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E31. The Power of Small Stories with Shawn Callahan



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


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.


Welcome to the story powers 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. My guest today is Shawn Callahan. Sean is an award winning author, business storytelling specialist and host of the anecdotally speaking podcast is best known as the founder and director of anecdote, one of the most experienced and highly regarded story based management consulting firms in the world. In the storytelling world, some might be more famous, or richer, or even better looking than Shawn. But not many deserve to be called the godfather of business storytelling. Ladies and gentlemen, Sean Callahan. Welcome to the show.


Shawn Callahan 1:46

It's a great introduction. Thanks, Francisco. Yeah, I don't think I've ever been called the godfather of storytelling. So makes me feel quite old when you say that. But no, I'll take it though. I'll take it.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:57

I was, you know, we were at this event together yesterday. And I realised that I was telling a story about my very first job in 1999. And then, you know, going through your bio 9099 was the year you started doing story work. So,


Shawn Callahan 2:13

yeah, I know, it's crazy, isn't it? And, you know, when you when you think about just how those years creep up, and how you get into this sort of work, because no one ever says, you know, when you're starting university, I'm going to do story work, you know, I'm going to help businesses with their storytelling. I mean, it doesn't seem to be a thing, does it?


Francisco Mahfuz 2:33

I think you could argue that even today, it's not a thing. You know, it's one of those jobs or careers that a lot of people don't don't quite understand. I think, if you say you're a professional speaker, a lot of people will get that. But the story work is still going to take a long time before that becomes more, you know, more mainstream,


Shawn Callahan 2:54

I guess. Yeah, I think so. And that, you know, you've seen a lot of organisations where I certainly when I started, it was very left field. And people viewed it with quite a lot of suspicion. They, they thought we were sort of very left wing tree huggers or something like that. And, and, and for some reason, we noticed that it was primarily women who engaged our services in those first, probably 10 years. And then, you know, it changed. And now, you know, you're getting people all around the world, you know, interested in doing work and in this space, so, yeah, big changes. That's great.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:33

Because you will clearly you an anecdote, were clearly pioneers in this industry. So how, how much harder? Did he used to be compared to now? Or is it still as hard today? As it is, as it was back then?


Shawn Callahan 3:47

Oh, no, no, I mean, the great thing today is that you can have you have lots of stories to tell about the impact of storytelling, right? Whereas in those early days, you were doing everything for the first time, I remember doing my first strategy story, right. And I went into it was called the transport Accident Commission. And the CEO there, she had an executive that didn't, they weren't really on the same page in terms of their, their strategy. They, and so she sort of said, you know, what can we do? And I said, Oh, maybe we can tell the story of the strategy and we'll take them through a process where they co create that story. And she's gone. Oh, this is great. I love it. Let's do it. And I'm thinking oh my god, how do I do that? Like, you know, what, what's what's the what's the process so had to create it right? So it was exciting. I mean, and that's that's the great thing about starting out you know, you get to do things for the first time you feel like you're on the edge and, and good things can happen.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:51

I've got a I've got a question for you about the company name because story is such a powerful word and nowadays, story and storytelling have Become a bit bit of a buzzwords. And some people are a bit zealots about, you know, what is the story? What isn't the story and I've heard you say more than once about how many people think they're telling stories, but they're not. And if they're not actually telling a story doesn't work. With all that in mind. Why did you name the company anecdotes?


Shawn Callahan 5:20

Yeah, right? Well, when I started in storytelling, I wasn't actually storytelling that I was starting in, it was more like, what I call story listening. I would go into organisations, I was working for IBM at the time, I would go into organisations, and I would collect stories using a technique called anecdote circles. And it was kind of like focus groups, but instead of getting people's opinions, you're getting people's experiences. And so we got really good at eking out stories in organisations and, and the techniques you'd needed to put in place to get people to actually tell you a story. And so the stories we heard with tiny little things, right? There were things like, you know, someone would say, oh, yeah, I went to my my boss's office the other day, and they were typing at their computer. And they saw me out of the corner of their eye, and they stopped, and they sat down. And we had this conversation. And it really made a difference. For me. That was the end of their story. Right? Like, it was nothing like beautifully crafted stories that you hear out of Hollywood, there was no three, you know, sort of three act structure, there was no, you know, great turning points or de Newman's or, or hot, you know, hooks to get started. None of that was there. Right. And it actually taught me that stories told in organisations and not like Hollywood stories. And I think this is one of the big mistakes a lot of storytelling people fall for is that they do a search on Google. And they go to storytelling, and the first one who pops up is Robert, you know, Bob McKee, you know, script writing screenwriting, for, you know, for anyone, and they think that is storytelling that that happens in organisations, but it's not, it's so far away from that they've, you know, sort of fall fall, fall into a bit of a hole, I think, when they're in organisations, but so when I, when I jumped out of IBM to start the company, I was actually very influenced by those small stories. And so I purposely wanted to be called anecdote, because A, because I remember I used to work for Oracle as well. So I had an IT background with Oracle, Sybase, IBM. And they all had sort of, well, except for IBM, they had just one name, I thought, I want a one name. And I remember also thinking that I wanted something that was at the beginning or the end of the alphabet, right? So anecdote that was good. I've actually created a story bank called Tsar move under the same sort of idea. And, and it just needed, I wanted a word that everyone use so that when they said anecdote, it was had this double meaning for them. It was this anecdote, but there was also the company anecdote. So that's how we got started.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:14

You mentioned, you mentioned small stories, and I've heard you say in the podcast, and that it jives with my experience, but for a completely different reason about how small the stories can be. Now I because at the moment, what I do with with a lot of stories is I just put them on social media. And because attention spans social media are what they are. It's usually LinkedIn that I do that I knew instinctively. Okay, well, I think two minutes is the maximum, I don't think I'm going to get people to listen to a four or five, six minute story. So mine almost always ends up being between 90 seconds and two minutes. And I've heard you talk to Mark shank in your podcast about how is it 90 seconds to three minutes, you guys tend to think that it's sort of


Shawn Callahan 9:01

that's around about that, but I'm starting to think they can be much smaller than that. I watched Brene Brown do her Netflix special. And I got one of my colleagues Calum to go through the whole one hour, and identify all the stories and measure the length of those stories. Well, the majority of her stories are 60 seconds. Right? And her shorter story is seven seconds long. And her longest story is six minutes long. Right? She tells I think it's a thought my head in an hour she tells 40 stories, right? So you know, these rules that we all you know, get tied up with I'm not too sure if they're all that useful, you know, a story can work if it's a good story. I remember a net Siemens telling me because I was sort of saying hey, you know what, what do you have? What do you do if the story is rubbish, right? How do you help the person? She says, well count Get don't get another story. Right? So she's not in I think was a good lesson. It's not, you don't have to labour over making a story fantastic if usually if it's a rubbish story, it's thrown away and you get a better story. There's a lot of stories out there. So anyway, I did a blog post about that Brene Brown, Netflix special. And I compared it with Kevin Hart, actually. So Kevin Hart does, of course, you know, comedian, one hour special as well on Netflix. And he has almost like this same pattern of storytelling. It's, it's uncanny. But yeah, check it out. Seven. Thank you. By the way, the seven second story, if you're wondering what that sounds like, she walks on stage, right? And she says, and she's kind of laughing and she says, You know, I was walking on stage. And they asked me, should I leave my handbag? No, I'm not gonna leave my handbag. I'm a Texan. Right? So that's a little tiny anecdote about this little in sort of interaction she has with the person on the side of the stage, but allows her to introduce herself as a Texan. And also, there's a little bit of Moxie, a little bit of attitude that this woman has as she walks on stage. And it sets the same, it sets the, you know, the vibe for her whole presentation. So I love it. I think she's great. She's one of the great storytellers around at the moment.


Francisco Mahfuz 11:24

Yeah, I mean, and she, she's the proof that being able to speak well, is sometimes the difference between you becoming an industry or just being pretty much unknown, because I don't think there was vulnerability as something that got discussed in business circles until she did her TED Talk. And I've no idea how famous or not she was in academic circles, but she definitely wasn't mainstream, famous. And now, if I'm not mistaken, she's the most sought after or well paid speaker in the world. And if he's not the she's in the top five years now, alongside people like Simon Sinek, who's a storyteller? Yeah. And this is in the back of on the back of having done a couple of but particularly that first one, a very good talk, and he just shows the power of when you communicate effectively, that can still have a very, very large impact. Yeah, I


Shawn Callahan 12:23

mean, she had a few things going for her because she had years of research to back up what she was saying. So she's suddenly got different levels at which she could speak, right, she could do a TEDx or a Netflix special, and she's talking to the masses. And so she tells stories about going swimming, and, you know, sort of the everyday sort of activities that the vast majority of people would have experienced. And that's how she connects. But she sort of says, well, but if you want to know more, well, he can dive into my research. And you can go and read a research paper, which I'm sure has very few stories in it. Well, it might. But you know, it's written in a certain way, you know, academia has a certain approach. And so she can, she can cascade down into that detail. If she would, if she didn't have that 20 years of research, experience and publications. It'd be pretty hard for her to catapult from there, to superstardom that she is because I think she's creating a new category of entertainer. And it's sort of like a cross between a comedian and an academic, right, sort of a comedic Demmick. Let's call it that. And so I think she's creating a new class of, you know, it's sort of it was there, you know, there's Gary Hamel, for example, he has that sort of feel about it. He's just one story after the next when you see him speak. So yeah, it's definitely a pattern that we've seen out there. But yeah, I think TEDx and Ted Talks are helping that along the way.


Francisco Mahfuz 13:52

Yeah. So I think that there is no real question now that that Ted, the Pacific domain third platform has been responsible for a resurgence of non US public speaking, never went away, but at least an understanding and appreciation that that type of communication has a lot of power. And it's become a very, became an aspirational thing. There are a lot of people think, sort of kind of mistakenly that if only they could do a TED Talk. Or if they only they could do a TEDx talk, then all of a sudden their career sorted and that's definitely not the case. But I think it it created this awareness that there is a lot of value in being being a good speaker or being good communicator. And that's perhaps not something that wasn't that clear to everyone before things like Ted. Yeah, I wanted to pick you up on on something we were talking about the name anecdote before, and I had a suspicion that the reason you had chosen that name was to avoid the, you know, the loaded and misleading word, story. I was talking to Paul Smith, who I know you're familiar with a few episodes ago. And he told me that he wasn't even referring to, you know, the hero's journey or the Hollywood stuff. But he said, when you ask people about stories, they tend to think of things, they stories, they always tell, oh, I have that story about my sister. So something you always tell not this thing that just happened. And it but if you ask, did anything interesting happening last week, they will have stuff to tell you. But if you say, Have you got any stories from last week, they just wouldn't.


Shawn Callahan 15:25

That's right. And people freak out a little bit when you ask them to tell a story. Because they think it's much bigger than what they imagine, right? They sort of go, Oh, my God, I need to craft this beautiful thing for you and entertain you and in some way, but in fact, what you're really asking is, you know, have you had an interesting experience that would, you know, sort of bring some light onto this topic that we're talking about? Yeah, now I run into it all the time, I tell people to avoid the S word. You know, you've just got to run a mile from it. There's so many other ways you can ask you can sort of say, oh, you know, so what happened? Or, you know, can you give me an example? Or what was the turning point? Or how did you feel when, you know, take me through what actually occurred, you know, there's a bazillion things you can say, get someone to tell you a story. But you know, I there's a topic that I'd love to raise with you, right? Because I think we're teaching storytelling incorrectly around the world. And this is this is affects all of us who have got this role of, you know, coaching and helping people out.


Francisco Mahfuz 16:31

Because I hate fighting fighting words, Shawn,


Shawn Callahan 16:33

I know, I know, I thought oh, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about it. Because I watched this amazing YouTube video. And I can't think of the guy's name, but he was a language professor from the US. Right. And he was he said he was going to teach himself Arabic in nine months. And he was, he never hadn't spoken up word of Arabic in his life. He was an English speaker. And Arabic is regarded as one of the hardest languages for an English speaker to learn, right? So the way he learned it, was he didn't do the grammar. How many times have you ever tried? Well, you know, you have a couple of languages under your belt, right? Don Francisco, you just have to from your part of the world, but you know, learning it by learning the grammar and the rules. And this comes after that comes after this. How well does that work for people? We doesn't.


Francisco Mahfuz 17:23

That's why That's why children, the way you teach children is just by sheer exposure, and then the, you know, the brain does wonderful machine picks apart what goes where and what works and what doesn't. And when you show them grammar should be showing them something they already know how to do. And you just explaining it.


Shawn Callahan 17:41

Indeed, right? This is exactly my point. So you think about it, storytelling is a deeply language based activity, right? And yet, we're teaching people by sort of saying, Well, you have to have this bit then followed by that bit. And then you have the three, you know, ascending levels of drama, and then you have the turning point, and then the underhand, and you wonder why people are finding it hard to learn storytelling. If you want to teach storytelling, I think you don't teach it, you help people acquire it, right. And you do that exactly the way you're sort of mentioning the children. And that is you immerse them with stories. I am always amazed that when you hear people talking about storytelling, and then they don't tell any stories, it's very hard for someone to learn storytelling unless a hearing people actually tell stories, especially business stories, where you show them how to segue into that story, and get out of that story in a way that, you know, makes sense and has a point and all those sort of good things. I don't know, what do you think this is just a new idea of mine, I've, I've been excited by this idea, because I'm not going to abandon completely, you know, the teaching element. But I'm sort of really forcing now the acquisition element. And balancing that out. What


Francisco Mahfuz 19:00

I find is that most people naturally understand what the structure of a story is, I don't think compared to other types of speaking. So for example, I was involved I'm involved with an MBA programme here in Barcelona, and we just we just finished the course. So you have different types of speaking, you have the logos type of speech and the ethos and the third module is storytelling. Now, the logos and the ethos, it's kind of you're trying to put pieces together, right, or this comes and then that part comes and it's always a bit stilted in the beginning. Storytelling is where most of them come alive. They tell a story sometimes just an amazing story, and there's often nothing you really need to change. But sometimes there is and then what I found is that they don't know necessarily why the stories worked, or didn't so we because we were doing this in circles and you say okay, what do you like about that? What could be better? And what I found was that they could talk about the effect that the story had on them. But they couldn't pinpoint why it had worked or hadn't worked. So when I raised things, for example, like, is there a moment in that story? Is there something very specific that we're living through it? There's dialogue, there's all those vivid descriptions. And they will? No, I don't know, there wasn't, they just told us what happened. They didn't show us. And once you, once you do that, they start. I think the senses get a little sharper, and then they start noticing things like that. Or, you know, when when we're talking about the message of the store, it's okay, what was there a message? Yeah, as I think there was, well, you think there was otherwise? It was the narrative supported by the story? I'm not so sure. So once you've done that, I think they started developing the critical of facilities to say, Okay, I have this story, but I'm not too sure about the moment. So I need some help. Getting into the moment, in this was three minutes stories, which was very helpful because the lens helped and, but I think that if you give this give people no guidance, they can keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and they won't necessarily know why it's working, or why it isn't. And then it just becomes a bit harder to replicate. I think,


Shawn Callahan 21:21

I do an activity in my workshop, where the right at the beginning, I just sort of say, okay, pair up. And I want you to describe to your partner, what you do for a living. And they'll sort of say, well, you know, I'm the CIO, CIO of the organisation, I focus on the policies and procedures of, of, you know, the, ensure the technology is up and running and available. Anyway, they have to speak for a minute like that. And then once I've done that, I sort of say, Okay, well, that's one way of communicating. But now, once you do, just share a time with your colleague, where you felt you made a bit of a difference at work, doesn't have to be a big thing could be just, you know, listening to a colleague helping them out. And there's always a pause, they always go, then they, they start, they start saying things like, just two weeks ago, I went down to Janet's office and walked in, and I could tell she was upset. Anyway, they start telling this story, right? Without any hardly any prompting, right? And then I just say to them, okay, so what was the difference between those two? And I mean, they work it all out themselves that you don't have to, you don't have to show one slide, you just sort of, they work out the fact that the visual element is important. They work out, like you say, moments give you visuals, and they work out there's emotion, and how does that work? And, and I think, in some ways, you know, to helping people go through the process themselves, so that they start to feel what it's like to tell a story versus not tell a story and realise that most of the time they're actually doing the former. You know, that's how they speak in organisations. Is, is one of the vital vital skills, the noticing. I think that's one of the vital skills. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 23:07

now there's some, there's an exercise, I think I might have picked up from your book, where I think you just mentioned something like, just for a day or two at work or with the people around you. Just keep your ears open, and try just just no need to write it down. But pay attention to how many stories you actually hear. And it's incredible, because if you speak into your friends, or you spend any time at work, talking to people, most of what people do is give examples of things that have happened in their lives. Or oh, did you just see what happened before we got here? No. And it's a new start counting. But if you say to someone, oh, I really liked that story you told today, they'll go well, I didn't tell him stories.


Shawn Callahan 23:54

It's crazy. But the weird thing I find in organisations and we've must have trained ourselves to do this, is that in the informal spaces of work, we tell stories like crazy. But as soon as we walk into anything that's vaguely formal, all the stories disappear.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:11

But it's not just the stories, though, is it? It's the stories in the speaking like a human being also disappears. Yeah, that's right,


Shawn Callahan 24:17

exactly. All of a sudden, they start talking like little robots and saying, well, there are three key things we need to focus on. And as a result of that, and therefore, you know, we get all authoritative and unfortunately, it's totally forgettable for the people who are listening, they, they can't hang on to that information. So unless of course, you pull out some spectacular, you know, stat that, you know, is mind blowing in some ways. But other than that, it's hard to hang on to.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:47

I noticed that with the with with the students, I kept saying to them, I really liked that, but can you now say it as a human being? And they, they would say well, what do you mean as well? You will tell you this Sing around the things you're trying to say. But you're not saying them. So you say, Okay, we need to align their priorities. Okay, in that means exactly what? Oh, we are doing too much of this and not enough of that. Okay, why didn't you just say that? Yeah. Because if I don't know exactly where you're coming from that sentence doesn't mean anything. Yeah. So you need to dig a bit deeper and just get to the thing itself and stop talking about the category, or the, you know, the highfalutin concept behind what you're trying to say. And that leads me to, to something that I, I wanted your take on it, because obviously, you have literally decades of experience with this stuff. So I like a lot the the personal story used for a business point. And I also was listening to some of the earlier episodes of your podcast. And there was a couple of examples. I thought were excellent. So one example was the bathroom story, arc, the one that when I go about, you know, the one about the guy who redoing his bathroom was super hard. And then it was finally done. And the first thing he notices when he says walks into the bathroom is that the grouting is not perfect. His wife drags him by the year outside and says, Let's do that again. And then he looks as Oh, yes, it's a beautiful bathroom. And then the wife asks him, do you also do that at work, like to just pick the negative first. And so that is an amazing story. And the other story, I think you told us So previous to that was the Alcoa story about how Poland, you focused on safety. And that turned the company around, and I think they were worth five times more than when he started. From that, I think that most people in business will gravitate towards our core type of stories, or business context type of stories. But I think you and I can agree that the personal ones have a lot of power to them. So what has been your experience with threading the needle between telling people teaching people they can actually use the smaller personal things in not just the case study type of stories?


Shawn Callahan 27:04

Well, the personal story is so much easier, right? Because you've lived through it and say to recounted requires no real thinking, you know, except for him, this is the key point, you need to work out what the point of the story is, not everyone can do that, I've discovered that something that you you have to put some effort in to get good at hearing a story and going oh, the point of that story is x. So whereas, you know, stories like The Alcoa story, you got to learn that story. Right, you got to read it, you got to get it into your head, you got to know I'm not very much. I'm not much of the of the belief, you should practice your stories. I know this sounds very antithetical, but I like practising while getting real work done. That's my sort of theory. And that is, you find opportunities to tell that story in real life in real situations. But that requires effort, right? To do that. I had a nice another nice, personal story in a business setting. Not too long ago, it was in a B bank. And the bank was actually there was on a bit of a squeeze in terms of expenditure. So everyone's budgets were being cut. And the head of this one division, a woman, she walks in front of her, she's got a town hall, you know, everyone's gathered together, pre COVID, obviously. And she starts off by sort of saying, you know, how my husband and I were doing the renovations at the moment. And there's all these nods, you know, in the in the audience, and she says, we got the, we got the quote, in for the rent of renovations. So my husband and I might son, we all gathered around the kitchen table looking at it, and we realise we actually can't get it all done. Right. There's no way it's, we just don't have the money to spend to get that down. So we have to make some, some hard choices on what we're going to include and what we're not. Since we're facing something, right, same sort of thing at the bank, you know, I've been given the budget. And there's not as much there that we need to do all the things we want to do. So I need your help to work out what we're going to not do, how can we make the most out of this budget? And instead of everyone sort of going, boo, you know, there's your we're losing our money, they're all going, yeah, we'll help we'll help. Let's How do we do this? It was just a absolute, you know, sort of master stroke of influence and persuasion. And I don't think she wasn't doing in any sort of manipulative way. It was just her natural way of explaining things. And she just likes to use stories as analogies. And I think that's where the personal story can work really well. If you're good at sort of going. Are there thing that happened with my husband, you know, in the budget, that's a bit like what's happening at work with the budget and if you can make that little connection. That's a fantastic story, what people don't like, I think it's those the ones where it's hard to make a strong connection with the personal story to the business point. Right? If you make a strong connection, they feel a bit uncomfortable about that. I think,


Francisco Mahfuz 30:17

I guess that's where something that then you talk about in your book comes in the relevant statements. You know, when you were teaching people storytelling, one of the things that, you know, we don't want them to do is say, Oh, I have a story about that. Normally, you want people to just launch into the story and not have a whole bunch of pre emptive things, because they usually use the wrong pre emptive things. But the can you just explain what the relevance statement is? Yeah, it's


Shawn Callahan 30:43

simply putting the point of the story before you tell the story. Right, which doesn't seem logical, you think you're giving away the story by doing that. But it typically have some in fatik point of view, that you might start off by just sort of saying, Look, in my experience, small things make a big difference. I was doing some work at a pharmaceutical business three years ago. And he's starting to the story. And, and by doing that little one, two step, the audience is going, Okay, I'm gonna learn about how small things make a difference. And so they're listening to your story. With that in mind. And when it happens, it's like, you know, the penny drops for them. And they go, Ah, got it. Yes. Right. That is a good example of how a small things make a big difference. And, and they love it. And then the ending of the story, you got to be careful not to say too much at the end of the story. I'm a big believer actually not saying anything, you know, finish the story, and then let them say something. That's, that's great. But if you are going to say something, you might sort of say, Yeah, well, you know, it's an example of how small things can make a difference. But you don't explain the story. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 31:54

I guess that you can have a connection, you can have a bridge between, you know, we're not I'm not telling stories, and and we're going to start telling a story that is lighter than the relevant statement. So you can say, you know, what was what we're going through now reminds me of something that happened. Last year, I was working with pharmaceutical company, but then I guess that you will have you end up having to give the business point at the end. Yeah, not to risk them getting the wrong message from your story. But I think it's always that balance between not turning what is commonly called an industry up pool strategy, which is a story which sort of pulls people along, and let them figure it out by themselves, what the messages into a push strategy, because if you're, if you're outlining in, you know, all the wards, this is exactly the moral of the story, then perhaps, the stories and doesn't make that point well enough. Correct.


Shawn Callahan 32:51

Correct. And, you know, I think, if you can get into that habit of putting the point before the story, the relevance statement, it has another great benefit. And that is it keeps you on track. Have you heard you must have heard people tell stories, where they start off by sort of saying, Yeah, so just yesterday, I went down to the supermarket and, and I bumped into my brother there. And you know, how my brother is in the wine industry, while he was telling me about this shirt has actually I've got this great surprise that I had last night. And it was, you know, it's just like these, you know, tributaries of a river, you know, one after the next. If you know what your point is, you just drive to the point and doesn't drive you, you know, your audience crazy.


Francisco Mahfuz 33:33

That's another thing I've noticed when, you know, a lot of times I talk to people, and you know, we talk about everybody's a storyteller and all of that. Yes, but we clearly have lost the skill with it. We don't, it's not part of our culture anymore, at least in most of the western world. So some people are horrible. And I have dear friends where they start telling you a story in 10 minutes scene, you still have no idea what the story is about. Right? So yeah, I think I've seen I think it was Matthew Dix, who is one of the guys who does a lot of storytelling at the mouth, you know, is what I think is Wonder math, Grand Slam like 45 times. So he's probably arguably the best storyteller in the world, if that's how we're judging it. And I think he said something like, a story's five seconds. You know, the story is the moment of change in the story, the moment of transformation, the moment of the aha, that's what the story is in the bathroom story is, you know, that moment when the wife highlights to him that he's doing at work or ask him if he's doing at work the same thing he just did at the bathroom. It says that what's the story is about everything else is just context. And in that's what I think a lot of people don't get this. What is the moment your story revolves around? Give me enough context to understand it and what happened after and then you're done.


Shawn Callahan 34:56

Yeah, Ron? Yeah, I mean, it sounds like a rhetorical device him saying that because of course of iffy, you know, it's just one of those definitional things. It's, it's, you know, but it's an interesting idea. You do need to know what that that key moment that insight, Gary Klein is a really interesting psychologist in the US. And he said that insight is when you unexpectedly come to a better story, and I think this is it's actually feeds into that data storytelling conversation we were having the other day at the conference, right? And, and it's the same sort of thing for those data analysts, they got to work out what's the what's the insight that they're wanting to convey. And then they got to work out the story that goes around it to deliver that insight. So very similar, very similar sort of idea.


Francisco Mahfuz 35:46

I'm, I'm speaking to, to Conor Neil, tomorrow is someone I've known for years and is sort of big speaker on the leadership arena. In he, there is this thing he developed with another friend of mine, he calls point x, for any speech, which is, at the end of my speech, I want my audience to write, I want to do something, I want them to feel something, I want them to know something. And if I've seen the Chris Henderson from Ted, say that if you cannot write the message of your speech, or your talk in 15 words, you don't know what it is, right? And then you shouldn't do it. And it's kind of the same, you know, the relevant statement or the point of your story. If you can't, if you don't know what that is, and you can succinctly describe it, then you haven't figured out what your story is about something interesting happening, you know, there's something in there, but you're not quite there yet with, with figuring out why you when you would tell it and why you would tell it.


Shawn Callahan 36:44

Right, exactly. And, you know, that's what you need to know, in a business context, when you're using story as a to, as in a purpose, you know, for a purpose, right, you know, to get something done to inspire some action or whatever it might be. Of course, it's not the case, when you're catching up with friends for a coffee. Right? You got a totally different environment, their mind you, if you walk, if you went down to a cafe, and you sat down, and you spoke to them, like you did in your organisation, they would think you're crazy. You know, if you sit there and go, Well, there's, you know, four things I want to cover today in my cars, just look at you, like, you know, you've just gone over the over the edge. But you're right, it's and I think, working out, you know, that real meaning sometimes happens through telling the story. And this is what comedians do. You know, they, they think they've got a bit, and they try it out on stage. And they try it again. And they give a different perspective. And then they go, Oh, it's that bit. That's the meaning of the story. Right. So this is where the the meaning comes in emerges from the telling, as opposed to, I've got this point. And I'm going to try to make it with the story. In fact, my experience, it's, it's more like a comedian, you know, helping the the the media merge from the story, it's very hard to go the other way. Like I used to try to tell it in the very beginning of my career, I thought, our this the way you teach storytelling is you help people decide what point they're going to make. And then the Find a story to make that point. Well, I discovered it's almost impossible to do, right? It's actually better to just build a repertoire of stories, and then trying to work out what those stories mean. So that when you're faced with having to make that point, you've already got a story. So it's, it requires you to, you know, have your pockets full of stories. And you know, that's what happened. Gases are bad is just trying to help people, you know, build that repertoire of stories. So they have lots of stories to tell.


Francisco Mahfuz 38:45

Yeah, I guess the challenge with with that approach, which which I also like, I think that I think storytelling shouldn't just be something I've heard people say that all you really need are a few core stories. And you know, if that if your business is not telling stories, then having three core stories might be all you need for every sales meeting you've ever had, or whatever. And I can see the logic in that approach. And I think that's a lot easier to sell to people that approach then the approach of actually you need dozens and dozens of stories. But I think there's also the barrier of that barrier to entry. So if you say to someone, okay, well, you can become a better communicator, a salesperson or whatever, it we just need to find something in your real experience that illustrates whatever you're trying to get across to, to your clients or prospects. Much better with a story then you know, all this nonsense you're saying to them. You can you can convince people of that. If I say to them, Listen, let's just start getting the stories together. Once we have a few dozen, we'll find one that is relevant to every moment. I think that a lot of people baulk at that.


Shawn Callahan 39:53

It's a long term approach, isn't it? It's, it's one way you're putting a lot of effort into process of storytelling as opposed to the, you know, the next next story that you're going to tell aspect you do both.


Francisco Mahfuz 40:07

I wanted to I wanted to pick up on something you said before about being against practising stories as such, and rehearsing them. Yeah. And one of the things, the reason I want to talk about that is because one of the things that from your work has influenced me a lot is that storytelling is a strange business, because I think it's almost more easy, more easier to find this day, someone that talks about story, but doesn't actually tell stories, and uses the elements of story for a whole bunch of things. And one good example is, is your friend park park, how well from the story should we be having on in a couple of weeks, and you know, Barakaldo, he's clearly a good storyteller. And his book is full of stories. Most of his approach is a branding approach, you know, it is using the elements of story to brand, the company, and story brand is a similar approach, in your approach is very much oral stories, and mostly smaller stories. So I wanted to ask you about one, how come you realise that that was 100%? The way to go with the story. And also, this this thing? I've seen you talk about what happens with when oral story, water stories meet written language and the confusion that ensues?


Shawn Callahan 41:26

Yeah, yeah. Well, that's, well, let's take the first one. I mean, I guess what just that experience I had, in the early days of collecting stories and organisations, the oral stories that people tell, it sort of made it very clear that if you wanted to communicate without sounding weird, or sounding, like you're trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, you had to speak the same way that people spoke in organisations. And that's through small oral stories, I think good storytelling is invisible. Right? As soon as you see anyone starting to, to use the storytelling voice, or, you know, as we said before, the you know, sort of use the S word or, or, you know, just making it obvious. Now, there are exceptions to this, right? I saw a guy just the other day PhD student, give a three minute presentation of his PhD results, using the three little peaks as his structure. And I usually hate that sort of thing. Right? I, I can't stand fables and you know, things like that in business I'm not very interested in. But I have to admit, I was very drawn into that. And it was a good use of storytelling. But yeah, so I think that's that's that was my belief is that there's a researcher in the US called David bhogi. And it's very hard to guide to get into, he writes in a particular way that is, is difficult. But inside his writing is this, this, I did a lot of work in Disney, in the 1980s, around collecting stories. And it was that that really introduced me to this idea of the tiny micro narratives that you need to have. And, and I guess that's where I started thinking that if you want to change a culture, you have to change the stories that are being told, right? The biggest project we've done in this space was actually for the biggest bank here in Australia, where they were told that their frontline staff could no longer get commissions for the products they sold. It was called the Commission's were causing all sorts of terrible behaviour. But they'll worry that if they took away the Commission's their revenues were going to drop, we convinced them that they needed to move away from explicit rewards to implicit rewards, right. And the way we do that is to actually get them telling stories about the impact they have for their on their customers. So we ended up teaching 1400 branch managers how to find and tell stories. And in their branch, every sometimes it's once a week, sometimes multiple times a week, they huddled together at the end of their shift. And someone just shares the story about something that happened with the customer. And then they have a conversation about it. They they sort of asked questions, like I said, So why is that significant to war? And, and what would happen is that they would work out just through the conversation, what good customer service was, right? But it had these other uncanny benefits, right? And one of the uncanny benefits is that the language they use to describe their customers changed. So in the past, the way they would talk about a customer was like a transaction. They would say, Oh, we had a customer in the other day, they were organising a mortgage and I sold the mortgage insurance, and they'd all high fiving each other like, you know, they just won the Big Lottery. Now, the way they talk about they'd say something like, oh, did you see David Smith came in, you know, the five The wheat farmer, that's just, you know, 30 kilometres out of town. He was in the other day trying to get some funding for thresholds, thresher sort of fell over, wasn't working. And anyway, we organise that for him. I saw him the other day, he told me they got a bumper crop in. And he says it's unbelievable just how good the conditions are out there at the moment. So this is how they're talking about their customers now. Whereas before, they didn't have anyone think about what they were doing outside the branch or anything like that. And and here's the kicker, their revenues didn't drop, their revenues actually started to rise, and their engagement scores, employee engagement scores jumped up right now, that's all little stories, right? That's not beautifully told. No one's actually been told to use different sort of structures or anything like that. They just told share an example of where you've made a customer an impact on the customer.


Francisco Mahfuz 45:55

This reminds me of a definition. I've heard you and Mark, using the podcast, and it bleeds on the books book as well, I think you caught us, you said that a story is data wrapped in context and delivered with meaning. I think Mark said facts wrapped in context and delivered with meaning. And in that example, you give, I mean, I can clearly see, and this is the sort of thing I have used with companies is this idea that you are doing a job that you don't care about, you're doing a job that you don't care about, you don't buy into, you know, maybe you're selling insurance, there's nothing particularly inspiring about selling insurance. Actually, there's plenty that it's inspiring about selling insurance, but you need the actual context of your customers, you need them to be people that you've helped. And if you've if you give that context, and that meaning, essentially, if you have the story of your customers, then it's not our we I sold them this investment, I sold them there's insurance. But I think because of corporate speak or because of whatever reason that I don't know, we have divorced, our a lot of our jobs from the person that gets helped on the other end of the of the of the business. And then you know, why would you care about selling insurance? Someone if there was no commission to it?


Shawn Callahan 47:21

Yeah, that's right. They make the mistake that people go to work, just with the idea of making money. And whereas people go to work, because they want meaning they want purpose. And, you know, Adam Grant has done some great research on, you know, the productivity improvement you get, if you remind people just remind them of the purpose, three stories of what they're doing. It's like, phenomenal differences in terms of people being reminded of the the money that they've been earned versus the impact that they can have on people's lives. We're a social species, we, we want to help people, we want to have empathy.


Francisco Mahfuz 47:59

Is there any way to talk about purpose without stories? Because then you just end up with even if it's a well written purpose statement or mission statement? I mean, is there such a thing? Is this a well written mission statement?


Shawn Callahan 48:14

Well, you know, I actually did say one, just recently, so most of them are terrible. I have to say, I'd say 95%. More than that. 99% have terrible, but I didn't see one. Um, it was, it was Elon Musk actually. Just talking about, you know, the, the purpose of Tesla. And it was a little bit it was a bit a little bit. I guess it was unexpected. So I thought Tesla was about building cars, right? That's not the purpose of Tesla. The purpose of Tesla is to make sustainable energy available to the world. So he's just using cars as the mechanism to get great battery and other technologies, you know, to two more people in the world. So here's these on a sustainability mission. So I saw that little purpose don't I thought, She's, yeah, I can get behind that. That'd be that'd be cool to work for a company like that. Whereas, you know, the majority purpose statements I see are just awful.


Francisco Mahfuz 49:12

Yeah, the only the only shame about Tesla is that, yes, I fully buy into the company's mission. But I know from first firsthand accounts that working for him, not necessarily


Shawn Callahan 49:26

you work for any of those eight type personalities is going to be a nightmare, isn't it? Yeah, he doesn't. Well, yeah, I read the his biography or a biography of, of Elon Musk. And yeah, he seems like a difficult person, that's for sure.


Francisco Mahfuz 49:39

It's it's the irony of a lot of this purpose driven companies that seem to pop up in every single TED talk or Keynote. You know, Apple being another perfect example where it's all amazing, unless you have to interact with the genius that is running Shawn, I've, I'm mindful of your time now. So I just wanted to, um, I'm gonna say here that, as I said before, I think your book is amazing. I've recommended it to a lot of people. It's called putting stories to work. Your podcast is very good fun as well. And it's called anecdotally speaking. And it's very short. I think most episodes are only 15 minutes long, right? Yeah. And it's you and Mark exchanging stories and where how you would use them why they work, why they don't work. So what I wanted to ask you is, if someone is not familiar with your work, and for whatever reason, doesn't want to buy the book, or listen to the podcast, where should they go? Just go


Shawn Callahan 50:39

to our website? anecdote.com. I mean, we know we've been going since 2004. And we, the first thing we did was start a blog. I blog like crazy bit embarrassing, actually, if you go back to the original blog post. But there is a heap of content. They're all free. Just download and immerse yourself into the world of story.


Francisco Mahfuz 51:03

Perfect. Well, thank you very much for your time. And two, we saw each other two days running. Now, I probably won't see you for a very long time. But, but it's been an absolute pleasure, Sean,


Shawn Callahan 51:13

thank you very much. It's


Francisco Mahfuz 51:14

been fantastic. Alright, 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 a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find this show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tab. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com



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