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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E113. The Stories Tech Companies Should Tell with Rob Willis

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

Francisco Mahfuz  0:00

Welcome to the Storypowers podcast, the show about the power of stories that we have to tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Rob witness. Rob is a communication skills trainer in scaling tech companies on a mission to stop meetings that could have been emails. His approach has been developed through delivering over 3000 presentations to more than 100,000 people, as well as working with hundreds of participants at organisations like HelloFresh, raising and bubble. So far, so normal for the type of guests I have in here. But there's more to rob than meets the eye. His original career plan was to become a music producer, which got him to spend a month living in a penthouse in LA with a German rapper made him part of an electro pop boy band in during that whole time. He was working as a tourism guide to pay the bills. After all of that is coming on this show a high or a low point in his professional life. I guess we're about to find out. Ladies and gentleman, Rob Willis. Rob, welcome to the show.

Rob Willis  1:07

Hi, Francis Galton. I see this as the climax of everything I've been working towards the pinnacle.

Francisco Mahfuz  1:13

Yes, yes. Let's let's start with those lofty expectations that cannot, that cannot set us up for failure in any way, shape, or form. And then should we start by doing something that I think you you like a lot, which is this style of communications, trainer, storytelling, coach, destroy the tech industry? Should we use the power of our arguments to silence some people about all the wrong things that they're doing? I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, Francisco. Okay. So you do a lot of work with startups, particularly in the in the tech sector. So what are the typical communication problems that using you encounter, when you're working with their end product, I'm particularly interested in the ones that you think can be solved by something like storytelling, okay.

Rob Willis  2:10

I think the root problem, because the kind of companies that I'm working with, they're generally beyond the startup phase. So they're already a few 100 People that growing and people become really specialised. And I always think about this, like, you can't really compare a data analyst to a influence a marketer. And these people are very different kinds of people, they speak in very different kinds of ways. Yet, they need to work together, they need to align, they need to do things. And when they go into giving a presentation, and meeting or anything like that, I always find that they struggle to adapt the way that they communicate to each other, and they end up speaking in their own jargons. One will be highly technical one will be more kind of marketing way. And that means that it's really, really hard to understand each other. That means leads to loads of clarifying questions. Usually, nothing happens apart from just booking another meeting. So everyone's completely overwhelmed with meetings and clarifying questions. However, if they just used a story, or an example, whichever word you want to use for it could have cleared up all of that doubt early in one go. I mean, that's certainly one thing that I found storytelling is really good for, it's just being able to put everyone on the same page when it comes to talking about a particular issue. So you're

Francisco Mahfuz  3:27

not sure if it's assertion is the right word, it might be about the communication problems are? I mean, it sounds sounds very similar to the communication problems that we see in pretty much any corporation, isn't it? I mean, if the tech I can imagine, because I don't have a tonne of experience working with the tech industry. So I can imagine the tech tech industry gives itself more to jargon than perhaps some other industries. But is it? Is it particularly worse, or is it may be that type of people that work in tech, are already starting the behind when it comes to their communication skills. It depends who you're talking about in the tech industry. But one thing I think, which makes a bigger problem for them is by the nature of tech, they need to move a lot faster, and they need to get things done a lot quicker, because the whole industry just moves so quickly. And most of the niches that these companies operate in a really winner takes all so they need to be ahead of everyone else, and they need to make decisions quicker than everyone else. You're quite right though. I think all companies struggle with this jargon, which is particular to whatever industry that they're in. And Tech has very particular bits of jargon, of course, but I think that the reason that it's so important to bring these communication skills into these companies is simply that they need to move really quickly, without spending

Rob Willis  5:00

A million hours on extra meetings and clarifying questions and so on. I think we've talked about, you know, I have talked about this, for sure you have seen, you've talked about this in your content. But there is always this objection from pretty much everyone. But I think in the corporate world, this is more common than in other parts of the professional world, against, I guess, not just better language and clearer language, but but storytelling in particular. So it's kind of this weird paradox where, at the same time, it's a buzzword, and it's something that's kind of hot, but it still gets horrendous resistance inside most organisations. Now, in theory, people in the tech world are younger, they are hip with some stuff that old folk, like we are not, or should be less so. So do you find that when it's when it's attack organisation for a particular one that is fairly young? Are they any less resistance to storytelling than the usual people we come across in the business world? I think they I think everyone is resistant to storytelling. And I think, kind of for the same reasons, I don't think generation has much to do with it. Because of the cultural expectations around how we should be communicating at work. You're quite right. It's a buzzword, it's hot. And I get people saying, Yeah, we need to do workshops on storytelling, storytelling is really important. But then you try and get someone in the company is like, have you told the story? Like, no, no, no. And my boss just wants the facts, or our product is highly technical, or our customers don't have time to listen to stories. Because we think of storytelling as a form of entertainment, like a nice to have, and I think somehow different to truth, like, you've got facts. And we've got truth, like facts and truth on one side, and storytelling is somehow different to it. And in a way, that's right, you know, there is raw data. And then there is a story which you create, you find in that data as well, you have to come up with some kind of opinion about what the story is, which is going on in that way. And that means you need to let go of some of I mean, no mathematician would hate this. But some of the intricacies and complications and things that will let go, you need to find the predominant story. So you can actually get stuff done. So yeah, my message to all of those people who say, Oh, my boss just wants the fact. Yeah, they might, they might say that they just want the facts, because they might like to feel that they are a machine that can make 100% logical decisions. In all the actual fact what they need is a story, they need a narrative that will help them reach some sort of decision. And it is your job to find that I think of similar situation that I don't know if every person has in their in their home, but I believe I do, which is that my wife tells me she wants me to do certain things around the house, you know, she wants me to be tidy. She wants to not, you know, leave all my cardboard in a in a like, looking like a war zone. She says stuff like this all the time. But I know that if I do all of those things, then I'm taking away the moral superiority that she feels she has over me. And that would inevitably inevitably alter the balance of our relationship. So really, what I'm doing is giving her what she wants, not what she thinks she wants. And I mean, that's almost exactly the same thing you said, isn't it? Yeah. Yeah. Totally. I mean, it's very selfless of you, Francisco. Yeah.

Francisco Mahfuz  8:53

That's a very few words describe me any better than selfless?

Francisco Mahfuz  8:58

This is this is this is an interesting point, right? And this is something that I need to start making both myself in, I need to start telling people both, you know, in the podcast, and in every other opportunity I have the people that work with presentation skills, communication, storytelling, all of that. I think we have a mission in the world. We have many missions, but this is one for sure. Every time we go into a company, that we hear someone say something like, Well, my boss just wants the facts and whenever we need to make an effort to get that boss in the room and say, Listen, Joanne, and your team believes that they are.

Francisco Mahfuz  9:46

They are forbidden from finding a more engaging way to present anything that might take 30 seconds longer because you will not stand for it. You want the facts

Francisco Mahfuz  10:00

act and nothing but the facts, even if they're boring. Can we confirm that that's the case or not? And I think most bosses will probably say, No, I've just paid you to come here, teach these people how to do presentations, I've just paid you to come and deliver a workshop in storytelling. If all I wanted were the fact, why am I wasting my money with you? So there you go. Yeah, for sure. And I don't even think it's just about being engaging. I think it is about people having the courage to give an opinion.

Unknown Speaker  10:35

When you work in a company, and your job is not just to curate data, and then deliver it to someone else to work out what it means. Your job is to find what is going on and offer a recommendation, I think that people are very reluctant to give I'm using the word story, maybe not in the way that everyone thinks about it. But the narrative, people refrain from doing it because they feel intimidated, because it means that they have to stand for something, and they might be wrong about it. So rather than actually give like, this is what I think is going on, this is what I think should happen. Next, they'll start with a very small, detailed bit of data. I mean, pretty much every client has come to me and said, This is the problem, go into meeting, people start in a very tiny bit of data that no one has any context for no one knows really what it means. They present it, it sounds interesting, at the end of the meeting, they say cool, interesting, and then they go on to something else, and nothing has happened because of it. Whereas what they needed people to do was to say, this is what I think is going on, this is what we need to do next. It's a lot more risk. But it's actually what you're being paid to do in these companies is have an opinion. Yes, I think that I've expressed this opinion before. And I know of some people who listen to this and think not only that I'm crazy, but also that are dangerous genetic. But I believe that if you only have the data, and you don't have a story that goes with it, and by story, I just mean a real life example that makes a point, then, either you don't know as much about that subject as you think you do. Or you don't know enough in a way that you can make it relevant for people that are outside of your technical sphere, which are often the people that you're presenting to, or, and this is this is the least generous explanation. You just don't care about the people affected by the problem that you're describing. Because we think that like you explain something in theoretical terms, which is what you're doing when you're talking about data. But if you cannot give an example of how that affects a real human being, then either you only have half the understanding, or you're working on the basis that everybody can make that connection, which is not always the case, we and that's the main reason why when we explain something, people don't get it, and they say, I'm sorry, I'm not sure really good. Give me an example. The example is the distillation of what you're trying to say. It doesn't mean that a one example informs everything you're doing. But the example is how you sell it or how you explain it. And that's the thing. That's the part that people don't usually get. They think that the example or the story is one data point. And you don't do anything with one data point. But you do you explain the data with one data point that is representative of the rest? Yeah, I'm totally with you maybe think of a quote by Hans Rosling, who said that the world cannot be understood without statistics. But it cannot be understood also with only statistics. And you need to unpick those little stories, those things that come out in order to make things meaningful. In any kind of, I think, presentation of piece of communication, you've got an overarching narrative. And then you need to bring those individual data points, the stories in them to life, because almost every bit of every bit of data pretty much represents something that humans have interacted with, at some level. It doesn't matter if it's like app load times, that's going to affect a person in a particular moment. And when we lose sight of that and turn it into merely statistics, and you're quite right, people don't are unable to draw the connection between why this data point and why it's meaningful and why they actually need to do something about it. And the challenge in in tech in particular, is trying to make data points meaningful when you've got two distinct groups of people, what we can call technical people and business people.

Rob Willis  15:00

those two people need to see what's meaningful in each other's points. And stories are really the best way to bring that across fine. So what Let's put aside the, the ideal world

Francisco Mahfuz  15:12

of thinking, as we know, these are, where are their stories useful in the tech, you know, in a tech company, while they useful everywhere, you can use them in all phases? Okay? I don't even want to go into the argument of when there are some times where they just not what you should be doing. But I wanted to, to understand from your experience, where have you found not that they're useful? Because they could be used for pretty much, probably most most moments of communication. But where have you found that intersection between, they're useful here, in in, you can actually teach people to use them here. Because there are some things that we storytelling, like with many things, I could do it, or you could do it in many moments. But your average person that worked in the company, even if they really want to learn, that's not realistic to expect that they're going to be telling stories all the time. So where is that intersection in the in the tech companies that you've worked in?

Rob Willis  16:11

Yeah, I guess, gonna relate this to our favourite person to dispute Donald Miller and his building a story, story brand. And when you're talking to someone, you are not the hero, you are the guide. And the guide needs to show empathy and authority. And I think storytelling is most important when you're trying to show empathy and authority to the people who you're talking to. So empathy, what I mean by that is, when you're going into a presentation you're talking about, I've got this strategy, it's going to solve your problem, you need to show that you've understood that problem. So it might be, hey, we've got a new dashboard, or something which is going to automate a lot of the work. And you say, Look, I understand that at the moment, everything is being automated, me and my team, we were, we spent two weeks just trying to enter some data into this one particular dashboard. And that meant that we weren't able to do the kind of strategic work that I know is really important to you very quick little anecdote anecdote, which puts you on the same page says that this is something which you can relate to, you understand, build that connection with them. I think Sean Callahan calls and connection stories that is really, really powerful. And the other is authority, when you want to show that you have done something like this before, because one of the best kinds of credibility, I think you can show is that you have solved this problem in the past two years, I always say the past two years, because in tech, like if you say 15 years ago, then it's irrelevant nowadays. But I have solved this problem in the past two years. This is what the problem was, this is what we did. And this is how it turned out. I think this is relevant to what we're going through. So this is why I'm pitching it to you. So if you can find stories or examples, which shows how you can connect to your audience, which may be business related, may be personal, but just at least to show that connection in this particular moment, or stories, which can show that you have solved this problem at some point in the past, I think that will make any measure any project any strategy you're trying to implement, a lot easier to get across. I think it's worth measuring to anyone who's listening to this and wondering why the hell we would possibly say anything negative about Donald Miller and story brand. Our gripe with Don is not at all to do with his system, which I think is incredibly effective for for businesses to clarify what is it that they're trying to do in the world. And it's actually very effective for things like creating landing pages or creating a website. And I think mine is currently still following that model. But the first website I ever built as a speaker, I used their sort of model for for website, where storytelling people tend to have a bit of a problem with building a story brand is that well, not only it's not a book about storytelling at all, but it also doesn't, doesn't tell any stories. It's like a book about the power of stories. There's barely any stories in it. But again, it's not in a way he used No, no, he used the story structure to do something that has nothing to do with storytelling. And if you want to learn about real storytelling, that has nothing to do with websites, then or maybe even books, then building a story brand is not the book for you. And some people get that slightly confused. I'm still kind of disagreeing with you because what this made me think of is another episode of your podcast. I forget who it was, but they drew the distinction between a story and a narrative. And they said that the narrative it uses the story structure, but there's no beginning and end and what we often need to do is we need to find a narrative and what we're saying like either this has been happening and

Rob Willis  19:59

And I think we should do this, or this is our situation. And this is the project that I recommend to the narrative that we need to find. But you can bring parts of that narrative alive by telling stories, I am in full agreement that Donald Miller could have made his book even more readable, had he been able to introduce some stories about how a particular client or particular person or even he himself had been able to use one of these elements, the seven steps or whatever it is, in his own work to bring about a particular result, it would have been more effective that way, totally with you on that. But I don't think it's only for landing pages, I think you can construct most forms of communication Thinking in this way, they are the hero, I am the guide, it is up to me to show empathy and authority for them. I think the books done well enough, we don't need to do it, the better is he doesn't get what I think

Francisco Mahfuz  20:56

I think I want to make this whole thing about storebrand. I think it's, it has lots of uses. But where I think it becomes problematic for some people is that either they're confused what it's for. So you know, we can do a great post with that structure. You can, it's a good story structure to structure things that are not a story. Unless you're writing fiction. That's essentially what it is, is the same problem of the of the hero's journey. The Hero's Journey is amazing. But it explains stories. It's not any, it's a model for writing stories from scratch, it's not a model for picking a real thing that happened to you, and trying to fit into that into those things. Because then you become a fiction writer, and not what most people should be doing with storytelling. And it's, I think it was Michael Margolis, who you were talking about, who is the guy who I had the maps episode number 101. And he's, he's someone who's worked a tonne with tech companies, Facebook, and Google and all these people. And he works on narrative way more than he does with, with stories. I totally agree the these story elements will bring things to life, but you got to have a narrative, I think you need both really needs both a story, a an overarching narrative with stories that will bring that to life as well. So I have something on my list of stuff to cover, which is me having a go at you. But before I have a go at you. I want to I want to talk about, you had this really funny video about how it was kind of like a game show. And it was about tech leaders, and they had to describe their purpose without using the sentence save the world or saving the world. So that's something that, you know, I found that when it comes to values, when it comes to purpose, stories can be really powerful. Now, I think you're absolutely right. Tech companies have this, I think we can I don't know if you can call it a problem, but but they do tend to think that what they're doing is gonna disrupt the world and save it somehow. So once you get them out of that narrative, what is the narrative that you need to get them into? Well, I don't generally work with writing company missions or anything like that. However, I do come across all of these companies and they're doing things which if you were to describe it into sentences sound relatively mundane, yet there's this whole mission behind it. And that can be a little bit it when it when verges into cliche, it can be ridiculed very easily. But there are loads and loads of comedy sketches beyond just mine, about just that. But really, the story that they need to be telling to customers is perhaps more mundane, it's, this is how we came across a problem. And why we created what we do, I guess you could call it an origin story. Or these are the stories of the people who have we've helped testimonials, people who are unable to cook a healthy meal at home. So we were able to deliver a balanced ingredient list which helped them sit with their family at home enjoy a moment together. So I think these are these the stories which speak to me more than Hey, man with our moustache drawing app, we're going to see change the world and disrupt it. But maybe that also is a result, these large convoluted stories, maybe they're also a result of the kind of environment they have to work in. Many of these companies are funded pretty much entirely by VCs of venture capitalists who expect 100x return on their investment. And anything less than that doesn't really interest that because it's just simply not enough to make up for the rest of their portfolio. So you need to come to them saying this is the app which is going to change the world. This is what we can offer 200x The money that you're going to put into this. Maybe it's not just them, maybe it's partly that a result of the culture which they're working into, or it's the

Francisco Mahfuz  25:00

started, they sold themselves because they bought into the narrative of this is what a tech company supposed to do, or this is what a founder is supposed to do. And the idea that you will, you know, make a tonne of money and just have offer marginal but important and profitable improvements to some industry that you don't necessarily see as impactful in the world is difficult to stomach as the thing that drives you to work every day. Yeah, there's definitely a bit of a Messiah Complex with some CEOs. But I'm not sure how convincing that is to a lot of the staff who they employ. Maybe that also changes though, you know, there's the story of the few people in the startup in a garage in just outside San Francisco, they're going on a journey together, which is going to change the world. That story changes a lot when you then get into an office with multiple locations with specialised workforce, who expect some kind of salary at the end of the day, and expect to be able to make an honest living and bring their expertise. And you have to have a different story probably about your company, at different stages. It's a natural story at the beginning won't, won't work when you get to another, I think there are two different problems there. I think one you're completely right, the story from the beginning is not going to work later, I actually in my podcast with Michael Margolis, we covered that exact thing, I think I even posted something about it, which was what got you here is not going to get you further. So you have at some point, you have to change the story. But but sometimes I think that the Messiah Complex or or looking for something bigger, but I do my mind, the issue there is that founder, it has disconnected himself or herself from the original pain that got them into the business in the first place. Because almost certainly they saw a problem in the world or in their own lives in that problem was causing real pain to someone. And they thought, well, that sucks, we wouldn't want this person or people like this person to suffer. And I think I can make that better. And that pain will be relatable to other people. If it's, well, we explained probability through the story. If you if you don't have that, what you have is the thing you're doing. And the thing you're doing might be, I don't know some easier way to code, it might be a cheaper way to use some type of, you know, enterprise service that most people don't even know exists. And that is really, really boring. And that is not relatable, but then that's the mistake is your thinking about the thing, and not how the thing makes people feel. The feeling part is where the focus needs to be. Yeah, the feeling part, that specifically feeling of the people who you are helping, maybe it's also a result of success, people make it leaders can make this all about themselves. I saw the same thing. In the music industry, if people would get a lucky break that suddenly have the top 10 hits that be hard, everyone will be talking about them. And suddenly, it kind of the story, they told themselves that this was something that they had always planned. And whoever you spoke to in their team, it might be the artist, it might be their manager, there'll be they're all saying, Oh, I you know, completely plan to create this persona that would resonate with the people, or I'm the manager who took on this artist and made them who they are really losing focus on all of the other things that made this work, which in the end was that they said something which resonated with a group of people, or at a particular time that it would work. So it takes a lot of humility, I think to after getting success, it must be incredibly exhilarating, being given hundreds of millions of dollars and then generating a company which is worth billions, must be really hard to maintain that humility, but to not make it about yourself. But instead keep that focus on the people who you're helping solving the problem that you originally found in the world. And also being grateful to everyone who helped you get there along the way. Because these companies change a lot, not just in the story they tell themselves but also not what they offer and who they help and so on. As new people come in, and they bring bits of expertise to it's difficult for most people, I guess, to understand that you can have you can take credit for being prepared enough so that when you got lucky, you could do something with that luck. And I think that's that's the part that that a lot of people don't, don't necessarily realise that for example, take take something like what I do, right, so I speak I do some other stuff. But let's say the speaking

Rob Willis  30:00

Now, I haven't gotten a gig that I could consider as this huge break, right? You know, I spoke somewhere and then from that gig, I've spent, you know, years getting business out of that and built a whole successful career on the back of that might or might not happen. Not all careers develop exactly that way. But let's say it does happen. There is no need for me to pretend that having gotten that particular gig, or having gotten one or two very important people in the audience for that gig is not luck. That that because because it is, you know, how you get gigs is it's very random at times, sometimes somebody saw a post that they might not have seen otherwise, there was, for one, for some reason, they looked at an email that has kind of a sales email trying to get you in front of an organiser. In that day, they were in a good mood, and they read the email, or normally, they would have just ignored that type of thing. Now, you still need to go up there and take advantage of the opportunity. And you could say I prepared for yours. And I worked really hard, so that when the break came out of luck, I could use it. But I think a lot of people just want to pretend everything is destiny. And it's they have more agency than they do. Now we forget I mean, I remember the first workshop, I was like, Really, wow, I've got my first like big company pay gig was completely by random. I do think that you can even do this nowadays sent out 1000 LinkedIn messages to whatever particular position in these companies not even really understanding what all the positions were, and said, I offer these kinds of training. And I just so happened that one of those messages was to the right person who happened to be looking for what I was offering on that particular day. So the stars came into light, and it was complete luck. But I still needed to be able to capitalise upon it and actually deliver a training which they enjoyed. Thankfully they did I did a lot more business with them after that as well. But I cannot pretend that it was all planned like that, though. It might be you know, my, my ego might say, oh, yeah, I did everything right. And that's why I was able to break into the business. Really, luck helped a huge amount with it. Okay, so one, one last thing I wanted to ask with regards to the tech industry or or other companies that you've worked in there is slightly more technical than other companies is to do with when it comes to presentations. And what nowadays has become very popularly called Data storytelling, even though more often than not, there is no storytelling involved. How do you find that, that in an industry where it sucks expected that there's likely to be more technical information being shown or the expectation is that there's more technical information that needs to be shown in a presentation? How open are people to using fewer slides and simpler slides and telling certain stories? or doing any other type of presentation that is not just drowning people in data? Yeah, I think one of the one quote I once got from from participant was, like, you know, why have you included? I said, Why have you included this particular data set, and it was pages and pages of stuff. And they said to me, I just want to show I did my homework, which I think is the reason that a lot of people, so all of this stuff, is they want to say, well look how much information I have what I say must be true. Therefore, you've got to listen to me, they think that the quantity of information is where their legitimacy comes from. And indeed, they would have needed to have looked at all of that stuff to understand what they want to say. But by the time you're presenting to someone, your job is not to try and understand your job is to communicate it. So the main message, I have all of those people who think that it's okay just to deliver essentially, the graph that they use to understand something is the graph the data that you use to understand it is not the same as you used to communicate it. When you're already at a moment of communication, you need to make it as easy as possible for someone to understand why you think what you do. So they can then make some sort of decision. If they have to trawl through pages and pages of data, then you're wasting their time, you can keep that data in a put it in an appendix or something. So if they say, oh, I want to look a bit deeper, go for it, knock yourself out. But in the moment that you are presenting, you need to be able to get the point across in a matter of seconds. The point of data storytelling really is to make it more efficient for someone to understand the data than they would otherwise. And the point of a graph is to make it more efficient for them to understand than if you just told them just by speaking people lose sight of that. I think so I think people don't understand what a presentation is for because there is this impression that the presentation is to inform. In some times it might be I think some companies

Francisco Mahfuz  34:59

are very presentation heavy. And that's a different problem that they're having people delivering certain information in the form of a presentation that perhaps didn't need to be in the form of a presentation, perhaps there were simpler ways to just have an email to just have something else where you give people that information. And a presentation should really be about insight or influence. And probably those two things combined, right? The data you have is only valid insofar as it provides insight. If it's giving everybody the information they already have, or they should have done, what's the point of our we've accumulated all this data? And we know nothing different than we knew before. For that, then there's no point. Right? So what is the insight you got out of that? And now that we have this insight, what do we do with it, and people focus on the, this is all the data, we got to learn this thing. And sometimes don't even tell you what the thing is, or let the thing be drowned in other stuff, or do half of the job, they tell you what the thing is, but do a very poor job of telling you what to do with the thing, assuming that's their job, because sometimes it's not sometimes it's just the insight. I'm a big fan of a quote by a guy called Mike Hayes, who was a Navy SEAL. And now he teaches crisis communication. And he says that all communication that isn't actionable is just noise. Because we are drowning in communication. We are drowning in meetings, we are drowning in email, Slack messages, and everything. If you can't do anything with that information, it is literally just noise. And if you don't trust your team enough, that they've done their homework that you that they can stand by things with data, then you've got another problem as well. So you need to be able to deliver insights quickly, you should be speaking to persuade, not to inform, and persuasion. You can either take that as being, like, do this thing right now. I think this is what we need to do. Or this is what I believe to be the reason for this thing happening. Let's say you're giving a quarterly report on what's happened. You need to be able to eke out what is the narrative? What happened significantly in that time? What can we take away from it, but it's all about persuading people to think in a particular way, or take a particular perspective on something I think you like me have young kids and how old are yours is yours again? Three. Okay, yeah, so I've got a I've got a six year old and a three year old, so called Olivia now, yeah, my three year old called Olivia. So my oldest is called Alessi or Alice, and my youngest is called Olivia. And as soon as my my dickheads of friends here in Barcelona heard the seven of the second one, they immediately realised that their initials make ie Ali, which is the garlic mayo dip that everybody's obsessed with it in Catalonia. So the aioli systems.

Francisco Mahfuz  38:05

But anyway, so we have small children. And one thing that I see in my house all the time, is that we have a tendency to think that we can just talk people out of their problems, or of the things that they're doing that we don't think are quite idea. And you don't do this with a one year old. Because you know, it would be ridiculous. You probably don't do it with a two year old but but they get to a certain point in their language development that you generally think or at least one of the couple things to think that you can just talk to them about things any often doesn't work, as verbose as I am. I'm not aware of those that often in my house. And I see this all the time where Olivia will be acting up about getting dressed, for example, and my wife would beg and plead and boss her, none of that works. And then I come in, and I started talking about something else. And then I bring it round to some fun thing. And before you know it, she's getting dressed. And then as I was talking to my wife about like, is it okay that we are doing this through this traction? Is it okay that we're doing this through fun? Shouldn't we just do it the way it's supposed to be done? And she needs to understand that like, yes, in theory, it's great if we can reason with her. But you know, been married before, I've learned that reason alone doesn't really necessarily change anybody's mind. So it's, it's the same with people in any walks, any walk of life, you can just reason with people about the things they need to know you can just tell them what they need to know that you need better communication than that. Sometimes, unfortunately, then I absolutely right. And it will be a moment thinking in like more of a business context that you'll go into a meeting with someone who doesn't

Rob Willis  40:00

like war idea, they've heard about it and they don't like it yet. And you can give them all the reasons in the world, you can give them all the data. And all they'll say is, oh, how did you collect it? How do you know that's true? What's the significance of that? I see it another way. You cannot overcome it with with data, you need to come up with a way of connecting with them emotionally that will make them question their perspective. And storytelling is, is the most effective way of doing that when it comes to getting my daughter dressed in the morning. I'm not sure I don't know how I feel you've got greater wisdom in that area than I do. But you're quite right. It's really frustrating. But you want to say like, Oh, come on, we're really late. I've got this other important meeting. I've got to get to, and you're hoping that she'll say, oh, sorry about that. Father, of course. Let me get ready right now. But that hasn't happened as yet with that accent. Exactly. Yes. I like her to become British. When I when I tell her what to do. Yes.

Unknown Speaker  41:00


Francisco Mahfuz  41:02

exactly. All children speak with precisely that British accent in my experience. Anyway. I'm going to digress slightly. But there is a there is a head, Stuart Goldsmith on the podcast a few few months back, and he's, he's a British comedian. And when he went to I think he did the opening date in Conan Conan O'Brien. And he had the thing about how when he's he has to pay for the babysitter, he becomes a British lords, for some reason and starts getting like over here, here are your earnings. I obviously can't do the accent. But yes, there he's he started stalking in a really super formal way. But to the point we were discussing, it's it's an interesting paradox, how one of the very first things that everybody will say when you're talking about storytelling, and how people should use it more in business, is how well one story is not data. One story is just one data point. It doesn't mean anything. But the reality is that I don't know if it was always this way. But right now, people's belief in facts, or whatever we are telling them are the facts or the truth, are not very high. So they will challenge your facts, they will challenge your data. So the thing that was meant to be the end of the argument is not it becomes the beginning of a completely different argument. That is not the one you're trying to have. So you need to sneak the information in some way you need a Trojan horse that storytelling is in once you've got their attention once they've said, Okay, I hear you. I believe that that was true in this case. But what does the data say? And at that point, you might get more of an opening for actually sharing the data that substantiates the thing you're trying to say, if you just go in with what you're telling them is the truth, they will they will push back, which, which is I think very paradoxical, given what data is supposed to be, and what stories are supposed to be. The thing is, there is a truth, but it's way too complex for anyone to understand. And maybe the challenge, I think comes with the diametrical ways that science and storytelling communicate science is more, I have a theory, and I will try and disprove it or I will try and prove it by trying different things. Storytelling is more this is the example from which I will draw truth. So you start with the example. And that I think maybe where people have this misconception about storytelling and why they find it to be more a form of entertainment or or not truth. But the fact is that there is no possible way that you can convey all the complexities in the world. And unless we just want to remain paralysed by academic study, then we need to come up with an opinion at some point. So we need to create that narrative, like businesses need to get something done. Otherwise, they'd never release anything that never ship anything. So we need to create a story at some point. And I don't know whether it's a Trojan horse, I think it is merely giving a limited snapshot of of reality of what's going on and interpreting it in a particular way. Because I don't see it as misleading. I simply view it as an interpretation. Well, I don't mean that it's misleading. I don't call it a Trojan horse, because it's misleading. I call it a Trojan horse, because the meaning you're trying to impart will come in with the story without necessarily being announced beforehand. So you listening to it, because it's a story because it's engaging because maybe it's entertaining, and whether you want to or not, you get to a conclusion about what the story means. Once you've heard it, assuming it's a story well chosen.

Francisco Mahfuz  45:00

and are well and well told. And it doesn't matter if you want to agree with my point or not, if I tell you a story, and the point is very clear, unless you believe I'm a liar, you will come to that conclusion. Whereas if I just told you the conclusion and said, Let me prove it to you. Now, it's a different case. Because I've now you waiting to now you're gonna listen to the story the same way you listen to data, you're trying to find problems with it. What if you just tell the story, the point comes along, whether you like it or not. And that's what I mean by Yeah, by being a Trojan horse. For sure. You can't argue with a story you can only engage with it really, I think you can argue with the significance of the story. But then this is where the smart business communicator or communicator in general comes in, which is, the story is not the starting point of your argument. It's the it's the what you call it, it's the arrowhead, right? So the story is just the thing you're using to get it across, you have a theory that theory, probably, we would hope came OUT out of observation, backed up by data investigated. And once you've done all of those things, you just have to deliver that payload. And the store is the thing that delivers it, the store is not where all these things happen. Let me create a whole theory based on this. And then cherry pick some data to back it up, which, unfortunately, is what some people do. But that's not I believe, what either of us are advocating unless it's in our personal or romantic lives, in which case, whatever gets the job done. Exactly, yeah, you remember when dot dot dot? Yes, no, you're completely right. You need to be able to get attention at the beginning of the presentation need to explain why you feel something is significant. Take advantage of the fact people are the most attentive at the beginning. And then you begin to back it up with like, this is the theory, these are the points that I feel this is the strategy we're going to adopt. So it is a excellent way into talking about a particular topic. For sure. Right. So I said in the beginning that I was going to give you a hard time we got distracted, and I haven't. So this is about something slightly more practical than some of the things we've been talking about, which is, we talked a lot about stories, particularly in more your world in mind. And there was a video you put out before about where to find stories, because you had this contention that you don't want to tell the same stories that everybody has ever heard and agree with. I don't necessarily agree that a book that says you know, 101 business stories to dazzle your audience would be a bad idea. I think I'll be very surprised if anyone has heard more than a handful of those business stories. But you had, I think it was five different tapes. And I think they needed some not necessarily disagreement, but further exploration or or explanation. The first one was go where the stories are happening, which I kind of I think I know what you mean. But what did you really mean with go where the stories are happening? Okay, if you want to talk about how a customer, for instance, is being affected by a particular issue, then rather than just looking at the data, which is part of it, too, it's important that you also talk to people and their experiences about how they are interacting with this particular issue, and find questions that will help them talk about why this is meaningful to them, why it's important, and so on. If you want to think about, okay, we're restructuring how our engineering team is put together, and we feel that this is a reason for it, you need to go and you need to talk to those people, what I meant by that, that people need to, to experience in some way, like standing back and thinking about things theoretically only really gets you so far, you need to go in and actually see it for yourself, or at least talk to people who have seen it for themselves. I mean, if you're talking about a charity, or something which is helping a particular group of people in a particular part of the world, if there was no stories or images of people in that particular part of the world, it wouldn't be particularly effective in getting the importance of that cause of cross. So you do need to have that. That element, I think to find stories that are going to be used. Yeah, I think I don't disagree with that with that argument at all, or that suggestion at all. I think that that suggestion just suffers from a problem that I've talked about many times you've talked about many times, which is that people have a misunderstanding about what a story is. So my concern is always that when we tell people something that sounds sensible, but it involves them

Francisco Mahfuz  50:00

Knowing what the story is, that often leaves them like, okay, great, but then they get to whatever where they are, but they don't know what they're looking for. So to meet that is go not go where the stories are happening. But do you want to talk about a problem, go where that problem is happening? And talk to the people there or whatever, watch that problem happen? Do you want to talk about a solution? Where is that solution being used? Go there and collect experiences from there. So I think it's, it was just a story part of it. But I could definitely see people going, go where the stories are happening.

Francisco Mahfuz  50:38

So I think it required further explanation, which is to be honest, the same. That is the same gripe I had with that video about all the other points, which are good points. So I think the second point was, well, now the second point that had a gripe with because you said, Okay, well, let's hear it, let's hear it, if something was important enough to take a photo of it probably has a story behind it. Really, really,

Unknown Speaker  51:03

I liked

Unknown Speaker  51:06

the library.

Rob Willis  51:09

I don't know I mean, no focus, you are taking care of it think I think maybe you should spend less time on LinkedIn and more on Instagram. And you'll notice that that maybe you have too lofty a view of human beings to think that just because you're taking a photo or photo, it probably is important enough to have a story behind it. I think that the point is more, when you see a photo of something, it reminds you of being in that moment. And then often stories of examples will come out of that, of course, I do look through my photo album, and I find where my daughter has got hold of my phone, and there's like 20 pictures of her foot.

Rob Willis  51:48

I guess that's a story as well. And itself, even something which is completely random will jog your memory and put you in a particular situation. And maybe there's something interesting that I think the the challenge with finding stories is you don't know what's gonna work and what's not gonna work. So maybe to come back at you, like, go, I always say go with the stories or you don't know what the stories are going to be until you go there. And you don't know if they're good until you tell them to people, and they probably won't be good until you've told them a few times and refined them. So it's a very inefficient process where you have to find a lot of stuff, try out some of it, some of it will be good, most of it will be very bad. And it's up to you to be aware all of the time, and try and build up that Bank of stories to the point where you can write your best selling book 101 Business stories that doesn't have any audience.

Francisco Mahfuz  52:42

Again, I don't disagree with with any of the things you're saying. The photos, yes, I mean, you can definitely jog your memory, with with things you've taken photos off. And I'm just having some fun with the idea that our photos have any type of meeting, meaningful story behind them. When it comes to what people don't know what they're looking for. Again, I think the the word story gets in the way there. If you say to people, you're looking for mistakes, mistakes are the best one, or challenges in your life or change. So have you whatever you know, now, what do you know to be important? Now? When did you learn that? You know, when was the last time the first time you learn that was important? Or you learn how to do that thing? Can you think of big mistakes in your life, big challenges in your life, you will probably not exactly the same person after that happened. And so I think that whenever we tell people to look for, like, we should never tell them to look for stories, I think we should always tell them to look for experiences. And the first time something happened the last time something happened are usually good guidelines. But if you had if I had to tell them one thing, it would always be the mistake that taught you something that is one that if you can't get a story out of, you know, when you've screwed up and learn something from it, then you're just not trying because that is at its most most basic what stories were in the beginning, they were learning to say it was just a way to relate our experience. So other people could learn from it. And and I think when when people look for something to share, that's not the only thing they're looking for. But a lot of people like to talk about how you should be looking for conflict and change. I often talk about pain in power, but at the end of the day, is that it? Have you learned something? When did you learn it? What was happening before and probably involves a screw up sometime? So I think that is the master advice. If you have to, you know limit it to something pretty narrow for most people, I think I think it's it can even simplify beyond mistakes is like I did this, I learned it because it could be good. It could be like I tried this and it was actually really effective. Maybe it'll work for you as well.

Francisco Mahfuz  54:59

And that can be as valuable as, yes, but you don't need a mistake. But you need some type of struggle, because the I think the learning without the struggle works will last well, you don't need the mistake, you can have just a pain, something was a pain, it was causing you problems, then you went and sorted it out. So that can work. But the issue is, someone comes to you and say, I'm really struggling with this thing, Rob, that ever happened to you? And you go, Oh, yeah, it was a nightmare. But then I tried fixing it. And I fixed it. It's relatable, but doesn't qualify you as a guide, or, or as an experience that might be necessarily relevant because there's no struggle there. Right? You have to assume they've tried some things and they're struggling. And if you haven't struggled, you come across a bit of a as a bit of a dig. Yes, I did. It was so easy. I learned straightaway. It's just another very good story. Yeah. I mean, if you've got to have struggled to have a compelling story, I mean, Lord of the Rings, imagine if like, Gandalf gave the ring and Frodo kind of crossed the road, like, oh, just give it in the local post office, and then they'll take care of the rest. It's not a very compelling story at the end of it. So yeah, you're quite right storytelling, a struggle in storytelling is essential, both for how engaging a story is, and for the validity of the lessons that we can draw from it as well, since you measure the lord of the rings that that is the greatest plot hole of all time, which is the whole Eagles thing. How the eagles that can fly all the way to Mordor to rescue them, couldn't just fly them all the way to Mordor to just drop the ring. And if you want to go into an internet, rabbit hole, start, there are whole Reddit threads discussing why this wasn't feasible. And why it's not actually a plot hole in the in the hole Lord of the Rings. Why did he just fly there with the Eagles? And drop it in the in the volcano?

Rob Willis  57:01

Yeah. Why can't everyone just be friends? And then that's the whole situation would never upgrade?

Francisco Mahfuz  57:09

Yes. Now, if people want to find out more about the stuff that you're doing, I know you're very active on LinkedIn. I'll put a link to your profile there. But is there anywhere else that you want people to go to?

Rob Willis  57:21

Currently, LinkedIn is the best place to find me. I'm posting most days in the week. And always available there too. If you want to get in touch with me, a DM through LinkedIn is going to be the best way to do it.

Francisco Mahfuz  57:33

Perfect. All right, man. This was been fun. We had some concerns in the background about what are we going to talk about, I actually realised that I never even got into the hole. You know how you use storytelling as a tourist guide to live off tips when you didn't have a salary. So we left some we'll have some on the table, which to be honest, is what almost always happens.

Rob Willis  57:57

It has been great fun, Francisco. So thank you.

Francisco Mahfuz  58:00

Alright, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time

I hope you enjoyed 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 tap, 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

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