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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E106. Why Leaders Need More Stories and Less Data with Karen Eber



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:05

Welcome to the Storypowers podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. I guess today is Karen Eva, Karen's an author, international consultant and keynote speaker that specialises in leadership and storytelling. Her TED talk on storytelling has been seen almost 2 million times. And her book, the perfect story will be published by HarperCollins next year. In many ways, Karen and I are very much like each other, but not exactly the same. We both like Bonnie versus music, but she loves the Airborne Toxic event. And I definitely don't, I have green eyes, but only one of her eyes is green. We both talk about the science of storytelling. But she was actually smart enough to turn that into a hugely successful TED talk. And I wasn't, Oh, well, at least I get compliments on the colour of both of my eyes on a regular basis. So I guess everyone is a winner. Ladies and gentlemen, Karen Eber. Karen, welcome to the show.


Karen Eber 1:09

I'm delighted to be here. I'm sorry, my shock about Airborne Toxic event. It's first I'm always happy when people know who they are. But then when I hear someone isn't a fan, it's it's a little crushing.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:22

Well, I you know, I to be honest, I wasn't I wasn't particularly aware of them. I heard you mention them in a in a different podcasts. So I went and looked them up. And I listened some stuff, some stuff. I've always liked some stuff, not so much. And then I read up on them a little bit. And I found out that they're very far from unanimous band. So I don't think this comes as a massive shock to hear that, that I'm not a huge fan.


Karen Eber 1:50

Well, I'll tell you what I like about them is that their lead singer is an author. And he does a lot of creative writing. And their song that took off is called sometime around midnight. And it's really the story about how he had a love and lost the love. And this is night where he sees her in a bar at midnight. And so part of what is so compelling about their their songs is that it's just this music, you know, poetry set to music. So it's always about story. So one of the things that I was quite curious to find out from you, after you know, I was doing my research, I watched the talk and read up on a whole bunch of stuff. And one of the things one of the first things that came into my mind was when you were putting together your your TED talk, how did you choose the stories for it? Because I think that the story you tell closer to the end about the about the data and about the person who I think he was the mother of someone who had had some some difficulties. That story made complete sense to me. The first story I was hearing, it was like, I really don't know where she's going with this. Let's see how she learns in any obsolete lens. But what made you choose, I think it's gonna be worth mentioning what the story is. And what did you do? Why did you choose that one to start? You're talking storytelling.


A bit of background, I love you ask this. I didn't start there. When I had the opportunity to give the talk. As a storyteller, I started to think about what are the stories that I've told that have really resonated with people. And there's one or two that people always ask for. And I thought, I'm going to tell those that's, that's, you know, my greatest hits. That's what I'm gonna do. And the talk wasn't working. And I couldn't understand why I just kept trying to force it. And it wasn't until I stepped back and thought, Well, why don't you work your storytelling process, and really thought about the audience, that I made the shift because I was struggling a little bit in the audience that I gave the talk in front of was a group of university students. But the big portion of the audience that would see the talk would be business professionals. And I was trying to figure out how do I tell a story that works for both. And I was talking to a friend about this one story, I kept trying to cram in there. And she said, You have to kill it. Like I know you love that story. And it's a good story, but you have to kill it. And the moment she said that it gave me permission to let go of this story because it's not the story I want to tell. It's the story the audience needs to hear. And I had this experience and I'll share the story about this woman Maria, who is getting into the elevator at work and she's going to press the button her phone falls out of her hands, and it bounces on the floor. She lunges for it just when you think she's gonna grab it. It goes right down the opening between the elevator and the floor right down the shaft and she's screaming like no, just like you would see in slow motion. The phone is gone. It falls three stories to the basement and it is a iPhone. She has an Apple Watch and she can text. She can test it and see that it's so working amazingly. So she goes to the


front desk and she asked the guard Ray for help. And he's just delighted to see her because he's in the front of the building every morning and every morning, hundreds of people walk past and maybe give the the polite wave but they don't stop to talk to him except Maria knows your birthday, and your last vacation and your favourite meal. And it's not that she's this nosy person, it's just that she really cares about people being seen. She really cares about connecting with people and celebrating who they are. And so when Ray sees her walk up, he's smiling until she tells him what happened. And his smile just goes away. Because he realises this is going to be expensive, it's going to be about $500, because they have to shut down all of the elevators in the building column of service call go down. It's a very involved process. And he tells her this, that it's going to be quite expensive. She asked him just go ahead and get a quote, if it's under $250 Do it if it's more than call me and let me know. Because it's not just her phone, it's a wallet. It's her driver's licence, a credit card, her badge like it's everything. And a few minutes later, he calls her and says, I actually looked at the certificate in the elevator, it's due for inspection next month, I can call it in now, as a part of the inspection, they will get your phone back, we won't charge you anything. So the same day this happened because this was actually a true event that happened in my office. I was reading an article in The New York Times about what Ben adjure who is the CEO of Charles Schwab. And he describes this really pivotal moment in his career as a leader. And when he learned what was important to him as a leader, how he was in his last exam at university straight A's walking into that business fine while expecting to Asa gets in there, the professor hands out a sheet of paper and tells everyone to turn it over. When they do it is completely blank. They're all looking around confused. And the professor says, I have taught you everything there is to know about business except this one thing, what is the name of the person that cleans this room.


And he failed it he saw her. He probably even smiled at her. But he never introduced himself. He never talked to her and didn't know her name. And he learned that her name was Dottie. And that moment left such an impression on him that he vowed for the rest of his career, he was always going to know all of the bodies in his life. When both Walter and Maria, understand this power of helping people feel seen as leaders, they understand how compelling it is when you make someone not only feel seen but understood. So that was the opening story I chose because it works for university students, it works for business students, and helps land this concept of leadership and how you're helping people feel seen in a way that's so much more compelling than if I just listed off all the facts of it. We all have phones, they're important in our lives, the thought of a phone dropping down and potentially losing it and having to replace it. In addition to driver's licence, credit cards, like it creates that feeling of fact, in the front row, someone said, Oh, no in the talk, which you can hear very briefly on the video, because it's a very relatable thing. And so, to me, it was such a great way to illustrate how much work stories can do for us in informing, influencing and inspiring, which is where a lot of my work is in helping people use storytelling in business. So what was the story that you were trying to cram in there that wasn't working? You don't need to tell me the whole story. But what what what is what was roughly the story about and the point of it, because now I'm now I'm curious to figure out what what you were trying to do and why you didn't it didn't actually work. One story that I use, so I, before I opened my own company, I was ahead of culture and a chief learning officer at General Electric, and I was responsible for the culture for 90,000 employees in 150 countries. And culture isn't what the CEO says on stage. It's what each person internalises and thinks that they want to do how they want to act each day. So if you want to shave culture, you have to find a way to touch each person and allow for them to have that reflection and set intentions, which is really hard to do. And I started using storytelling. The business I was in was going through significant changes. And I told this story about make waffles not spaghetti. And the idea is that the employee that is going through all of these changes all of this stress like any person today, their brain is like a jumbled plate of spaghetti, a jumbled mess of noodles where you know you can't really get just one noodle there's a whole bunch of them and when you're trying to eat them, they slap you in the chair and then it's just this jumbled mess. It isn't organised because employees get overwhelmed and trying to figure out the path forward is really hard and the role of a leader in helping


Francisco Mahfuz 10:00

Employees navigate changes figuring out that path forward. And so in a workshop, I told leaders, I want you to picture a plate of waffles, where it's row after row of these nicely organised squares, and you can put as much butter syrup or whatever you want. And then, and you can focus on one, the all the others are there, but you don't have to pay attention to them all at once. It's focusing on what's most important in that moment. Your job as a leader is to make waffles for your employees, not spaghetti. How can you come in each day and see where can you focus people on what they want? So that's the abridged version. But it always resonated with people and they loved it. And I thought, oh, work that in. And it just wasn't the right story. And I'm so glad that I'm so glad that it didn't make it in. Yeah, I guess that the I think not having heard the story. So maybe I'm judging it more harshly than perhaps needed to be judged. I think my first instinct is that, to me sounds more like, like a story you share in a workshop, a story you share with leaders that are already in that issue, then a story where you can very easily make a clear connection between, you know, real life in this lesson that is connected to the thing I want to talk about. And, you know, from from when I talk, identifying that, you know, I have a lot of those stories in there and stories that are, they're referred specific companies, because, you know, I'm trying to show that other companies actually do it this way. Other companies use storytelling. So identifying that that's not where you want an analogy, type of story. That's where you want. Okay, so this is the story of some other company doing this. But if I'm trying to make a broader point about about storytelling, then identifying that the story that has nothing to do with storytelling, or with culture or with whatever it works in, so I talk about coaching as well. And there's one story that I always put in the talk, any storytelling talk I do really, which is about something that happened to my wife last year where essentially she she got shafted by her boss, leaving her job. She gave her notice they asked to talk to her. The boss gave her a real hard time like said some pretty outrageous stuff to her, like, you know, how dare you think our other company is going to be better than us. After we allowed you to work from home during the lockdown. We didn't fire you and you got pregnant, stuff like that. So she signed the papers they put in front of her because she wanted didn't want to be there any, any second, and they they took two weeks of her salary away, because she hadn't given her notice, supposedly. But she had she did it over the phone. So she didn't have anything in writing. And they got away with it. So I usually I share a stat about, about people leaving their jobs and being taken advantage over their employers. And I say to people, no, I'm gonna ruin your day. Now I'm gonna share the stat and nobody looks particularly upset. I was like, Okay, well, that didn't work. Then I showed my wife story. And then I said, well, listen, how are you feeling right now? And I'm really angry, what's the name of the company I'm gonna go in, then I use that to make the point about how we care about we shouldn't but we care about one person more than we care about 1000s of people.


Karen Eber 13:14

But yeah, but I find identifying that, like I've got, you know, obviously, I've got stories about the power of stories. And I tend to find that those don't tend to work as well. Unless it's a very specific context. So So now I get your friend, your friend to grow solid. Kill your darlings. Yeah. Yeah, it wasn't it wasn't working for sure is definitely more of a workshop example. But I do think that the, the stories that are also feel good or connect to people as humans and how they're treated people respond to so well. I also do a lot of work with storytelling with data, just like you describe. And the goal was storytelling with data isn't to talk about the data or the numbers is to talk about the people behind it, the individuals and the connection to it, because once you connect to it, you see those things you can't unsee and it makes those numbers be far more meaningful. So in your experience with data storytelling, do you find that because I've seen different approaches to that some people like to use a story that humanises the data. Okay, so let me pick one data point that is actually also known as a human being and share a story that lets you see and care about this person. Some people talk about the story of the data. So how did you come up? How did you come about this? How did you found found out about the problem? So do you do you always tend to prefer one approach over the other is there are what other approaches do you think are also useful?


Yeah, I there's multiple because any story whether it's data or a story, in general is not a story. For story's sake. It's because you want some desired outcome for your audience. You want them to know


think, feel or do something. So in storytelling with data, I have different situations and I help people work through why is there an opportunity to tell the story? What is it that you want people to do? Is this just an update? Is this where there's a decision or a discussion needed? Is there some type of action? You start there? Because that helps inform what you're trying to do? Then you start to look at the data to see well, what is the interesting piece of it? Is it that there's a really big scale here where we want to tell the story of one person and then zoom out to the scale of it? Or is it that there's an outlier in the data? There's something that's unexpected that we want to explore more? Or is it just that we haven't talked about it in a while, and we want to come in and look at it. And so it's, I don't believe there's any one approach that works in every situation it's really working through what is it that you're trying to achieve. And then once you get clear on that, and what your audience already knows and things about it, then you can work through what the right story is to connect them to it. Most often, what happens I find that when I work with companies is people come in with 50 pages of data that have you know, 12, point font and 75 pieces of data on one slide, they put it up and they say, I'm not going to talk to this, and eyes glaze over. And no one really knows what to do with it. And so part of it is, whomever has worked with the data is the closest to it. And your responsibility is to then communicate that with others, and communicate it in a way that people can follow. The tendency is, I have to give you all the data, but more data is more. So it's really what are the critical pieces to discuss and understand and then put the rest in the appendix. And you can look at that, or it's a pre read or something. But when you're getting to the point of inaction, you have to guide where that goes. And what I love about storytelling with data is it brings everyone to the same common spot. Because


if I say, you know, 35% of people sent in their performance reviews on time, and we asked a roomful of people, why do you think that is you would get because they're lazy, because they don't believe in it, this system was down, there were no communication. There's many different reasons why. And what happens when we see data in our heads is we each have those reasons, we each have our own interpretation of it. And we don't know that they're different from the people around us. So when we then start to talk about it without any level setting or context, we're approaching it from so many different spots. And when you tell the story with data, you're bringing everyone to the same common place for a starting point of a conversation. Everyone doesn't have to agree with that place. But you're able to start and have a more constructive conversation than when you're debating and not realising you're approaching it from different angles. Yeah, I think I've heard you talk about how one of the problems of data in general, but also things like employee surveys, is that people tend to question the data. If the data shows something that they don't think is right, or they don't want it to be right, then there is this tendency of going well, how was this collated? How many people have answered this questionnaire? Well, you know, what, whatever the questions asked exactly. Where I guess that one thing that is almost always true about about storytelling, is when you share a story, assuming people have no reason to believe that you're lying. And I think usually they don't, they will take that data point to be true. Now, that doesn't mean that that is the truth for every other data point, or is the only data point that they should consider, but at least you can start with something that is not typically up for debate. And that flushes out the issue in a way that they just a numbers might not just have it otherwise, it's everybody's coming from a different perspective. And then you how do you have a conversation, if everybody's working with a different set of information, just because it's coming out of their own heads? I think also, if you are finding that you are having these debates about data, so I've had a couple of different clients get survey or feedback data from clients. And the immediate reaction is they don't know what they're talking about, like this is that they don't know they have no idea what they need, what they want, they don't know. And then they do focus groups, or they do an interview. And they're in front of the person asking questions connecting to a human that gets the colour around the data. And all of a sudden, they're like, that's brilliant. We didn't see it that way we didn't know. And so if you find that you are questioning the data, you are questioning the people behind it or the validity. It's that you haven't connected with it, because we do make decisions through emotions. And so part of what we have to do in this world of making data informed decisions is connect people to the data and storytelling as a way to do that through many different methods depending on what you want to do. Yeah, something I've something I've started saying. Not that long.


Francisco Mahfuz 20:00

Go actually was along the lines of that, if you don't have the data, you don't know. But if you don't have the stories, you don't care, or at least people think you don't care, because they are, they are much more compelling evidence that that you actually know what's going on with individuals in your team with your culture. And in the data, even if it is accurate, even if it is representative.


When it's not some, it's not something that ever is going to make anybody feel heard and understood. And it's, it's just not that convincing. If you're trying to use that with leadership, would you go up there and say, Oh, 70% of our employees feel disengaged.


I mean, he might not be a nice number to look at. But it's very different say, here is 77 stories from this department of there, the experience they're having right now with whatever, and one that they are not happy with. Here's some we selected for you. But you have a there's another 75 year, if you want to look have a look at them, I think that becomes a lot harder to deny that there is an issue, if you're looking at that other than just looking at at a percentage


Karen Eber 21:21

that expressing us. It's so it sums it up perfectly. I always point people to what charities do because charities are trying to solve problems at scale, and take like the Red Cross, anytime there's a natural disaster, they don't start with the number hundreds of 1000s impacted, they start with the story of a family of person, whatever. So you understand what's really happened to their home, their lives, their ability to just do basic things like get food. And then when you understand that they zoom out to scale and charities do this right, they're reliant on getting funding from us to be able to do what they need to do. And to do that we need to care and to care, we need to understand the problems in a different way. And so they are masters of how they are connecting you really to data. It's just you don't realise that's what's happening is you're being told stories of individuals, and then they zoom out and show that impact. One question now that you mentioned charity one, I don't know if it's a conundrum or a paradox


that I've discussed with other people. And I don't think there is a clear answer to this. But but there is research, which I think is fairly well known in storytelling circles, about, you know, the one about Rokia, you know, the little girl in Mali. And you know, they were essentially they said to people, they gave people the data about children that are hungry in Mali, and ask for donations, and then they try just the story of this one little girl called Rokia and then they tried the story in the data. In just the story does better when it comes to donations than any of the other variations in I don't think there is data, backing up that type of research for other issues that are not charity. But But if there were any are there Do you know any research that backs up that that doesn't apply to other things? Yeah, there's a similar piece of research something it's charity, and I'm sure you know it. It's from Dr. Paul Zak, where he his lab did the story did the brief film of the young boy with cancer. So first group sees the young boy who's lost his hair to chemo. And his father goes on camera and says that he's trying really hard to be present for the remainder of his son's life. And then you see him at the zoo doesn't group gets just this father and son and the son doesn't have hair, but you don't hear anything about it. And so those that saw the first one, not only have the stronger reactions, the oxytocin spikes, but they actually donated their participation fee voluntarily. And then the same with the other. So it's, I think, in the same flavour, but it all comes down to the neural chemicals and what we're responding to, which is what we both love to talk about, right? Storytelling isn't this fluffy thing. It is how you are intentionally engaging the brain to communicate and create meaning for people. What I find challenging is that knowing what I think we know about the science of it, but but unnecessarily having broader non charity related research to to,


Francisco Mahfuz 24:23

to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. The research or the research suggests that you shouldn't even talking about the data, you should just talk about the story, but that doesn't make any real sense in in a corporate environment. And I do wish that there was research to back up what I think is the more sensible approach and I believe you too, which is sure use the historys to humanise the data probably start with the story in then Okay listen, let's let's look at this as like there's like a broader perspective. Because if the if the charity research got shown that the dynamic works


Karen Eber 25:00

exactly the same way outside of the charity domain. Those will be very strange meetings and presentations we're going to have when we're not taking into account the data, or I should say, it's not that we don't take into account, we're not quoting it. In a sense, we would have to just position as this is an example of the problem that exists in a broader scale. But I'm not going to talk to you about it. Because if I talk in a broader scale, you stop caring. So let's just talk about this. But in fairness, I do think there's leeway I'm once you connect people to the emotions through a story, you can share data, the problem most people get into is they share way too much data. And when you focus first on what are you trying to help people do with the data, it's often 123 pieces that are needed for that, and maybe there's some supplemental, but people tend to have so much data that it creates confusion. I think that anecdotal research is what we saw happen through Apple, when Steve Jobs was leading, he did those presentations that everyone loved, there was data in it, you just didn't realise because he would tell the very compelling story that would have the very simple images and slick slides, and he would take you through it. And there would just be these things peppered in. But you didn't realise because you were just in love with this device that you're gonna go stand in line and get. So it it's this interesting thing I find in business where I continually come up against people that say, I can't tell stories, I have to use data. And then when I tried to show them, it's both people are still convinced it's either or, and it's not. There's an and there for sure. It's probably not all story, but it's more story than people think. And it's not all data, it's less data than people think we you talked about the science and how we know that story is not as fluffy thing. One thing I don't really know the answer for is, is how much sharing the the science behind storytelling. I mean, I of course, that gives us credibility. And I think anyone that does work for in storytelling in the corporate world, we will share some of the science, it's very rare that that I've never I don't think I've seen a keynote from anyone that doesn't have a little bit of the science in there just to prove that it's not a fluffy thing. But what I'm not convinced of is that the science makes people want to be storytellers. I think there is an element of okay, I've ticked that you've ticked that box for me, you've proved that this is not nonsense. But I have seen people agree about how powerful it is talking about the science or not. But then they don't go and tell stories. So think, I don't know if to an extent we still we know we have to talk about the science because it's powerful and all of that. But I don't know if there isn't an element of us. overvaluing how much people understanding that story is not a fluffy thing, actually war. So this is my jam. We're right in the centre of where I love to play. Because I think that it's not enough to talk about the science, it's what do you then do with the science and that's where my book is focused, but not in a sciency way. Because as soon as you start saying neuroscience, some people freak out. But we're I've had a lot of success with your engineer, your auditor, your logical thinker that doesn't feel like there's a place for storytelling is where I expand on the science. And I talk about what I call are the five factory settings of the brain. And they build on different things that are going to naturally happen and how your brain responds to information versus stories, and how you then can use them and plan for them and stories. And so it is almost teaching the sceptics, here's how you hack storytelling, because you can work through these things and get a story and get us a narrative or structure that's going to be engaging more the brain than just a communication. And that's where I've had the light bulbs go off of it's not just let's talk about neural coupling, and let's talk about


you know, even decision making, it's getting to here is what happens when you are doing and planning for these things. And so I love that approach for exactly what you said, because anytime I'm approached for a keynote, this happened just the other day, someone said, Well, how are you going to relate what we do to business? Like, how are you going to relate storytelling to business? I'm like, I'm not writing novels, I to have sat on the other side of the desk having to persuade employees or leaders or been in organisations where very few people could say yes, and very many people could say no, and this is how are you sharing information in a way that connects with people that is going to be more compelling. And I find that actually leaning into the science but not just here's the science but here's what you then do with the science when you're planning a story.


his weight seems to bridge that, like, okay, I get it too. Okay, I can try this. This makes sense. There's something here for me to do. I had a question I wanted to ask about something you just said, which is to do with not necessarily the science as a way to get credibility for storytelling, or to show how powerful it can be. But how much that influenced you as a storyteller, because I have the feeling I'm not this is not based on solid information. But I would guess you're already telling stories, and you're probably pretty good at it before, a lot of the science came out because a lot of the science is fairly recent. And I'm saying this from the and I'm asking this on the basis that I understand the science, I think I'm fairly caught up, caught up in the science. But I'm not 100% sure that knowing the science has influenced dramatically, the way I tell stories, and I know other people that work in the story world, they are very heavy on the science. And when I've seen them do kind of workshop type of things in there talking about the science constantly. I'm always, I'm always missing the practical step, which is, well, it's great talking about how you need to, you know how you're going to generate oxytocin, by by by telling a story. But what are the words that should come out of the person's mouth that actually will do that, or the dopamine or whatever you're focusing on just saying, generate some dopamine by increasing the tension in your story? Great. How? So? How has it affected you when it comes to the stories you tell? Well, first I I echo your sentiments when I hear that I do judge enrollment is hard every time I see people so tell the story like that's not helpful at all? At all. We know it but what people don't know is where do I find an idea for a story? How do I tell a compelling story? How do I do this? I judge as well on just to tell the story that gives oxytocin like, no one knows when they're oxytocin is spiking, although there are very cool ways to measure that now, which is amazing in the science of it. And so I have tried to focus on what do you do that implements and activates those things? I have a background in psychology. And so when I studied you are correct. The the science that we understand now has been past 1520 years. And really, even the past 10 years, there's been amazing leaps and bounds. So when I studied it was about human connection and interaction. And so there were things that I understood of by doing this, this is what happens, but I didn't necessarily understand it stand why, as I've understood the science, it's helped me in how I explain it to others. Part of my approach is I've internalised this. And so I don't necessarily follow the same exact steps away, I explain it to someone that's trying to do it for the first time, because I've figured out what works for me, but I'm trying to give them an approach they can take so they can figure out what works for them. But I definitely do think about have I pulled enough of the right levers, because so I mentioned Dr. Paul Zak big fan of him. He's such a supporter of the storytelling community. And it's really I think, changed where storytelling is going because his lab can actually measure your oxytocin spikes through wearable devices on your arm. So his platform measures whatever you want to test commercials, Ted Talks, different things. And you can actually see a leader can see is my message engaging in immersing the brains of people? Or am I boring them, you can start to see they can measure? Are we having psychological safety, and in a non invasive way, it's all through your wearable device. And so learning things like that, and starting to experiment with how do I then make tweaks to my story, to get it to be more immersive, is things that I've played with and tried to figure out how to pass on to others. That said, there's an art to storytelling, it's not all methodical Check, check, check, check, and then you're good. But I do think that those checks get you further along with you can play with some of those other things. I find for my own storytime, I'm continually experimenting with it. I'm playing with my voice. I'm trying to figure out how I do it differently. What I can do that's compelling, because it's very easy to get stuck in a rut. And I'm a fan of comedians, I am constantly studying movies and looking at different things that are story in the world to try to get ideas from them. Yeah, I suppose Zack, I couldn't agree more. He's a delightful human being. I had him on the show quite a while back before not that the show is huge or anything. But before I had, you know, 100 plus episodes to backup what I was doing, and I remember, as soon as we finished the recording, I said, you know, and we're done. And he said, wow, you're such a professional like, what? I recorded this in my girls room. How am I such a professional and then he he had some really kind words to say about some of the stuff I had done. And it was probably the first time that I thought oh,


Uh, actually, maybe, maybe this is not such a ramshackle operation No. And it's genuine like, that's who he is. But I also love that, you know, he himself is an amazing storyteller. So one of the things I did for my book is I wanted to not just share my perspective on storytelling, I wanted to show there's so many ways to do this. So each chapter ends with a different interview of a storyteller a little vignette 500 words, to show you the variety. So Paul, Dr. Zach is one of them as a neuroscientist, and I've got


television correspondent, Pixar, Creative Director, Sundance founder, moth, executive producer, and people that do this in many different ways. And it was so fun going behind the scenes with him and learning about his process and how he actually uses science to test his stories and see how it's going. So he himself is an amazing storyteller. And also just such a kind, generous person with the storytelling community. He's always supporting and sharing ideas. And I encourage anyone he's an easy follow to, to see different ideas and where some of the places in the field is going. Well, it's not for nothing that his nickname is Dr. Leung. It's true. Yeah.


No, but now that you say what you've done in your book, it sounds like you need to get that get to that book, or at least have the list of the people that you have interviewed to see who am I missing? And who have I gotten to read and who am I missing? I have a feeling math. Matthew LUN is one of the people that you've got them there. See then again, so Matthew, Matthew lon, or Loon is it not the Pixar guy? No, no, I went to people I went to people No, no, this is a former creative director who worked on Finding Nemo Monsters Inc. So he went to people that you would either recognise their their role or their name so many people know them often. And Sarah often Jeunesse or mannerism or roadie who is the TED Radio Hour podcast host. I also found in the US, the University of Minnesota Medical School teaches storytelling to their physicians, and they have these stories, slams, and they do things to create community to lower the rate of suicide with their physicians and to teach them how to connect better with patients. And so there's a physician in there. There's a wonderful man, Evan Skolnick, who writes stories for video games, which the stories come after the games are built, like it was just fascinating. I have a museum director from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which had one of the greatest art thefts in the past 30 years. And so it was fun taking people that just have to tell stories in so many different ways in so many different contexts. And then seeing what was similar what was different one, that's just a delight. I'm such a fan as drew Dudley who has the, the TED podcasts on everyday leadership, and his approach. And he talked about listening to the radio and listening to baseball announcers describe the atmosphere in the park and the game and how he learned storytelling just from watching sports and having to be online car trips and tell stories to his family. And so it really was, I love doing what you're doing, right getting the chance to talk to people about how they approach this, because it's just so cool. The other thing as well is I am delighted to know that this is a storytelling book that I will probably enjoy reading more than many of the storytelling books that seem to be out there. Because not because people are not good writers or good storytellers, because they often are. But because there is this, I'm not sure if it's a tendency, but but a lot of people who have written storytelling books, typically people that are not necessarily what No, haven't sold it to HarperCollins, you have three or four chapters that are exactly the same in every single storytelling book, because everybody feels compelled to talk about the science and there isn't necessarily 100 different ways you can go about it. So it's all great. And I've used some of it before. But I've actually like in my talk, I've made a point of not talking about Prozac, not talking about, about neural coupling, and not talking about the significant objects experiment, because I just, I mean, it's all great. And it's amazing evidence, but I just couldn't deal with it anymore. I was like, no, let me find some harder stuff, or my own NGO, because, because I've read it so many times now. So many, you could almost cut and paste. And that was my goal to have. I didn't want it to be this copy and paste, which is really where the five factory settings came from. It was if I look across the neuroscience in the way our brain compare, you know, just response to communication. How do I package this in a way that is going to be different and compelling? So I tried very hard to make it different because there are a million storytelling books out there. So what I find does not work.


in businesses that there's a lot of books that hold up the the hero's journey as a model. And I find that is not really the best thing for business leaders, they will get stuck in the model trying to figure out how they work their story into it, and they lose their place and who's the guide on the side. And it gets so overwhelming and frustrating that they abandon it. Or I also don't believe that there's four stories you have to tell. I had a leader, you know, the beginning of COVID, come to me a multinational company. They were office culture, and for the first time everyone's at home. And by the third week, he came to me and he said, I know I need to reach out every week and send communications to the employees. But I don't know what to say. Because the origin story that we're going story and why we can stay here, like none of that was relevant. And so I understand the intent of both right, the intent is so good of let's give you a model. But there's other models, there's so many, any model can work. It's whatever works for you, right? It's whatever you can organise. But my goal is I want to teach people to be able to figure out how they can tell a story for the to the right story for that audience. And the reason the book is called the perfect story comes from the last line of my TED talk, because people think I can't tell a story. I don't I don't have a good story. I don't have a perfect story. No one does. You take your stories, and you make them perfect. And that's the approach that I'm trying to help people do is like you can do this, there's more than four stories to tell. You can tell any story for any situation, when you work the process to make sure you're checking the boxes of what you want to get out of it. There was one of the one of the first books about storytelling that I read, when I started my own sort of storytelling professional journey was one that is a very popular one that has four. So yeah, we're not going to talk. Yeah, yeah. It's particularly because because the author has still not come to my podcast. So I hold a very, very heavy grudge. But I remember I had to pose myth on the show. And he had the best seller on storytelling quite a while back. And he has this I think it's a great book called the 10 stories. Every leader should tell or something like that. It's like a super quick read. It's like he said it was it was literally bought as an airport reads like, can you write a book that will lead? And I was looking through them? And I said, Well, how many story types do you know? Because you've you've This is like the third or fourth book you write. And it's like, I haven't really counted them in a while. But I think I got up to like 180.


I was surprised to find categories for that many stories, that you can make it up for anything. Yeah. But I think that what what is unfortunate when people hear like, here are the four stories you have to tell we do this in sales, we do this in different things. And the intent is, let me help you get unstuck and find a place to start, which is good. But that story isn't going to fit in every context. So what I am trying to do is help people figure out what is the context, what is the outcome you're trying to get to, and then figure out the story to get there. And then there's so many ways to do that. And so I get frustrated when people come and think like, oh, but there's this really popular book and they said this is the model and we have to do is like, no, there's there's so many models, there's so many ways there's so many stories. If you're getting boxed in to the point where it's stopping you from telling your story, then you need to take a different approach. Not that I don't have story types I have, I have some that some people find useful. But what I tend to use with most people is it just comes out of my I think it's my definition, I don't think I've ever heard someone phrase it the exact exact way. But I say to people, outside of business, storytelling can be many things. But in business storytelling, something very basic. Because a story is a real life example that makes a point, that's it is something that happened to somebody somewhere, some time you're using it to make your point. So whatever you want to talk about, Has it ever happened to anybody? Has it happened to you? And it happened? So a colleague of yours has it happened in another company? Can you share that example? Before you, you know, drown us in data, and statistics and whatever? Because if you're doing that, that is storytelling. That's it. So you mentioned earlier that someone asks you how are you going to connect this to business? And to me this question can only be asked by someone who has this highfalutin fictionalised Hero's Journey type of idea of what a story actually is. Because, you know, anything interesting happening in your office last week? Oh, yes, John did this. There's a story might not be a good one, but it's probably a story. The other one that just is so funny to me is when people will say I can't talk about emotions and senses in business and I'm like, you think you're not emotional?


In business like frustrated, tired, exasperated, annoyed, elated, celebrated, there's were a mood of people, there are colours all around your office, there's the random paperclip on the floor of the conference room. There's the sound that the photocopier mates like that this happens every day yet, we think like, oh, I can't talk about that. No, you're absolutely shouldn't talk about that. Because that's what's going to get people to pay attention. And so we just had these misconceptions of not only the the models and what it could be, but that there's a certain persona we have to have in business, and we can't do those things. And that is an unfortunate mindset, because we are emotional at work. Emotional doesn't mean that you're laying on the floor kicking and screaming and sobbing. Again, it's another confusion, right? Where they think that being, like, talking about emotions, is being emotional. Or as I like to think, you know, just just because you're talking about emotions, that doesn't mean you need to go emo on your audience, right, you can just say, I was just really frustrated, and I was trying, then it was just wasn't working. That's like, that's a you're displaying emotion, that doesn't mean you need to go, Oh, if what if I cannot do this, my professional life is now over. And then you start crying. Like this is not how people talk and communicate. But it shouldn't come across as if it has no bearing on your life. And it doesn't matter in any way. Because at the end of the day, if it matters is almost in the vast majority of cases, because of how it's going to make you feel most of us are not in life or death situations where the consequences by themselves are tragic. But the problem is that we don't we don't like when things don't work, he makes us frustrated makes work harder, people get stressed. So you know, their emotions, their feelings, they're not drama, drama is a very different thing. So not to mention, we know that teams that are able to foster psychological safety are tend to be higher performing. So it's not that they're 100% comfortable that they're practising this trust around each other. And that gets to emotions, being able to be vulnerable and constructively challenge someone or talk about a mistake and lessons learned and not feel like you're going to be blamed, like mistakes, have emotions, all of this has emotions. And the more that we can start to verbalise that it, it makes a difference. You know, I saw a CEO in an all hands meeting land on me employees in a way that they didn't like. So he was in a room full of people, and that was broadcast globally. At the same time, layoffs were going on, and in the room, the vibe was okay. But there was some laughter there was you know, he was trying to create this positive energy, but people in the simulcast who have just heard about layoffs, so watch the CEO laughing and they're mad, they feel like it's completely inconsiderate. What is he doing? Philip, ah, the message boards inside the company. And within two hours, he read them and he realised his mistake. And so he got a camera. And he went on camera, and he apologised, and he owned it. And he was vulnerable. And he said, You know, I mess up. I was insensitive, I'm sorry, any hold it. And like that the messages on the message boards completely changed. Because they appreciated, he expressed emotions, he expressed that he made a mistake. And it made such a shift. And so the more we're willing to be able to include some of these things, the more dynamic conversations are going to be, but also the more memorable, the more informative, and the more people are going to take action on them. When it comes to coach her. What do you find? I mean, either from the work you used to do before, when you were working directly with culture and the work you do now, how do you find are some of the interesting ways to use storytelling with culture other than asking people for their stories, so you actually know what's going on? And they feel valued and heard and understood. What have you found that does work? When it comes to storytelling? There are so many things it is really endless, because storyteller, so Stanford did research on how you shape culture. And what they said is using stories, having rituals, like performance management is a ritual


heroes, so telling stories about the heroes in the organisation, and then shared values, which are, you know, common habits, things in that make you feel like the company, they have the greatest impact on culture. And so, when a leader tells a story about a mistake they made, they're sending a signal to the rest of the team that this is okay, and let's talk about this. A story is going to demonstrate what is encouraged or discouraged. A story is going to help show what great looks like so I'll often work with organisations on let's look at what do your best people leaders do? What does that look like? What are your best team


seems to and let's start telling some of those stories because then your person that's promoted to people leader can understand what great looks like and they can start to see what to aspire to. So in culture in an organisation will often build a communication plan all the way down of what types of things do we want to make sure that the senior leadership team is sharing stories about? How does that look across different stakeholders? And how are you intentional about creating this storytelling culture because it is doing so much work for you, I,


I played a concert in a


retirement home, I play the flute and in the middle of the concert, I look up and in the centre of this dining hall is this disco ball. And I was like, good for them. You can tell that these people who were there with walkers and oxygen and, and canes and different things were living their best life because they were in this room that was cared for. It was warm, but also it was fun. There was exercise equipment that looked like it had been used. The disco ball wasn't dusty. And it showed me that tells me more about this organisation than any of their values on the website in any of the things in a pamphlet. Because it's showing me the true experience of it. It's showing me that on a Saturday, they turn the lights down and they say this one is lady's choice, and they get up and probably swayed Glenn Miller or whatever song they want, and may love that. And so we all have disco balls on our teams, we all have these different things, and stories put that up there and help us understand and connect to it more meaningfully than values on the website, because they're showing that true day to day. And that day to day is where each employee is nonverbally deciding to stay or leave. Because when anything happens, and someone says I'm out, it's because of one of those moments. And the more stories you can tell, the more you can help connect people to what is important and help them feel like they belong.


There is that Jeff Bezos quote, which is your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And I I like to say that your culture are the stories your people share about you when you're not in the room. And if you don't know what those stories are, in your yeah, there's one question. Sorry about that. I was just say, there's one question I guide companies to ask, which is, how would your friends and family describe the culture here. And every time that people have asked that they get such rich insights, and it is spot on, because our families and our friends see us in these best moments in these worst moments, and that thing that makes us be so annoyed and I think that makes us feel celebrated, it is absolutely the heart of it. There is there is an exercise that I find very entertaining to do in workshops, which is when you know even if you have the boss in the room, the person who hired you, is you just ask them. Can everybody just tell me what your values are? Your company values are your team values are looked at a Boston goes like you can't participate for now. And then everybody gets very confused. They can never guess. And then sometimes you ask the boss and they go egos like, integrity is like no, that's not one of the ones you have up there on the website. And, and it's just, it's just one of those things that it just I think gets lost into corporate Gobble, gobble, Duke, I forgot to say that. But


Francisco Mahfuz 53:35

it's just a theory that has no real practical application. And then, you know, once it comes up against real human reality just goes up in smoke. I mean, there's the really cool research that I think Kendall haev now is shared on the lizard Crohn's book Wired for Story, where it's I think it was a researcher spent four years talking to 1000s of business executive audiences and asking them this question or imagine a one of your new employees has just gone through 20 hours of professional design training. And then as soon as they come out of the training, go to the to the office, another employee who they've never met before it comes up to them, and says, Listen, come over here. Let me just tell you a story about how things really work around here. And then she asked the executives, what do you think the new employee is going to believe the 20 hours of training, or the 10 minute story? And without exception, everyone says, well, they'll believe the story, of course. So I think it's one of those things where companies don't quite realise how easily their best laid plans can go to waste. If the culture that welcomes new vivo is not the one that they think it is. I also think you know, we always talk about a learning culture. Stories are the fastest way to develop people at scale and they are low cost and it's just a missed opportunity when you're not actively sharing them. Yeah, someone could certainly


Good argue that they are pretty old and proven technology learning technology.


The Metaverse, we still do, we still do still to be seen how useful that is for teaching people stories, I have a bit of a track record.


Right. So just one one final question. And this is kind of loose in the other in the other topics we talked about. But I've heard you say that, that you like the idea of a back pocket story, which I believe is, you know, a story you keep in your back pocket. But at the same time, you have said before, that you don't like the idea that there's only this specific set of stories to tell. So what would be the what would you advise people to have as a back pocket story? Does it vary from person to person? How does that work?


Karen Eber 55:51

So this idea came, because I am an introvert, that in social settings, my mind goes blank. So it's not that I don't like being around people, but I into introvert style, I'd like to be able to reflect and think and so I would go into networking events or dinners, you know, I would be at the business dinner. And my table would be silent, and nobody could think of what to say, and all the other tables in the restaurants would be laughing and you'd look at them and be like, Why can't I be at that table. And it just felt so awkward. And at one business dinner, this guy out of nowhere shares this story about moving a woodpile, and his home, he was getting ready to build a deck, he moves this wood pile, and he takes off a stack of wood, there's this raccoon staring him in the face. And he's completely surprised me backs up. And so he's telling the story, and he's acting it out. And all of a sudden this table, that was the introverts of introverts that were just dying at how painful The dinner was, came alive. I don't even think he finished the story because other people started chiming in, and it made everything happen. And I realised like he probably has used that story many times. That wasn't your this probably didn't just happen, but it shifted the energy. And so the back pocket story is if you are someone that social settings are uncomfortable or your mind is blank, or you're not sure what you want to say, it's a story that you can use, that doesn't necessarily have a point, it doesn't have a most wanted action other than break the eyes and make this a lot less uncomfortable. So it can be something that you just read, like I read how airbags were inspired by origami, because they have to be folded a certain way to be able to fit inside the steering wheel. And so it could be something random like that, it could be one of your personal experiences. It's just something that you can put out in a setting where it is awkward and uncomfortable. And you do not want to talk about the weather. So it doesn't have to have a point other than I'm just going to put this out there because I've seen people use stories like a raccoon in a woodpile, and a business setting and it changed everything.


I think it's probably worth mentioning that it's not a terrible idea if you're going to have a back pocket story to to run it by someone else just to make sure that your judgement is not impaired. And I say this thinking of myself, because the moment you said, you talked about the air bag. My mind just went to Dr. Kellogg, the guy who invented Kellogg's, you know, the breakfast cereal? And I don't know if you know this, and I'm sorry if you don't, but do you know why he invented Kellogg's, you know, the cereal? No, I don't think I do know, he, you apart from being kind of a scientist, he also worked into this thing was a sanatorium. And he was concerned about his parents, his parents, his his patients sexual urges. So he wanted to invent food that was bland, because he believed that that would diminish their urges. And and I heard that I was like, This is really weird. This can't be true. And then I went and researched it. And then you find that this was a big crusade in his life that like he didn't want people to have any of these types of desires in their life. And I'm like, I can never look at Tony the Tiger the same way again. So you know, maybe not, maybe there's no other pockets. But let's play this out. Let's play this out. So let's say we're at a conference and we walk up to each other. And I tell you this airbags you know, hi, nice to meet John Kerry and I am Francisco. I just read this really weird article about airbags. And then that triggers for you this and you tell me this story. All of a sudden, it is not awkward. We're laughing. We're having this really dynamic conversation. And over the course of the two or three days that we're at this conference, every time we see each other, I'm going to be pointing at you and you're going to be pointing at me and we're going to walk up to each other and talk no problem and we're probably going to connect and be able to talk after the event.


It doesn't matter what it is, it matters that it is something that you can have in the moment that that can work because my story triggered your story, your story is going to trigger another. So pick whatever is right for you. I vary it. I don't have the same one every time. But I do. As a pretty introverted introvert, I do make sure that I've got something because otherwise, I feel awkward sitting there. And I get the idea. 10 minutes after we all leave. So I'm a big fan of it because of what just happened. Same thing happens in real life. I think you're too kind. And I'm going to retire the catalogue in the catalogues, motivation story. Bring out another one not not that I normally the type of person who is shorter things say it's probably the opposite. I have to make an effort sometimes at dinner parties to just ask a whole bunch of stuff and shut up instead of just sharing all the stories that I want to share. But But no, I think it's I'll give you a new Kellogg story. So your story is triggered for me that the movie It's A Wonderful Life, which is many years old, that to make snow they painted cornflakes, white, and then that used to be what was snow in movies. And so it evolved from where it began into a movie prop for people. Fair enough. I think that's a much nicer and cuter twist to the Kellogg's


Francisco Mahfuz 1:01:24

one, the one I was just saying I went with but that's the actual reality I did. This is not my twisted mind are going to say that isn't mine was mine. In this particular case.


Karen, if people want to find out more about you, I mean, they can obviously look up your your TED Talk, which is in ted.com. Now, so if they look for Karen Eber, or for storytelling, they will find you there easily enough. Where else you want to send people to


Karen Eber 1:01:51

my websites the best place it's my name ke r e n e r.com. I have a whole bunch of stories in there and bring food and information about the book and and different resources for anyone interested in learning more. And when is the book coming out next fall? Is it written already? Are you still suffering through it? No, it's done. No, no, it's been done for a while publishing is really long. It's been done about four months. So that's pretty good. Unfortunately, a bit of time to go very fast for I don't want to say


Francisco Mahfuz 1:02:25

high enough. All right. Well, I'm glad we finally we got over technical difficulties, health issues and all sorts of other problems that we finally done this. Thank you very much for your time. This was this was great. Thank you. It was such a joy. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.


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 the show. Then 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 storypowers.com







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Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors. Francisco Mahfuz 0:05 Welcome to The Storypowers Podcast, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and wh

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