E101. How to Tell Stories of Innovation, Disruption (and Chocolate!) with Michael Margolis
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Welcome to The Storypowers Podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should we do it too. I'm your host keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco Mahfuz. My guest today is Michael Margolis. Michael is the CEO and founder of story, a strategic messaging firm, specialising the story of innovation and disruption since 2002. He's advised clients across 34 industries in 15 countries including Facebook, Google, Hulu, Greenpeace and NASA. He's also two time TEDx speaker number one Amazon Best Selling Author and his work has been featured in Fast Company time and Inc magazines. It wouldn't be hard to say that Miko is obsessed with story. But actually, that's not true. His real obsession is chocolate. In his book storage and X he says that Nutella is arguably one of the greatest inventions ever. He compares the love for a baby with the love for chocolate. And his Twitter bio actually says he eats more chocolate than the average human. Now, I don't know if that's true, but he definitely talks about chocolate more than the average human. That isn't gentleman, the great and powerful bio Margolis. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Margolis 1:16 Francisco. Thank you. And you've inspired me, I'm definitely going to have to grab some chocolate. Now, in the midst of our conversation.
Francisco Mahfuz 1:23 Is this a deal breaker? If I tell you in full honesty, that I'm not that much of a fan of chocolate? All right, there's better season for dessert.
MM Michael Margolis 1:34 I want you to know I'm pro chocolate. So there's no judgement as to your chocolate proclivities, there's a different chocolate for every budget and every occasion. If you don't like chocolate, you don't like chocolate. That's okay. Most people love chocolates. I have been known to converts a person or two through the years, but we're just going to sit over here and enjoy our chocolate. And if you just happen to be, you know, romance then in trance, the maybe just a little bite. You're welcome, anytime but there's no pressure. There's no pressure at all.
Francisco Mahfuz 2:05 It's a funny one with chocolate because you know, and I know you know this full? Well, I think you kind of mentioned it in the book about how it's chocolate, as with anything else becomes about the story and not necessarily about the product. And I kind of fell for the story. A while back, I think I think I heard Seth Godin talk about craft chocolate and how he's obsessed with craft chocolate. And I said okay, so let's try it. Let's do the give this craft chocolate thing I go in, I did that. I think everybody that goes into craft chocolate does, I bought a bunch of craft chocolate. And every time I offered it to someone, I felt compelled to tell them a whole bunch of stuff about the chocolate. And sometimes people are just like, very interesting. Can I just have the chocolate please? Like that? I like it that I don't like it. Don't tell me all this stuff. It's chocolate. Perhaps I wasn't, I wasn't that into the story stuff at the time to realise the importance of seeding the ground before I put the chocolate on the table. Not after
MM Michael Margolis 3:08 you gotta set the frame for sure. And it looks the challenge with craft chocolate is that it's like walking into a wine shop, you walk into a wine shop, unless you really know your way around. And most of us don't you look at hundreds and hundreds of bottles on the shelf. Do you know how to navigate that, right? So you look for a couple little labels, you maybe look for some awards, but you still don't really know maybe maybe you're smart and you have a little iPhone app. And so you use video and you pull up the latest, you know, sort of data and other people's reviews. And it's not the same as what craft chocolate so you can go and spend hundreds of dollars on craft chocolate, I promise you 80% of what you buy, you're going to be like, Oh, not quite my flavour. Not quite my tastes. So it takes a lot to navigate. Now this
Francisco Mahfuz 3:50 information wine, I was thinking a lot about wine and how it connects to stories recently I did I did some work with PepsiCo and lace. And but essentially, my job was to teach them or give them ideas about why people get excited about anything. They had a very boring subject that they needed to talk about. And in they wanted me to bring excitement to that. And I said I can do that. But I'm not an expert on that particular subject. But I can talk to about the things that are exciting in anything. And I did start talking about wine. And I told them about why prayer out wines in from Catalonia are my favourite wines. And what that led me to think afterwards was how great that is, but also the potential dangers of making something that is, you know, maybe just very expensive or difficult to attain or something that I don't know, maybe you get sold on the story, but the thing itself is not really what you like, but the story overrides that part of your brain and I have friends from wine in particular I have friends that have fallen in both sides, friends that have convinced themselves that extreme moment other law has come is convinced that any wine that costs more than like three or four years is a ripoff. And they have friends that cannot even look at a bottle of wine that is less than 20 or 30 euros because they feel cheap, when they're going to drink it. So I think you can, that can happen to chocolate too.
MM Michael Margolis 5:18 That's a powerful reminder that we don't buy the product, we buy the story that's attached to it. Now, not just the story that we're telling to our audience or our consumer, but more importantly, the story that people are telling themself, of what that thing means to them. Right? So one person, yeah, I don't blush at spending $10 or $20. On the right bar of craft chocolate, I've even spent $200 on a bar of chocolate, because of my relationship with the craft and understanding varietals and Rarity, and also knowing how to navigate the category if I'm going to spend 1020 or $200. I know I'm not buying garbage. Other people have a different art and a different story. So this is one of the challenges these days is we're swimming in an infinite sea of stories. And just because something means something to you doesn't mean it's going to mean something to someone else,
Francisco Mahfuz 6:14 the thing that you are under if you're the greatest experts in the world in this but you probably one of the people that have done more work in this area than anyone else is stories of innovation and disruption. So what I wanted to really kick us off with is for because you know I've now this will probably be episode number 101 of this podcast. That's awesome. Yes, yeah. So you're the first one after the first break, I decided I finally deserved
MM Michael Margolis 6:42 congratulations to you, what an incredible accomplishment and, and dedication to to craft and inviting all of us on this journey. So that's really something awesome to celebrate.
Francisco Mahfuz 6:51 And I appreciate that. For anyone who's listening to this and thinks about having a podcast do seasons in don't make them 100 episodes long. So that's advice to you. So what I was gonna ask is, I haven't talked a great deal about stories of innovation and disruption. And I think there is there is a temptation for anyone who's done so much with storytelling, as either I have done or some of my guests have done is to say, you know, stories or stories, right. But you I know, because of your book, I know you believe that stories of innovation disruption are different and should be different. So why is that?
MM Michael Margolis 7:25 Yeah, great question. Let me take one step back to answer that question, if you don't mind, which is something I also talk a lot about in the book, which is the difference between story versus narrative, right? On one hand for years, I was like, Who freakin cares? It's semantics. Everybody, you know, story is the vernacular easy to say, let's just say story, and stories. But over time, I started realising more and more that this distinction is everything for the kind of work I do, and for the kind of work that most organisations and leaders are trying to advance. So people have stories, organisations have a narrative, right? We have stories about experiences of events, right? And we have infinite stories. Every time we post on Facebook, it's another story, right? Every time we post on Instagram, it's another story. The narrative is over arching core concept. It's a theme of which, under the narrative will be many different stories. So take like the American dream. The American Dream is a narrative. We each then have stories, individual stories about the American dream, maybe multiple stories about the American dream, right? So stories are like a pearl narrative is the string of pearls. And the challenge going on right now Francisco is that we are swimming. In an infinite sea of stories. We're frankly drowning in a sea of stories. And it's like the life raft that each of us is clinging on to is our story, when what we need is an ocean liner to navigate very complex, very thrashy seas like that, you know, the the weather conditions out there are rough. So we need a narrative that gives us a sense of meaning of purpose and of shared destination. That's an important distinction for us to then afford to start talking about innovation disruption. Yeah, what do you what do you think about that distinction of story versus narrative?
Francisco Mahfuz 9:26 No, I fully buy into it i But I noticed that you've made a change that I think is wise from how he described it in the book and the book yourself. That story is a pearl and narrative is a pearl necklace. And I thought that might not be the phrasing you want to be saying over and over. Rounds, a string of pearls I think it's is a better one. I've seen lots of people debating over this whole story and narrative thing. And the way I tend to think of it is because narrative has has a meaning that if you think about the political Carina, all the stuff we see on the news, I think it's very clear what a narrative is, you know, in, we are genuinely talking about a much broader story, I think you can compress that to something a company would use. And then I just tend to think of it as something like, it's not a story. But it's using story structure. So if you if you're going to break down in detail what a story actually is, which it's very hard talk to as many people as I talked about storytelling, but I think it's, it's easy, it's hard to argue that a narrative fits the criteria for a story. But it should still fit the criteria for the story structure. So whatever sections or parts need to be in a story, you probably going to find those same things in a narrative. But it might not fit to the traditional definition of a story. So to me, that makes sense. I think that I do. I think most people will get narrative more easily than they'll get story. Strangely enough.
MM Michael Margolis 11:04 Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, we could spend the next hour just talking about story versus narrative, I guess the the point that I would sort of add to what you just shared, is stories have a beginning, middle, and an end narratives do not have a beginning or an end. And that's, I think, one of the most important distinctions right now, because we're, we're increasingly living in a world that is more nonlinear, right? Is this the end of the beginning? Or the beginning of the end? Where are we? Where are we on this journey?
Francisco Mahfuz 11:33 depends who you ask these days. Where are
MM Michael Margolis 11:36 we it's all relative, it's all subjective. And that goes to the crux of our political climate, our economic climate, the journey of an organisation. And so like the need to come up with a core concept and enduring theme and then help people to locate and orient themselves towards it, where there's then room for people's individual stories, their perceived lived experience, but there's also something overarching, that brings us together. So that's, that's, I think, what's really most critical, and if I can to go back to your original question around innovation and disruption. So you know, we work with some of the biggest technology companies in the world who are bringing forward disruptive technologies that are that are redefining every category quadrant of life, Facebook, Shopify, Google, Uber, venture backed startups and the like, well, the act of disruption is, by definition, an act of defiance, you're actually redefining the boundaries of what people think is acceptable or possible. And that is the most boldest, most powerful, most taboo act imaginable. But in the process of disrupting, you are actually redefining the narrative. So that's why understanding these distinctions is so important. And also bringing a sense of, of compassion and empathy and ethic to what happens when you disrupt a new innovate. There's always unintended consequences. You know, there you know, all disruptive technologies have promising potential. And they also have unintended consequences. Second order and third level order effects take like self driving cars, self driving cars, has an incredible potential to remake our world, how cities operate, environmental efficacy and sustainability around, you know, because most self driving cars are electric, like there's all of these promises and these benefits, self driving cars also means we're going to disrupt the taxi industry, the trucking industry, millions and millions of jobs, self driving cars, it's not a matter of if but when people will die, right, they're still going to be accidents. And so how do you properly frame and contextualise for people, the journey of adoption of moving to a society that is more self driving cars, and the inevitable things that are going to go sideways in the process, but it's in service to something larger, unlocking greater benefits for the world and for people's lives? This happens in every category and quadrant imaginable. And we think the technology speaks for itself, the product speaks for itself. The data speaks for itself, it never does. We have to narrate the germ.
Francisco Mahfuz 14:23 And I think and again, this is a very compressed type of narrative. But if you just think of some of the technology companies that you mentioned, there's definitely going to be the issue of both their internal narratives, you know, what are they? What are they for in the world, and also how people see whatever perception we have of those companies narrative. So for example, I think this is a very strange, but perhaps telling case that both Facebook and Google had these sort of catchy internos slogans that turned out I think the narrative around those have changed dramatically because Facebook book for a very long time, their sort of motto was move fast and break things. I don't think I think the narrative around them has changed. They don't. That's really what they shouldn't be associated with anymore. And I think now, the narrative around that has moved from Oh, how cool they're disruptors to now they're breaking things. And then they're moving too fast. And they're breaking things. So Google's case was don't be evil, which they changed one day, they decided this is not a vote anymore, which is, you know, I'm not sure what that says about them. But I think that a lot of companies from from my understanding of this work in your work, a lot of companies, they need to figure out what their own narrative is. Because otherwise the people in the company, whatever sense of purpose they might have had, when those companies were disruptors, that's not going to sustain them once they reach a completely different stage in their, in their commercial and technological and societal development.
MM Michael Margolis 15:57 Yeah, so let's, let's talk about both of these because they're, they're great examples. And we do a lot of work inside both of these companies. So inside Facebook and meta, we've had the privilege of working with more than a dozen different product divisions since 2015. And you're right, they're their internal motto, one of their great call to arms was move fast and break things. After a few years, it turned to move fast and build stable infra right, which is kind of a nerd Deke sort of term build, build stable infrastructure right now very catchy, but you know, that's part of the maturation. Now, here's the thing, or take it to your point, Google's like, don't, you know, don't be evil. One of the challenges that companies face as they grow, is that values don't scale. This is a provocative notion. But there's something we've been spending a lot of time thinking about and working on understanding the difference between values versus principles. Can you elaborate on that? What do you mean, but values don't scale at a certain level of scale? The subjective state see the the thing with values values are values that have values connect to a moral code. This is what's right, this is what's wrong. So let's say your values are integrity, transparency, don't be evil, I promise you as you move into a greater order of magnitude of size and influence and impact on the world, there are people in institutions who are going to take great umbrage in issue. Actually, I don't agree, I think what we're doing here is evil, or I don't agree with this decision from management, it didn't feel like it had transparency, or I don't think we have integrity because of the choices we've made over here. So what's happening in our society, stories, historically, the way we're wired as human beings, stories are a vehicle for transmitting values. Now, what happens when we have worldviews and value systems colliding? What happens is we start to weaponize our stories, because we're weaponizing our values we're actually using against each other. And we've seen incredible employee activism over especially the last few years in the midst of COVID, where no matter what management does, people have grievances. And it's an impossible task of trying to make people happy. And I'm not again, trying to excuse or make a defence for the responsibilities for big companies and institutions of looking at their role, their impact, and the second, third level order effects on the world. And companies like Facebook and Google, there are massive unintended consequences and issues that are going on by the very nature of their technologies and how it's cascading around the world. And we should be talking about those things. So there's a difference, though, between a value like authenticity, integrity, versus a principle. So we have some first principles here at storied things like hold the possibility, we have another first principle here, which is structure your thinking. So instead of having six core values, as a company, we have a set of principles, those principles are ways of being and ways of doing ways of relating to each other. They're not an evaluative, right or wrong, like structuring your thinking, it becomes a way to to be on a journey together of examining how we can grow together, how we can learn together, hold the possibilities, a stance, right, which is a critical stance as a storyteller, and if you're helping other people with their story. So this distinction, we're so obsessed with what's wrong with what's broken with what needs to be fixed, instead of being able to celebrate what's right and what's possible? What's the promise and potential of tomorrow? How do we enable that and how do we remove the obstacles and the barriers to it? So this distinction between values and principles is a really important one, especially in the context of disruption. Does that make any sense? No,
Francisco Mahfuz 19:56 it does make sense that the one point that I would push back litre one is, I would argue that values is not as they don't scale is that the way that they're normally framed that express, they don't work. They don't work at the individual level. It's not that they don't scale. So if I say an engineer for just to give you an example, I did an off site with an American recruitment company three weeks ago. So I knew what I was going to happen. But I had them all in the room, I think it was like 26 people. And I said, Okay, so the boss who was there, you can't answer but everybody else, can you just tell me one of your six values. And I think it took a long time to get them to clearly gas, or one or two of the values. And I think it was like integrity or something that every company puts in their values. They had no idea what the values were. I said, Okay, let me tell you what the values are. Now, can I just can you just tell me what that means? And you ask three, four people, and they will all have different answers. So I think even something like Don't be evil, you will get very different answers from very different people. So when I say to them, okay, well, now, now we need to find an experience in your personal life, or in your professional life in this company or another company that you can match to that value. And then when you share it that way, people get what you mean when you say integrity or transparency, because otherwise it's, you say it, no one actually knows what it means. So I think, I think when Google was five people, they might not have agreed, but don't be evil actually meant. So that's my problem is that is, I think any value that is expressed as a words or as a generic description, it leads itself to, to confusion, and to misinterpretation, or multiple interpretations, at least, which is why I think that whatever the value any company says they have, you need to have a whole tonne of stories backing up either when that value was was respected or when it was not, because then people will know exactly what you
MM Michael Margolis 21:59 mean. 100% most values and companies are lost in abstraction. Think Brene Brown says not more than 10 or 15% of the companies that she goes and works with, um, have gone beyond just the laminate on the wall, but where there's a clear articulation of those values in action.
Francisco Mahfuz 22:17 Right. So I want to get us back to disruption and innovation stories. Can you talk about the sledgehammer or the ice cream,
MM Michael Margolis 22:23 I've spent my life building my identity and my reputation with being right with having the answers with being really smart. You know, I grew up in a household My father is a mad scientist and inventor, my mother's a teacher artists and toy designer, my dad can solve the unsolvable riddles, and my mother can take a spoon and come up with 100 creative things that we could build or or turn that spoon into. So I'm sort of the the mutant love child of these two forces. And the challenge with that, Francisco is that so being right all the time, and this is by the way, when if you're an innovator, a change maker or a disrupter, it usually comes from this place of really, wait, this is all we get. Oh, this could be so much better. What? Why is this why is this so broken? This sucks. This tastes like crap. Right? Most of us like we have a chip on our shoulder for much of my life. I did right. And I was just like, Oh, I'm going to show people what the better way. And so I went around with a sledgehammer, right, trying to knock down walls and help people see the light that there was a better way. The challenge with the sledgehammer is it comes with a lot of broken glass. So I've come to learn over time. There's the sledgehammer that's what's behind door number one, or door number two is the ice cream cone. Now with ice cream who doesn't love ice cream? Similarly, other than Francisco who doesn't love chocolate?
Francisco Mahfuz 23:53 How did you not go with chocolate on that one sledgehammer or chocolate? Like this is this is a greatest missed opportunity in your book.
MM Michael Margolis 24:01 possibly true. Next edition you
Francisco Mahfuz 24:03 have that amended to anyone who is not watching this on video, Miko is constantly eating chocolate so when you hear him chewing it he's eating chocolate is not having his lunch or something. It's chocolate is eating
MM Michael Margolis 24:19 Thank you Francisco is not having sort of my like semi audible chocolate gasm is over here. I'm like ah, and you're just sitting there going what is going on with the guy?
Francisco Mahfuz 24:28 I thought my points were just really lending. There's one final chocolate point I'm going to make no absolutely swear I'm going to let this go. Are you familiar with Tony choco lonely so that's that's a pretty interesting company that what they've done with their storytelling so for anyone who doesn't know this is they are from the Netherlands I believe. And they mean it's kind of shocking because the first time you see them it is this really thick bars. It's kind of very primal collars, big thick bars. But then you see anything they like any of their their advertisement or their marketing, and they talk about slavery free chocolate. And it just hits you straight in the face like what you mean slavery free chalk is an old chocolate slavery free and and the more you get into it, you realise that there is this, they have this massive social cause because apparently, a lot of chocolate has a I don't know if technically it's slave labour, but I think the mouse intents and purposes, it is essentially a slave labour. So, to have big, big bars of chocolate and storytelling, if you ever want those things, Tony chuckle only is your is your chocolate bar of choice.
MM Michael Margolis 25:35 There's another chapter to that, sorry, Francisco, forgive me since we've opened that can of worms. And I think it's a great great subtext to your audience and community here. So to your point, one of the challenges with the cacao supply chain has to do with actually a lot of child labour in terms of how it's grown and cultivated in the companies that are most guilty of this are the big, the big conglomerate, chocolate makers that really struggle with being able to verify and source their supply chains. Most craft chocolate makers by the definition of it being craft chocolate, most of them have slavery free supply chains. But here's the wrinkle, Tony choco Loney built their whole brand as being anti slavery chocolate, and about a year or two ago, big scandal and expos a they sourced their cacao beans, not directly, they sourced them through Calico. And Calico has a long reputation of not being able to verify that their supply chain is slavery free. So, you know, it's great example of a company that builds its whole identity around a certain frame or positioning in the moment what happens when that story proves to be false? And how do you manage the damage control around that. And you know, people don't buy the product, people buy the story that's attached to it, not just the story we're telling, but the story people are telling themself of what it means to them. So most people do not know about this little scandal about Tony choco loaning, and all they know is the label and the rapper that says anti slavery and it makes them feel good, you know, and then others would say, oh, you know, what, calibogue was just part of their early history, they've since cleaned up where they're getting their chocolate from. So we should just move on from this. And, you know, this is the inner subjective nature of story and narrative and in the 21st century. All right,
Francisco Mahfuz 27:24 so back to ice cream, trying very hard to give us a drag.
MM Michael Margolis 27:28 You're a good cat Wrangler. So I hope I'm not too much of a tiger by the tail today. But I hope we're on point in some way.
Francisco Mahfuz 27:34 See, this is my fault for for talking to the chocolate obsessed about chocolate. So you talked about how the sledgehammer to that the problem with that is a lot of broken glass. I think the way we can translate that into more simple language is that people don't like to be told that everything they believe is wrong, that their worldview is wrong, that they've been doing things wrong. And that the this super disruptive approach to a lot of people comes with that that handicap of Yeah, but you're gonna have to be confrontational with the people you're trying to win over. So the approach you found to be more effective was the ice cream. And what does that actually mean? When you stand in front of people?
MM Michael Margolis 28:17 Well, let's anchor this notion of, of the sledge hammer in the ice cream cone to your brain on story, understanding the neurobiology of story. And anybody who's really wants to geek out on this look up Dr. Paul Zak, he was a guest on the show. Fantastic. Check out the episode with Paul but he's one of the fathers of neuro behavioural economics. He's got some great big TED talks on the subject. He's done some of the deepest brain fMRI studies of your brain on story. And he's identified there are three biochemical hormones that are activated. When we take in a story, cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin understanding these three biochemical hormones in their the way we're wired as human beings, and then how those three biochemical hormones are being activated and triggered in the 21st century. Digital Age is critical to everything. So one cortisol, cortisol is the stress hormone fight, flight or freeze. Cortisol is how we identify friend versus foe. Cortisol is threat identification. Now, mind you, we're living in an age and a time of cortisol overload. Going through COVID. Managing our social media feeds the infinite inbox of emails, cortisol, cortisol, cortisol, we don't know who to trust and what to believe we're naturally on the defensive. Now, in the midst of all of that what we're desperately seeking, is dopamine. Those are the payoffs, right? That's that endorphin rush of Yes, of winning of success of instant gratification, by the way, social media or critical discourse of social media like your Facebook feed your Instagram feed your tick tock feed or your email inbox is just a cortisol dopamine drip. It's like Las Vegas one arm bandits. We just keep pulling the arm. We're like big money, no Whammy, no Whammy, big money, right? We're looking for dopamine, dopamine, dopamine, we're trying to avoid cortisol but the cortisol is also kind of stimulating. So that's the rush. Like no, not interested. Oh, wait, this offends me. Oh, wait, great. Oh, wow, that was a great payoff. I'm so excited to see these baby photos of my of my nephew or, Oh, my new friend just just moved though to another place like all that discovery, serendipity, dopamine, and cortisol. Okay, now there's a third hormone in the mix. And this is the most important of the hormones in my opinion, oxytocin. Oxytocin is nicknamed the belonging molecule. It's literally that which binds us to each other. It's what happens when we discover we are more similar than different. Oxytocin is also what's produced in the body. When parents have a newborn child when you first fall in love, right? It's it's the bonding mechanism. So cortisol, fight flight, freeze, stress hormone, dopamine, instant gratification, pay off oxytocin belonging molecule. So most of our society is oriented towards cortisol and dopamine. And both of those things we need to understand and play to. But what we are at most greatest deficit of in our lives is oxytocin. So a lot of what we talk about in look at, when we talk about that what's called the feel good principle. And in the book, the sledgehammer puts us into a cortisol state, the ice cream cone is dopamine. And oxytocin. By the way, chocolate, the most amazing thing about chocolate at a biochemical level, is that it activates not only the dopamine receptors of the brain, in terms of pleasure centres, it activates oxytocin. So this is why people turn to chocolate as a self care ritual, right? Or romantic pneus of chocolate, because literally, it binds and Bond's us together. Okay, so I know that was a step step to the side for a moment. But that's a really critical component to understand. If you're selling disruption, innovation and change by definition, the moment you present the new story, people in the old story are likely to feel wrong, bad, judged, stupid or defensive. So instead of hitting them over the head with I'm right, and you're wrong, what can we offer them that speaks to the promise and the potential the thing that we all want? And then talk about what gets in the way, I can offer an example if you want, or tell me what you think,
Francisco Mahfuz 32:43 no, I want the example. But I just had this thought. And I don't know if this is very profound, or all I'm reaching. So what I thought was this, we human beings, we have a natural tendency to, to change the narrative as we go on in our lives. And if you're done any work, or storytelling, you tend to get even better at changing your own narratives and reinterpreting them. And the one thing that there's this question that I get asked gets asked all the time is like, if you could go back in time, what would you change? Or, you know, would you want not to have lived through this hardship? And people say, No, I wouldn't, because that's what made me who I am. And then what I just thought is your job, when you're telling a story of innovation disruption, is make the audience feel that whatever they're doing now, that is, might not be working as well as it could or is not going to keep working is that necessary step that's going to make make them who they are tomorrow, like if this wasn't happening now, tomorrow was impossible. So not saying you went, you went down with that didn't treat? That was just a mistake, you should just not have done that. What I'm saying is, this was a necessary step to get to this other thing. Does that make any sense?
MM Michael Margolis 34:04 Makes total sense? It's a it's a brilliant insight, Francisco and it's, it's helping people understand the causality sequence have we had to get here in order to be able to go there. This happens all the time with in Silicon Valley, it's called a phase shift. Right? So phase shifts is when you are moving into a new, a new stage of the company a change in strategy. One of the most common ones that we work with all the time is when a company is going from product to platform, and that is a paradigm shift. You literally have to instal a new operating system. Other common times this is happening is anytime you to x revenue, headcount or user base, you have to rebuild the plane while flying it, which means the story that got you to here isn't the story that gets you to next, which means the process that got you to here isn't the process that gets you to the next or the system that got you to here isn't the system that gets you to next. And so that's a really important piece you have to narrate. So when you go from product to platform, we recently were working with a series D funded startup, they have 100 million monthly active users. They're a technology platform really unique niche. They focus a lot on social change and activism. And they were struggling, though, because the story that got them to where they are now was starting to hit a ceiling in their growth. That story could not scaffold as they go from 100 million monthly active users to 1 billion monthly active users. And they had a single product or Legacy product, which is how they built their reputation. But it needed to not only continue to be optimised and reinterpreted they had won the right and the privilege, we got this figured out. Now we need to widen the aperture and solve for a wider range of use cases or what's called jobs to be done, that our users are coming to us for. So let's help them better navigate a wider range of needs that they have in their life that nobody else is serving. So for all the challenges for all the struggles for all the campaigning they did to get to where they are today. They didn't do anything wrong, they earned the right in the privilege to go build the next even though that next going from a product to a platform is a very speculative journey. It's filled with ambiguous problem spaces. It's more about the questions and the answers. So what we had to do was to help the CEO and the executive team get people to long for the see, you know that famous quote from from The Little Prince right from Antoine de Pirie, if I'm pronouncing it, right, like don't teach people how to chop wood and like, build that blog, it notes teach them too long for the vast and endless sea. It's like you got to capture people's imagination and curiosity. You've got to speak to our shared dreams and desires. That's what we mean by the feelgood principle and when you're selling disruption, or innovation, so let me give you an example. Back to Facebook, in 2015, we started working with the head of product of Facebook groups. So Facebook groups is the largest platform in the world for community building. And they got to it rather organically, because they were just part of Facebook. And as Facebook grew hundreds of millions to billions of users, Oh, great. There's this community function, people use the community function. And in 2015, they realise though, you know, we have this product over here called groups. It's kind of a red hair, stepchild amidst core app amongst all the other things that are happening on Facebook. But we're seeing some really interesting things happening, which is when people find a meaningful group, meaning it's it's a place where they're spending more than 30 minutes a week in that group, their lives are being changed for the better. And it was everything from moving to a new city to dealing with a really rare debilitating illness, to having just adopted a Labradoodle. It really unique breed like you name it, right? This idea that community building is now happening online. And that no matter the circumstances of your day to day life, you can go online and find other people like you, that is one of the greatest gifts of social media and of the last 1020 years, no matter the limitations of your circumstances, you go online and your world can get bigger. And so they they came to realise this. And as they started to do take a closer look at this, Facebook groups was solving for one of the issues that they were having at the time, which is people were starting to hesitate before posting on their newsfeed because of what they call context collapse. Right? When you share something on your news in the feed. It's seen by a wide range of your of the algorithm of your friends and family. And but something that might make sense for some of your work friends might not make sense or it might get lost in translation with your family from the small town that you grew up in. That might not make sense with you know, some other subset of your social graph. But when you join a group, there are shared intents, shared purpose and context. There are things that people will share in a Facebook group they would never share in their feed,
Francisco Mahfuz 39:33 I left that there was a kind of word of term context collapse. Well, if you go to your family reunion and you tell the same jokes you tell to your university friends, there might be a problem there. I love it how it instead seems such an easy concept to grasp and there's your head there's a super technical explanation with its own lingo to explain it. I'll give
MM Michael Margolis 39:59 you The simple example from this past week so in 2022, I've lost 27 pounds since January 1, i which is a pretty significant amount. I don't know how that translates into kilos But
Francisco Mahfuz 40:12 Robin I was waiting to the end of the show to mention that you see much much slimmer than the pictures I had seen the view and that the beard suits you. But you know well done since you brought it up. 27 pounds is big, even in spite of all the the chocolate.
MM Michael Margolis 40:26 I don't actually eat chocolate that often you just inspire me. But so here's the thing. So I've been taking though a medication called semaglutide. It's also goes by weego v ozempic. It's made by Nova Nordic, whatever the company Novo Nordisk are people know what I'm talking about. So, but it's, it's FDA approved for weight management, specifically, I've had insulin resistance my whole life. So even though I exercise even though I eat really well, I couldn't lose weight, my metabolism was frozen. So I discovered this medicine, I started taking it, it's FDA approved, it creates miraculous results. So here's the thing, I'm in Facebook groups for people who take we go V and ozempic. And the things that people will share on a daily basis about let's just say gastrointestinal issues and the things coming out of your body or like the latest biohacking data, right. There's a code of my h w CWGW. Right, S W like those stands for like highest weight, starting weight, current weight, goal weight, and people share this data all the time we cheer each other on. Now, if I was sharing those things on my main Facebook feed, people would just be like, Oh my god, they'd be cringing stop, TMI too much information. I don't want to hear that. Because context is subjective, right. And that's a really important thing for us to keep in mind. Again, not just the story we're telling, but what's the story, others are going to tell themselves as they take it in? How is it of relevance and of shared interests to them? Which ladders back up to all the things that we've been talking about?
Francisco Mahfuz 42:01 So your framework? And you know, we're not gonna have the time to do it justice. But but the the simple, I think the line you use in the book is you call it, see it, feel it, believe it, and then you give different terms for that. But essentially, is, you know, the first part is you need to have people see, this future you are you're trying to bring about, then you need to bring the emotion in. And the last part is, is evidence, give them evidence that this is possible, or this is going to be a good thing. So I want to I want to talk about the feelings part because because my my challenge sometimes with narrative, or corporate narrative, I should say, in an interview, and we're looking through some of the of the examples in the bonus material in the book, My My challenge is that I'm looking at this stuff, and most of it is corporate speak, my concern as I'm looking at these things, and we think, okay, fine, it makes complete sense to me as a structure, I can see how people would easily follow that. But how do you get the language and this and that and the things you need from an actual story, to trigger all the good stuff that a story triggers? So how do you? How do you make that happen with a narrative that is bigger that doesn't have a beginning? And an answer doesn't necessarily have the payoff that a normal story would have? Or should have. So how do you make that happen?
MM Michael Margolis 43:32 Great question. Here's where we've built our specialty and sort of reputation is we're working with executive leadership teams and senior leadership teams inside these companies. And here's what's going on in the last 24 months, especially everyone has a new strategy, that strategy is complex, it's hard to understand, and it has huge implications or what is asking people to do. Number two, everybody has new staffing, most teams 2030, if not 50% of overall headcount of either the organisation or of the leadership team was not in that organisation 24 months ago, and number three is new structures. So with COVID, we went into many companies went into remote work from home, you know, distributed by design, and they're all of these new ways of working, new tools, new systems, new reporting cadences. So what does that mean? It means that things have changed so fast. People do not know what is the like, what story they're in anymore. There's no shared narrative. So where we come in is we're translating the big picture strategy into something that has coherence that has clarity that creates alignment and shared understanding that reinforces a sense of purpose of this is the value The proposition in the business case for what we're building and creating, this is why this work matters more than ever before. And this is how we're going to go and achieve the next. Now the reality of that work Francisco, that work does not fit on a bumper sticker, that work is not a 32nd advertising slogan, write that work our written narratives, one page narratives, five page narratives we do then turn them into at times videos of different leaders who are then sharing their commentary on it. We also build the presentations for all hands, and town halls. And we create other artefacts that are simply translating what is oftentimes a strategy that is buzzwords without the meaning without, like actual translation into something that makes people go, Oh, I get it now. Oh, this is the future we're building, right? Like OKRs KPIs don't actually tell a story. Right, they're a measurement of something else, you got to give people the larger context of that big picture, help people get emotionally invested, and then provide the rationale that supports how you get there. So the nature of our work, unfortunately, Francisco is, is it's conceptual, and abstract. So when someone looks at a narrative that we build, unless you are in the organisational language system of that company, or of that culture, there's 1000 things that's going to be lost in context in syntax. And it's by design. Because if you want to show that you belong to a specific culture, if you want to be able to influence how people think, and how they feel and how they behave, you need to speak their language, you need to meet them where they're at. And in the process, like graphed into the existing organisational language system to help unlock what is the new language that are just a couple of degrees, adjustments that help to go from a product to a platform, right? Like that's, it's really, it's really subtle exercises and rhetoric, right from little shifts that change the way that people like, think and behave and see what they're doing.
Francisco Mahfuz 47:22 So what you're saying is, in your experience, corporate speak, the problem is not necessarily corporate speak, is generic corporate speak, as long as the corporate speak feels, as this is how we speak here. Even if it doesn't sound like any human being would ever speak unless they worked in this organisation, then that, that's fine. I simplify that too much.
MM Michael Margolis 47:49 I think it's a fair statement. But let me put it to you this way. Have you ever travelled to a country where you do not speak the language much less can read the road signs? Yes. A few times. Yes. Right. And how did that feel? Not great, bewildering, overwhelming vulnerable. The reality is when most people join a big company, they're entering a country where they don't speak the language and oftentimes can't read the road signs. And this is true at all levels, including new leaders who come in, you know, as a company is growing in its stages, and they're bringing in more experienced mature leadership, they're coming in, and they're like, What do all these acronyms mean and stand for? Right? It's like alphabet soup. So there's an element of this, which is I'll put it to you this way. My number one career advice I give to people learn the language of the world, you want to be a part of when you become fluent in that language, you belong in that world. And that applies to a job interview. It also applies to the executive boardroom, it applies to any sales conversation. So we're having this conversation right now and to your listeners. For some of you. I might sound like a madman, and you're like, Who is this guy from California? He's so obsessed about his chocolate. And he's like, buzzword bullshit. Bingo. I still don't understand anything that he said. That's okay. Others might be listening and going, Oh, my gosh, wow, you're talking about first principles, you're talking about bending the curve. You're talking about, like really like these issues of ambiguous problem spaces and how you go from Horizon one, which is all about incremental move the metrics to horizon to speculative big bets. Well, me sharing that in 60 seconds with an executive inside a Silicon Valley Tech company, they go, Oh, my God, thank you for understanding my world. You speak my language, you might be able to actually help me with what we're trying to do. So it's language, everything is language.
Francisco Mahfuz 49:45 I get that and in when was draw their conversation, there are terms you mentioned that don't mean anything to me, but I can tell that they mean something to the people you normally work with. I think so I fully get that. There are some times the expression you drop here or there that makes people go out, they know us that this person actually knows us that I get completely where I don't necessarily get this. I think my natural storytelling instinct is, storytelling is the language that everybody understands. We are wired for it. So if something has the shape of a story, it will trigger the right things in our brains, and we're more likely to pay attention to remember, and to be inspired by it in identifying that that works better, with doesn't need to be plain language, and you can definitely have the terms that means something to your specific audience. My concern is how some people I always call stole a story in business stories, or real life example that makes a point, a story or a narrative. A lot of people have lost the ability to use examples to use real life examples. You're talking to them. And it's all abstraction abstractions. Second, say, Okay, fine. I think I get it, can you give me an example? So I can make sure in the struggle, and I was like, Well, shouldn't you have examples coming out of your ears? Like, shouldn't you have dozens of these examples if you work with this stuff every day? And I think they do, but it brain is not trained anymore, to collect them and be able to produce them, you know, at will. And my concern with my concern, not having done the work and really immersed in this in the old world, is, is that I've always tried to pull people away from corporate speak. And I'm like, Just can you just talk like a normal person? Can you just talk like, you will talk to your friends, they will understand you better they know, drop the terms, I will say dropped the term, you need to draw up to save yourself a three line explanation. But for the rest talk like a normal person. So by my instinct is always, you know, can can we can you say that as you would to a friend over dinner, afraid it doesn't work in your company, in a lot of people have lost that language they lost. They cannot talk business, particularly their own business with their normal language. It's a really strange thing. So I think that's where the language, I think that's become a problem. Because, yes, it's great that people from Facebook know you work at Facebook, and you know all their lingo. But when you're just trying to communicate something simple, where a story will come in really well, if you can't get out of that type of language, then often the stories is not going to work, because you're automatically going to go to abstractions. I don't mind the terms, the abstractions or the problem. Like if you're gonna be very concrete and say, I was working with our PDR. And he told me it we're talking about the the KPIs, and this is what happened. That's fine. It's a crap storm. That's fine.
MM Michael Margolis 52:50 I completely hear the point that you're making Francisco and you're absolutely right, in the so two things. One is like a couple points that come to mind. One is, and I love this quote from Lisa Krohn, which is storytelling is about going from generics to specifics. And the more specific the story, the more universal the message. So great, great validity to that. And in mind you this is my my bias. And it's both my gift and my curse. I specialise in abstraction, right, which is why I focus on the meta narrative. I have other members of our team. For instance, our Managing Director here at storeyed, is a cultural anthropologist and an ethnographer. By training, she specialises in the micro stories, she's all about the bottoms up individual stories and in looking at the language at that micro level. So what I would just say is, is I don't think it's about an either or my bias because I'm in the business of innovation and disruption, innovation and disruption is unlocked at the level of abstraction and conceptual, right, I'll put it to you this way. When someone asks for an example, what you're asking for is data. Data is a story of the past disruption as a story of the future. So oftentimes, if you're building something that lacks precedent, you're going to be far far, you're gonna experience far greater struggle with having all of the examples, you ultimately need some examples to scaffold, to the promise to the possibility to the springboard as you're selling the future. Right? But my My gift is selling the future. Selling the future is all about widening the aperture helping people to look at things to a fresh or new perspective, and doing it at the greatest level of abstraction or complexity. When you're solving for instance, at the billion person scale. There is not a single user story or example that is going to speak and cover your bases for all of the edge cases of a billion people on that product or platform. So you know, Facebook groups is about this rupture of belonging in the digital age, right? What is the structure of belonging, understanding that that is the core of Facebook. It's why for all of their continued challenges, and whatever complicated relationship status you as a listener may be having with Facebook right now, those of you who are still on it, it's because of the payoffs, that you get a feeling connected to not only friends and family, but different communities in your life. So it was helping the company connect to that this is the core engine at the core of our company, and that narrative around community building influence the change in the company's mission and strategy to community building for five plus years, it influenced a change in the company's number one KPI to MSI, meaningful social interaction. Now, does that is that a perfect is that a perfect example like that part of the challenge that happens when you're doing innovation and disruption is people want these really simple, little like, wrap it up in a pretty little bow, we can all go home and everybody lived happily ever after. That's not how life works, especially if you're in the business of innovation and disruption. So I appreciate the point that you're making. Definitely, I would say I'll put it to you this way. 90% of most practitioners in the world or fields of storytelling, are focused on story. A story is an individual event or experience that has a beginning, middle or end narrated in first person. And let's let's move from abstraction to just the direct embodied experience, testify on that experience humanise your story, and it's really important work. It's a critical part of, you know, one company we worked with. The narrative was about software as leverage. That meant a lot to this organisation. But the personal story was one of those executives talking about the company's mission is about democratising entrepreneurship. And he told the story of his mother, as a single mother, recently divorced, struggling to pay the bills and how being an entrepreneur was how their family stayed out of poverty, and were able to succeed as a single mother and like create the life that led to this executives, you know, continued success, right. And he did it very poignant personal terms. So our personal stories really matter. I personally am most interested in these overarching narratives. Why? Because these narratives are what control our lives Francisco, these narratives is what's controlling, for instance, the political discourse in our country in America right now. It's not the stories, it's the narratives. Narrative is literally what defines the boundaries of what rules and governs what is right, what is wrong, what is possible, what is acceptable.
Francisco Mahfuz 57:50 I don't know how much how much science there is into narrative, because I think most of the science is into our listeners, ones, I've seen it in storytelling, because the part I don't know, you might have seen that research already is you need human contact and connection to really care about pretty much anything. And I what I'm trying to get my head I'm trying to put together is okay, so there, you know, when you have the bigger narrative, where is that human connection that makes you care? And I don't know, if everybody is just making those connections themselves, as they are experiencing the narrative, as we do with the political with the political narratives, for example, or if, you know, once you have the scaffold of the bigger narrative, you have, you need a tonne of those personal stories to create those connections.
MM Michael Margolis 58:43 Absolutely. We talk about people have to see it, and they have to feel it in order to believe it. The decision data feel it is all about personal stories. It's all about first person testimony.
Francisco Mahfuz 58:54 Well, fair enough. That That makes no sense. Okay, perfect. After I've kept you for for longer than then I said I would. So just before I let you off to eat chocolate and conquer the world. I just wanted to ask, so I talked about storytime Max, which is your that's your latest book. So starting to max, which can be found anywhere books are found. But if people want to see more of your stuff, where do you want to go? LinkedIn, get story.com? What's the best place?
MM Michael Margolis 59:20 Yeah. So there's a lot that we're in the process of recalibrating. So you can actually now go to storeyed inc.com. Actually, this is our first public announcement to the world about it. A little soft launch that happened quietly over the weekend. Follow me on LinkedIn, Michael Margolis storeyed. We are launching in middle of July, a new weekly newsletter for leaders in tech change and hypergrowth called the narrative. So if you want to go deeper into understanding, narrative thinking narrative strategy, the distinction between narrative and story and how to leverage both. That's a free newsletter that we're launching in just a few weeks Next, we also have our first new online course in eight years that launches this fall on narrative influence. So stay tuned, I'm back motherfuckers I've been quiet for a long time, my nose to the grindstone, you know, doing the super geeky stuff and just excited to share more of it engage in, in dialogue and discourse with you, Francisco and so many others. And the times that we're living in right now, the stuff that we're talking about matters more than ever. And lastly, I'll just say the reason why I'm so proud of the importance of our work with Facebook since 2015, which I know is very controversial and challenging for a lot of people. What what that company has done with that product has done is democratised storytelling, the fundamental idea or notion that everybody has a story, the kinds of stories that you're talking about Francisco, that everybody has a story, and everybody has a story worth telling, that has become in 15 years, considered a universal human rights, it has completely replaced the planet. It's completely rebalancing the balance of power, and how the world works. That's a messy process, The Good, the Bad, and the ugly of it. We're in that wash right now, I'm concerned just as much as everybody else about a lot of that disruption. But Pandora is out of the box. And this idea that we all have a story. Now the question becomes what do we do with that? How do we learn to use that power responsibly, as opposed to the ways that we tend to weaponize our stories and weaponize our narratives. And it's not just companies or political movements that weaponize their stories, but we're doing it as individuals every single day on social media and the way that we attack each other, and learning a more responsible and thoughtful way of owning our power. And it doesn't have to come at the cost or detriment of others, I think is the promise and the potential that we all can see and feel right now that we're all kind of just grasping at, you know, my hope is to offer some small, humble contribution to that, and all of the amazing work that you and other leaders and organisations out there are trying to create in the world. So thank you again, for doing what you do Francisco for being a pioneer on the leading edge and mapping all of these different worlds of story. In many ways. These are explorations in philosophy, in discourse and worldview, on looking at the world in better understanding ourselves and each other. Yeah, mad respect. I'm grateful and excited to be episode 101. Can't wait to see you continue to build this incredible show and make a dent in the world.
Francisco Mahfuz 1:02:42 After that in very passionate speech. All I can say is, thank you very much for your time. This has been absolutely fantastic. And to everyone else. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.
Francisco Mahfuz 1:03:03 I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find this show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tab. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com