’m sick of the pandemic?” Start there.

4. Check-in again… and again. For leaders managing remote teams you might be thinking that the regular check-ins you were doing back in March & April aren’t needed so much. As anxiety levels rise again (in Australia at least, but I’m seeing it on the faces of my family in the UK), check-ins are like an instant spark of connection. By text, a one line email, on Slack. A reminder that people aren’t alone.

5. Become uber-aware of what isn’t being said. Go there.

6. Find a virtual listening space that will support you — or create your own. From compassion circles to cocktail conversations, there’s a proliferation of these “ecologies of thinking” (thanks again to Hetty Enzig for that phrase).

7. Keep resetting your intention to focus on what’s good for you right now. Set your alarm on your phone as a reminder. Wear odd socks (no-one can see if you’re WFH – working from home). When you find yourself doomscrolling, take a moment to stop and see where that negative energy is landing in your body. I’m as guilty as anyone in constantly checking news updates, but when I don’t, I notice my inner dialogue is more positive.

8. Coin your own creative shorthand — at work, at home, with friends. This creates a shared vision among a team. It’s remarkably effective in workspaces, virtual or in-person. 

Now my new website is live I’m planning to start my own virtual storytelling circles. There’s something beautifully honest about these online listening spaces when they work well. For all its limitations the virtual environment allows a new intimacy that helps with the social distancing and the general weirdness in life.

Would love to know if you’re interested in joining these circles and what would support you the most. Stories? Themes? Simply somewhere to connect? Share your comments below. Any feedback on the new website, please share! I value your insight. 

Our shared humanity

“At the end of the day, we just want to all go home to the people we love.”

The message doesn’t get clearer than this. It’s what we all want, right? 

These are the words of an African-American protestor in downtown Minneapolis where 150 peaceful George Floyd protesters were arrested on Sunday night. You can see in this clip that the African-American man, and young woman, are standing shoulder to shoulder with their arresting police officers. Their hands are tied tight behind their backs but their words are a balm of peace. 

 ”We are human,” he says. “We are citizens first. He’s got a family, I’ve got a family… We can connect.” 

 ”I’ve no hate towards these police officers,” she says — moments before she was resting her head on the shoulder of one of the arresting officers.

 

Our shared humanity 

I’m sure many of you have been watching the scenes unfolding across America this week with horror, outrage, and fear about where it could go next. The divisions in society are searing. The polarisation toxic. The pain and grief palpable.

Then there are scenes like this, of courage — and humanity. 

The MSM reporter Mike Max is gob-smacked at what he’s witnessing. “It was incredible to see and in a strange way quite uplifting.” 

Clearly, it would have been better if the police officers had cut the protestors’ handcuffs and let them walk free. But this story, in a sea of violence and excessive police brutality, grabbed my attention and I wanted to share it with you. 

Stories help us find our shared humanity. They provide a common language that overrides our differences. They open our hearts. 

Over to you: 

  • How can you bring out the humanity in a conversation today?
  • How can you ask questions to find out what’s really going on for someone?
  • Where can you take a step back and drop your own story to truly connect with another? 

 

The young woman says it true: “I just want everyone to come together and treat each other equally.” 

 

P.S The full video is here.


P.P.S More on my new website coming soon. 

Anything is possible

If you’d asked me three months ago how I’d run a strategic storytelling workshop, remotely, with eight out of nine of the group wearing face masks, during a global pandemic, I would have said it was impossible. But this photo is evidence it can be done. What’s more the group’s “trophy stories” were brought to life by a graphic illustrator ( Eliot Lee,  in red, bottom right). 

That workshop, the culmination of 4+ months working with the president and leadership team at the luxury retailer Lane Crawford  was a pivotal moment for me. 

When the graphic of the trophy stories was revealed there was a collective outburst of laughter, recognition, joy. The power of stories + image + surprise was palpable from where I sat in my office in Sydney. 

It was a kind of… anything is possible moment…
A let-me-get-out-of-my-head kind of moment. I think we’re all having a lot of them right now. 

Taking a risk 

Lane Crawford, a heritage luxury department store, with a distributed workforce across Hong Kong and China, is rapidly becoming an industry leader in responsible fashion. 

In 2019 I worked with President Andrew Keith and his leadership team to help them develop their Story 1.0. that brought to life their strategy. Andrew and his team see storytelling as pivotal in how they show love and share the love with their customers. This year, we co-created Story 2.0.

During a time of immense disruption, this helped bring alignment and a sense of excitement to the organisation.   

The experience of working with them has helped shape how I want to work. And I’m excited to share what that looks like when I soon reveal my new Wordstruck website — with a new suite of storytelling programs. 

Even if I don’t fully know an outcome, it’s about finding other ways to introduce an element of spectacle, playfulness and spontaneity to how we communicate. This is especially needed in Zoom after Zoom meeting where things are in danger of becoming one-dimensional. It’s about creating deeper connection and taking a risk. 

Seizing the moment

Like any company’s story, Lane Crawford’s journey is evolving at pace. This year it celebrates 170 years in business. Yet, the fashion industry is embattled right now: consumer spend is down, stock languishes in warehouses, buying teams can’t travel and fashion shows are going “phygital”. 

Last week, Andrew Keith, together with designer Dries van Noten and Altuzarra chief executive Shira Sue Carmi called for change. They published an open letter to address one of fashion’s systemic issues — discounting in the middle of the season rather than at the end. They hope it will shift the global industry to a more environmental and socially sustainable approach. 

In less than 2 weeks, the letter has attracted over 1000 signatories, garnered  global press coverage,  and triggered a “rewiring” of the industry by  Business of Fashion.

Aside from the importance of the initiative and the courage to make it happen, what I appreciate — from a comms perspective — is that the group didn’t have all the answers. But they acted anyway. 

We are witnessing that a lot. Politicians are creating policies on the hoof, business leaders are moving entire workforces to digital in a matter of days. Sure, there are wobbly moments, but this galvanising to make things work is so refreshing. 

 

So what happens when you don’t know the full story? 8 things to do anyway. 

1. Meet people where they are at. We’ve got a scripted speech and yet when we stand up, we forget to read the mood. 

2. If you don’t know the mood, check in. Ask. Openly or offline. 

3. Then when you know the mood, meet people there. 

4. Say upfront you don’t know the full story. That the story is evolving. That you’ll keep people updated. 

5. Show how that makes you feel. Butterflies? Anxious? Excited? Reveal your vulnerability about not fully knowing. 

6. Explain some of the process of how you made the decision. Even if you didn’t have all the facts to hand. 

7. If someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer. That’s okay. Answer as best you can, take the person’s name and get back to them. 

8. Recognise that if you don’t know the full story and there’s a vacuum, people will fill it with their own stories…


So don’t wait. 

I’m not going to either. I’ll be sharing more about my Wordstruck website relaunch very soon!   

Reframe Your Story to Reframe Our Future

Watch comedian Michael Jr. illustrate how to reframe

Before the pandemic we all did things in a certain way. You, me, everyone on the planet has an inner script directing our lives. Often, that’s helpful. From an evolutionary perspective it means we don’t have to think too much (tiring the brain); it creates stability. 

In a matter of weeks this script has been torn up. 

It’s the lack of apparent individual control combined with the collective shared experience that makes this time in our lives so pivotal. Many of the normal things we took for granted: going to school, commuting to work, visiting our loved ones, have been disrupted.

Normally, our lives are punctuated by stress/health/financial issues individually.

But now, we’re sharing a common experience: beyond family, society, country. Globally, we are being given an insight experiencein real time. Usually it is only in hindsight that we gain learnings, now, as we’re easing out of lockdown, we have an opportunity to reset, to question and to re-examine this script. 

This is important both from an individual and collective perspective. After all, the future is simply not written for us. We co-create reality, every moment, every day. All of us together.

Some politicians and business leaders think we can flip the switch, go back to “normal” — whatever that was. 

But that would be to ignore the insight experience many of us are having. Adam, a photographer, puts it well: “We need to reframe normal. It’s not about striving for the minimal level of comfort, it’s striving for excellence. It’s about being a good agent for change and making intelligent decisions.”

Reframing your WHY 

In the video clip (above) Michael Jr., takes an improv moment at his live comedy show to illustrate the difference between singing Amazing Gracewith talent, to singing the same song, “as if your uncle’s been shot, ya’ know, the ‘hood version…”  Michael Jr. crystallises how to reframe something. He asks the singer to come from a different place within himself and choose a different frame. By going deeper, and understanding his motivation — his WHY — transformation happens.

The same concept can be applied for us at this time.

Revising your inner script 

Right now, it’s too soon for clear answers. We’re just not there yet. 

But it’s a good time to reflect on how you might want to reset or revise your inner script. A 2012 study by Adam Grant and Jane Dutton discovered that even making small story edits has a big impact on our lives. 

The story you choose to tell yourself exerts a powerful influence over how well you captivate people — and how successful you are as a leader. Some of our beliefs limit our potential… and many of our collective beliefs limit what sort of world we believe is possible.  So, as we question WHAT we normally do, we can better understand WHY we do it and then HOW we can do things differently.  

5 ways to rewrite your inner script 

  1. Observe the story you tell yourself and you tell others. 
  2. Reflect: do parts of the story need editing, updating or simply chucking out all together? 
  3. Pay attention to the (often conditioned) beliefs you have about yourself. Be kind. Be curious. 
  4. Experiment reframing your beliefs.
  5. Lastly, think about what you thought your life/our future would look like pre-Covid19. How has this changed?   

I would love to know your thoughts.    

Words Have Power

They are our mothers and our fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers...

Click above to see Tsiodras: you may not understand the words, but his emotion is palpable

They are our mothers and our fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers …

When the bespectacled grey-haired figure hunches over these notes, his voice chokes up. He tries to carry on, swallows and tries again. It is the daily briefing at 6:00 pm on Greek television and Professor Sotirios Tsiodras is addressing the nation. As the lead medical officer in the Greek government’s coronavirus task force, Tsiodras, who studied infectious diseases at Harvard, is known for his calm, frank announcements. 

When asked why so “much fuss” is being made about the “elderly and those incapacitated by chronic illness”, he names the “elderly” for who they are: our mothers, our fathers…

Then, fighting back the tears, he says,  “We cannot exist, or have an identity, without them.” 

Leading well, leading with compassion  

There are many ways to lead. But those leading with compassion will be those whose words we remember.

If there is ever a time to be real, now is the time.

Articles comparing the different styles of the chief medical officers from around the world — retiring scientists or public health statisticians — highlight how these individuals have risen to the occasion with a stoic forbearance. While they might not be comfortable with their media briefings, some, like Professor Tsiodras have shown a rare humility. It catches you unawares — and is the better for that. 

Words have power then there’s the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, who instills confidence — even when the news is terrible.  And he does so by being human. By reminding us that these are not just numbers of those who’ve died, but that each number has a family and a legacy.

6 things Cuomo does well – that you can too: 

  1. He describes the process that leads to the decision. Leaders often skip that bit. They think people just want to know the decision at the end of it. Actually, howyou make a decision — even the small details about where it was made, who was there — helps us make sense of things. 

  2. He prepares people for the worst. Most leaders avoid bad news. But in a time when the news is so bad, preparing people helps. As former Washington governor Gary Locke, puts it, Cuomo is, “not trying to gloss over things, the magnitude, the severity of the pandemic.” That makes us feel better because there isn’t the cognitive dissonance between what we know to be true and the truth. 

  3. He’s honest. While Boris Johnson did say, at the start of the COVID outbreak in the UK, that “he wanted to level with the British people”, his words didn’t touch me. That’s because he wasn’t really trying to level with us, he was still talking down to his audience — and we’re smart enough to know the difference. Contrast this with how Cuomo talks about the virus:  “I am tired of being behind this virus. We’ve been behind this virus since day one. Everybody wants to know one thing: when is it over? Nobody knows. ‘Well, the president said by Easter… nobody knows. But I can say this: it is not going to be soon.”

  4. Cuomo understands the power of words. He’s said so, publicly. He knows which words can instil fear, preferring “stay at home” rather than “shelter in place” because the latter expression is used during school shootings or during an “active shooting”. (I know, go figure…)  

  5. He favours shorter, verb-led phrases. Verbs are the engines of our sentences. They encourage action. In a tweet, he told New Yorkers: “Stay Home. Stop the Spread. Save Lives.” In seven words, he tells us a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The verbs are punchy and demand attention.

  6. And lastly, he shows his vulnerability. He admits he’s worried about his family — making it deeply personal. This shows he’s like us. I’m frightened for my brother… as everyone is worried about their humanity and everyone they love.

Trust ourselves

The intense levels of disruption can feel overwhelming on some days and perfectly manageable on others. I’m lucky as I still have work and exercise is allowed. It doesn’t stop me worrying about my 81-year-old mum, living on her own in the UK. But for all of us, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel the waves of uncertainty crashing over us. 

You might be feeling right now that the values you thought were important, are no longer important. That the future isn’t clear. That you can’t even understand what the future is right now. 

That’s okay. If we can each stay connected to our deeper humanity, express it, write it, meditate on it, share it with friends, repeat it often to our children, we’ll get through this. We will. We can.  

Start Small…Be the Change!

It takes 66 days to make a habit according to research at the University College of London. Two years ago I attended a writing residency in Switzerland

It takes 66 days to make a habit according to research at the University College of London. Two years ago I attended a writing residency in Switzerland. I was working on a new book and found it impossible to write every day and run my business. 

I came back to Australia and decided this needed to change if I was ever going to finish my second novel. So I wrote for an hour a day for 66 days. By the end, I’d formed a habit – when a new behaviour becomes automatic – and 18 months later the manuscript is being submitted to publishers.

Now, I’ve set myself a new 66 day challenge: to spend an hour a day doing something for the planet. That sounds a bit vague, and it is. The planet needs a lot of attention right now and it’s hard to know where to start. But I believe that  No One is too Small to Make a Difference  (this tiny book by Greta Thunberg is currently Waterstone’s most popular UK title of 2020). 

My one hour can become several hours. To keep myself motivated I mark off each day on my calendar (above). More ticks – or in my case, love hearts – equals more hours.

On the weekend it includes gardening (trying to create a food forest in urban Sydney), researching how to install solar panels on our house, going to farmers’ markets. During the week I write, research, meet with B corporations, and speak to businesses already addressing climate change to help them amplify their message. If enough people who are standing in the future can get their share of the voice amplified it can bring the rest of us along with them. I’m learning from people who know a lot more about this than I do. I’m a late starter. 

This wasn’t the post I intended for this week but it seems the most urgent. Bush fire smoke hangs over Sydney and 120+ fires are burning across New South Wales. The COP25 Summit is being held in Madrid. UN head Antonio Guterres calls for hope over ‘surrender’ and is urging governments to stop sleepwalking.

The stories we tell ourselves
At times like these it’s vital to be aware of what stories we tell ourselves, our teams, our families. What stories we believe we can change, and what seem so fixed that they are etched in stone. 

No story, however permanent it seems, or how often it is repeated, is fixed. But sometimes we need to reboot. To rewire our inner narrative. To refresh. That can take time, but 66 days is not long to create a new habit.

Thoughts? How do you change your thinking to change your world? 

How to avoid the data dump and be persuasive

Business presentation is all about persuasion.

I recently worked with a client who had a tough sell. He needed to persuade his leadership team and board to spend a lot more money on a project they’d already sunk a lot of money into. He faced scepticism and hard questions. He had minimal amount of time to get his point across.

His answer: use more data! Rely on the numbers. More graphs. More statistics.

You won’t be surprised that I suggested another approach. Sure, we need the financials and the metrics. But if you want people to change their view or get excited, we need to engage their emotions. We need to think of our audience first, and us, second.

How storytelling persuades

Business presentation is all about persuasion. A company presents itself to a customer to persuade them to buy their product. A project leader presents plans to the management to persuade them that the strategy will work.

But when you use slides laden with bullet-points these aren’t focused on the audience. Instead, they’re supporting the case of the presenter. And audiences know this.

They also know when they aren’t being shown the complete picture – but cherry-picked figures. Audiences are more likely to listen if you take a narrative approach, relying on logic and emotion, while building your case. Make your story come to life, bring in colour.

If you’re talking about a future project you often need to describe the present (where you are) and the future (where you want to be) and shift between the two – all the while showing what’s at stake if you do nothing.

5 reasons to combine storytelling with business presentations 

  1. Storytelling can show the audience qualitative information that cannot be laid out through bullet-points and numbers.   
  2. It can paint a full picture of both the positives and negatives of any business challenges. Not just the good ones. 
  3. Narratives show a complete process of a business strategy. From its inception to the final implementation plans. 
  4. Storytelling appeals to how we think. According to Princeton’s Uri Hasson, ‘By simply telling a story, a person could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.’ 
  5. Through storytelling, the teller and listener synchronise their mindsets in an extraordinary process called neural coupling. 

Any business presentation’s ultimate goal is to convince the audience. This is why we need to harness the power of words not just numbers.

Photo by Evgeny Atamanenko

5 Ways to Spice Up Your Stories

5 ways to spice, to spice up your stories

When my first book, Last Seen in Lhasa,was published I had a publicity schedule as long as my arm. The first 60-min interview was with the ABC radio host, gravelly-voiced Richard Fidler. The first thing Richard advised: “use word pictures”.

It’s advice I’ve never forgotten… Nor should you. And nor, it seems, has Steven Lewis from Taleist the Australian copywriting agency. Steven just sent me a re-mastered interview I did for his podcast sharing my top novelist’s tips to make business storytelling memorable. 

[bctt tweet=”[bctt tweet=”‘Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel.’ -Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow” via=”no”]

5 top storytelling tips to keep listeners awake:

  1. Bring your stories to lifewith the 5 senses.
  2. Make your characters realby including their names and titles. 
  3. Use ‘word pictures’– so your listener can see, feel and imagine what you’re describing. 
  4. Use genuine dialogue because real people speak in real sentences. 
  5. Surprise! Add something unexpected to your story. 

And, I got a surprise myself when I re-listened to the interview. A former journalist, Steven knows how to capture attention with a strong hook.

That’s exactly what he does with this interview about storytelling with… erm… me talking about bosoms. Enjoy! 

Click here to listen to the podcast 

Click here for a copy of my book ‘Last Seen in Lhasa’

How Do You Provide Effective Feedback in the Workplace?

For the past year I’ve been learning applied improvisation to help me by more spontaneous and playful in my storytelling – and help my clients be more authentic and impactful in their presentations and delivery.

This month, in London, I had a coach-the-coach session where my ‘applied improv’ coach, Raymond, sat and watched me with a willing client. He occasionally interjected, made suggestions, recorded me and took notes.  Then I received double feedback, from him and the client. I have to admit it was kinda excruciating!

But, WOW, very useful.  And the most useful part? Two things. The fact I had two clients. After the first one, honestly, I wanted to crawl under the table. Raymond was empathetic but firm. ‘No, Claire, back on the horse.’ Because in the second session I put everything into practice I’d learned in the first.

The second thing – receiving appreciation from both Raymond and the clients, alongside helpful, non-judgemental feedback. They both shared actionable observations that I could see make a big difference.

I’m now thinking how to apply something similar for my own Wordstruck sessions. So, in the spirit of growing pains, this newsletter is about the value of feedback.

Why feedback is hard

Most employees equate feedback as criticism. It’s perceived as a social threat and humans have a survival instinct to flee when faced with any threat.

Instead, feedback can be an opportunity and a mechanism that brings value to your organisation.

Discover how feedback helps 

In a study led by New York University psychologist and senior scientist Tessa West , 62 participants were asked to give and receive feedback, while their heart rates were monitored. The results showed that the whole exercise was ‘anxiety-producing’ for all of them. What’s more, the study found that unprompted feedback makes people more anxious.

So, even though feedback can be given with the intent of self-improvement, if it’s unexpected, it can cause physiological stress. Instead of being open to receive it, the brain can shut out the feedback as a form of self-preservation.  We can overcome this challenge if we see feedback as an opportunity. It may require a shift in mindset!

How to give and receive effective feedback

  1. Create a culture of feedback.Start small. Go out for informal get-togethers like lunch and get to know your team. The people we work with can give us new insights about ourselves that we can’t discover on our own.
  2. Get feedback on small topics. Once the workplace has established this practice, it will be less difficult to address more complex and challenging topics.
  3. Ask for feedback.If your team member feels that it’s okay for you as a leader to receive feedback, then he or she will be more open to get feedback as well. This helps build an atmosphere of honesty and trust. 
  4. Introduce 360-reviews. While these are common in some workplaces, they aren’t universal. But these reviews help us learn about our blind spot (s). What works and what doesn’t. Where we need improvement.
  5. Use appreciation. While some of the feedback you may give is challenging, it can still be delivered with appreciation for the positive aspects of the person’s work. 
  6. Allow the employees to prepare and be ready for feedback sessions. This will minimise threat as compared to it being unsolicited or spontaneous.
  7. Choose where you give the feedback. Be sensitive to the location you choose. Don’t stand next to the coffee machine!
  8. Be an active listener.Feedback is a two-way dialogue. If you’re giving feedback make sure you are listening to the person receiving, rather than have fixed views. And vice versa. If you’re on the receiving end, try to stay open and receptive.
  9. Create a culture of psychological safety.This helps people give feedback without getting defensive. It’s healthier for everyone.    
  10. Promote a growth mindset.Feedback is aimed for all teams, leaders and the organisation as a whole, to grow. To improve. To learn. And isn’t that what we all want?

Why narrative memos focus the mind and mean strategies stick

Narrative memos help focus the mind.

We know the drill. A meeting starts with the presenter taking charge and facilitating bullet-point discussions from powerpoint slides. Or worse, reading directly from the slides that are crammed with too much text and numbers.

Inwardly, there’s a collective groan. A slow death-by-powerpoint.

Amazon takes a different approach. In the 2018 Annual Shareholders report, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, admitted they’d scrapped the use of powerpoints during meetings. As he puts it, ‘We write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of study hall.’ 

Imagine the scene, the execs are sitting quietly, as if about to start an exam. No-one talks. Kinda defies belief.

Here’s why.

  1. Narrative memos help focus the mind.Participants in meetings are usually distracted by their long to-do list. Often, they bring issues with them as they take a seat.  Yet, when they start to read the memo, they shift their attention to the common agenda at hand.  
  2. Everyone starts on the same page. Bullet-points tend to lead to diverse interpretations. As a result, arguments can dominate meetings instead of a collective goal. 
  3. Narrative strategies stick. Neuroscientists show how the human brain is wired for stories. In our everyday life, we recall and retain events and information because of the stories we hear. This is mirrored in the narrative memo approach. It allows the audience to remember the strategies that management wants its people to remember.

Of course, careful thought needs to go into these narratives.

As Jeff Bezo says,  ‘Great memos are written and rewritten, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. They simply can’t be done in a day or two.’

So, when you wonder why nothing happens after your next meeting, why not give it a try? Start small. You don’t need to scribe 6 pages. Try with one narrative page, find the person in your team who enjoys writing and using language. There’s always one. Then introduce it – once a fortnight perhaps – as a pilot and see if you get better results.

Given that Amazon is one of the most successful companies on the planet, there’s likely to be some wisdom behind the approach! 

Thoughts?