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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E84. How to Find All the Stories You'll Ever Need



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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 that people would tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach, Francisco mahfuz. I was a guest on someone else's podcast just yesterday. And a lot of his questions were about how to craft stories. So that word craft came up over and over. And as I was answering his questions, it occurred to me that that is not usually the problem that most people have. It's not as if they have a story that is a perfect real life example for the points they're trying to make. And they just don't know how to tell it where or they don't know how to move the pieces around to make the story more compelling. That's not it. The biggest challenge most people have when it comes to storytelling is actually having the stories. Because if I give you the story, if I say no trying to make a point about innovation, and then I tell you the the Airbnb story, you tell it a few times, so it stuck in your head, you'll be fine, you'll be able to tell the story without me giving any direction of how to delivery it or you're not gonna have to change anything of the story. So it's finding the story. That is the biggest problem. It's not the crafting or the telling of the story. So today, in this solo episode, I'm going to try and put that one to bed. And I'm gonna tell you pretty much everything I know about how to always have the stories or find the stories when you when you need them. And then that excuse should no longer be part of your repertoire of excuses about why you're not telling more stories. Because I said repertoire. I probably best get on with it before this gets any worse. All right, let's do it.


Last year, my oldest daughter, Alice turned four. And at the time, she was completely obsessed with the movie Frozen. So you know what she wanted for her birthday was a frozen bicycle. And that's what she got, you know, it was an ice blue bike with pink training wheels, and stickers of all the characters of the movie covering the bicycle from back to front. But as soon as she started riding, it just started doing something a bit strange. You know, instead of her feet going round the paddles, they started going back and forth, back and forth. But you know, she was moving. She was enjoying herself. So I just left her. And a while later I came to her and I said, Listen, maybe there is an easier way to ride a bicycle, you know, you go a bit faster, you get less tired. Would you like me to teach you? And she said, Yes, Daddy, can you please teach me and I tried that it just didn't work. Her brain has gotten so used to telling her feet to move in a certain way that no matter what I said to her, she just couldn't make that change. But she's only four. So I told myself when she was a bit older to be a lot easier to teach her how to do this properly. And that's what I thought until very recently, when I heard the story of destin Sandlin and the backwards bike. So Dustin sandling is an American engineer and a science communicator. He has a very popular YouTube channel called Smarter everyday, which is up to almost 10 million subscribers. And now about two or three years ago, one of his engineer friends challenged him to learn how to ride a backwards bike. So this was a bike where when you turn the handlebars right, the tires went left and when you turn the handlebars left, the tires went right. And he thought, you know how hard can this be really? And he got on top of the bicycle started riding it and as soon as it turned, he fell over. So he decided okay, I'm gonna I'm gonna do this properly and he decided to commit five minutes a day to learning how to ride this bicycle. And that took him eight months. Right? So those two stories are how I opened a recent keynote. And that keynote was about how to story power change, you know how to, to gain support, overcome resistance, and create a lasting impact. And the reason I'm telling you the story is because until about a week before the keynote, I had absolutely no idea that I was going to use those stories, to be honest, I didn't even have them in my radar as stories. And you know, I have to then use all the tools that I'm going to share with you now to actually find something that worked. And I'm gonna tell you exactly how I found the stories. But first, I'm going to start breaking down a whole bunch of different ways that you can normally use to find stories. So the first thing that it's important to realise is that finding stories when you need them, is the hardest way to do it. The simplest, easiest way to do it, although it's arguably more work, is to collect stories. And that is definitely what I do. And there are a lot of people who journal. And then naturally, you might be writing down some some stories when you do that. But I do a very specific type of journaling, that I learned from Matthew Dix who had on this on the show, it was episode 59, I believe it's called this is going to change your life, which is a great episode one of my favourites, I definitely recommend listening to that one, if you haven't yet. So the approach that I learned from him is called homework for life. And it's pretty straightforward. At some point of the day, usually near the end of the day, I asked myself this question, if I had to tell a story from something that happened today, something that I found out about today, what would that story be also something that I remembered today, because this happens a lot. And so I asked myself, those three questions. And it's very common that during the day, something would have happened, that I think could make a good story. Maybe I remember something from my past, maybe I've read something in a book. To be honest, I think reading something in a book might be a bit cheating. But you know, I'm trying to just make sure that I always get stuff that is not me and my children or me and my wife, which because of COVID and how everything's become remote. A lot of my day to day has become recently. So I write down that idea. So not a story, just the idea. So if I had to tell a story from something that happened today, something I found out today, something I remember today, what would that story be, and I write it down. And I do that every single day. And because I've been doing that for a while, I think now I'm up to 200 and something, ideas that could turn into stories, and not all of them can turn into stories, but plenty of them can. And the more you do this, there's work a few more than a few interesting things happen. So one of them is that you start remembering stories. So a lot of the stuff that I found myself failing a lot, including a big part of my origin story, have come come to me while I was doing homework for life. And the other thing that is very interesting is that you start paying more attention to your life, you are more present, you're more mindful to use a fashionable term, because I might be talking to friends and and I start realising something interesting is happening here. I'm happy or I'm upset, or there's some very strange conversations going on on what I'm doing is either not very normal, or actually is very, very normal. And it's going to be relatable to a lot of people. So stuff like that comes into my mind. And I think, you know, maybe this is it. This is this is homework for live for today. And at the end of the day, being more present, being more mindful is I don't think is ever a bad thing. So there's a whole bunch of advantages to doing homework for life. But I fully recognise that a lot of people are not going to do that they're not going to bother with doing something that is that they might think is very work intensive. But there are other ways of collecting stories. So for example, if you are someone who listens to podcasts, then lots of podcasts are filled with stories, hear anything interesting. Just write it down. And that's probably a good moment for me to say that the way I write down my homework for life stories is I have a spreadsheet but because the spreadsheets not the easiest thing to access from my phone, I also have just a notes a note on my notes app on my iPhone. And then I just write the date and I write the line or two that represents the day that I studied there for the day. When I'm bothered and I have some time to queue I will move those stories from the note to the spreadsheet because I think the spreadsheets slightly better organised. I know a lot of people that you Use things like Evernote, but both on notes or Evernote or a few other of these types of apps, you can even record the stories in, you can record them with your voice, like a voice note, that's what it's called more on a voice note. So yeah, so you can, you can just save a voice note, instead of writing it down. Now, probably slightly harder to, to just read through quickly what you wrote down. But that's another option. In whichever way you using it, you want to tag them somehow. So you want to just put hashtag, change, hashtag, conflict, whatever, you know, just just one word or two, that it gives you the idea of what the story is about. Because then you can just search for them, you can just do a search and find all the stories that you or a story ideas that you wrote down, that have that theme. That's how I do it. So if you're listening to podcasts all the time, and you get any ideas, just stick them into your story notes, or fire the Word document or whatever you're using. If you read business books, you know, you'd be surprised once you pay attention that that's what they're doing. The vast majority of business books follows the same pattern, which is they will tell a story. And then from that story, they're gonna broaden out the the subject and the explanations, and they'll come back and give you data and statistics and all sorts of other stuff. But most business books, at least the good ones, are filled with stories. And you can you can definitely get a lot of stories that way. So those those are the most typical ways that that I collect stories. And if you just ask yourself on a regular enough basis, probably has to be every few days or every week, otherwise, you're just not going to remember things. But Has anything happened that might make for a good story. Have you read anything? Have you heard anything? Have you watched a movie or a TV show that had interesting stories that might serve as an example of something else, and then you write them down. And that's the collecting part of storytelling. And that's what I find. So I do this, I have hundreds of story ideas. And I have this keynote, it's about change. And I'm looking for a story to open it. So I went to my list in I came back with squat. Like I didn't, I couldn't find a single story that was very clearly about change, and about the difficulty of change. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough, but I started looking for it. I couldn't I look for the stuff I had tagged. And I just I just didn't find something that I thought was going to work. So what I had to do is I had to do the most strategic type of work, which is actually finding the stories. So there's a number of different ways that you can do that. If you listen to the show regularly, you probably heard me talk about most of them. I've learned them from previous from previous guests and the vast majority of cases. And and here. Here are the approaches. So one of them is either the four F's or the five F's, John Zimmer talked about the four F's and Ryan Eve. Ryan Avery has certainly been blanking on his surname, but but one of my guests, that was good, that was Ryan, I think it's a very, he he talked about five apps. So anyway, the the four apps are first fears, failures and fiascos or fiasco being the the more family friendly version of saying, fuck ups. Right. So those are the four apps from John Zimmer. And Ryan Avery. I'm pretty sure now it's coming back to me. Save set five, because he had family in there. So all you're thinking about is okay, well, is there anything that you know, the first time I did anything? Is that an interesting story? You know, what are my my fears? What are my failures? What are my really big failures? My fiascos my focus is anything with my family, they have any family stories now that that approach is helpful for some people. I think if you have some big Fe for fears and failures, I think that's going to be very effective. I'm less convinced that that's going to be that good for things like firsts, because I think it's not directed enough. But you know, for fears and failures and fiascos that that's, that's going to bring up some interesting stories. And the other approach and this one I do use a lot is something that I now call first, last worst best. I originally heard about it from Mark Brown, and he calls them he changes the order of those of those words. Matthew Dix also uses that approach, and he changes the other two. But the idea here is just sort of a matrix that I usually give people in my workshops or have given to clients right. So you have on the top right and first last worst best And then on the left, you have a whole bunch of nouns. So for example, case, car, trip, trouble, job boss, teacher injury can add as many as you want there, you can have failure there, you can have, you know, pretty much any noun you can think of might be suitable for first last words best. And then what you're trying to do is you complete in that, that worksheet with, with all those things, you know, what was your first car? What's your last car, your worst car, your best car? You can't always complete every single one of them, you know, like, what's your best injury? Unless maybe it's something that gets you out of school for a long time or a job. But but a lot of stories should come out of that. Because if you write down that your worst car was this, I don't know this Volkswagen Beetle, like, why was it the worst car? Like what happened? What did that do to you, that makes you think of it as the worst car and you probably gonna have some stories of any, you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, because the car was crap and kept breaking down or something along those lines. Okay, so first, last worst best is very interesting exercise. And you can keep adding nouns to it. Like just, if you've done the whole thing with the, with the usual nouns, which is the ones I mentioned, just pick a pick a whole bunch of different things, project, friendship, family member, relative, actually, in that case, so it didn't just just keep trying things, and you'll find a whole bunch of other stories. That's another approach, then the other thing you can do is just be very, very strategic about it. So let's say you trying to talk to someone about, about your job, maybe about something you do, or something you you really care about, then you can ask yourself the question, when did I stopped caring about this? You know, what was the first time that I really realised that this was an important thing. If you go back to the beginning, you're very commonly going to find kind of an origin story there. So the first time you ever realised that saving money, and investing money and looking after your family finances was important. What was that? You know, in my case, it was probably how there are plenty of things in my, in my childhood, where we, you know, we didn't have that much money, or at least not as much money as most of the kids that went to the fancy private school that I went to. So I often had to hear that we couldn't afford it or wasn't my birthday, Christmas, or there's no way I was going to get a present and you know, money didn't fall off trees, or this kind of silly things parents say, in I think that got into my head how how money, like if I had more money, I would be happier or something like that. And I can remember specific instances where that got imprinted in my head like car, a crappy car that my mom did, couldn't afford to change, breaking down over and over on the road to the coast or something. So that's, that's one example. Another one I can think of is maybe someone I know like a relative who got into financial trouble. And because they never received any money or invested in money, and they ended up fighting with their siblings, her siblings in this case, because they had done better in life. And then it was kind of complicated to have holidays together, because she was always counting pennies. And she felt proud to complain, instead of complaining that or saying I don't have as much money as you she just would complain that everything was just overly expensive when he wasn't really so you can think of things that, that were, you know, the first time that you realise that that thing happened, maybe the last time that it happened to you, or sometime a timely happened to someone else you knew. And you realise, wow, this is this is a problem a lot of people have. And if you go back to a lot of startup stories, that is usually what happens, you know, a startup story is often about how the founders realised that there was a problem. They were suffering from that problem, and maybe other people would suffer from that problem. And that's what gave them the motivation to just start trying to fix it. Okay, so when did you first realise this was a problem? Or when did you have to go through something like that in your life? In You screwed it up? Right? If you're talking about the importance of communication, what was the worst experience you had with communication? Maybe it was a presentation that you completely bombed, maybe was you're trying to talk to someone you care about, and you completely screwed that up. I mean, we all have examples of things like that. So the worst example of when that wasn't done properly by you or to you, those would be strategic ways to find to find those stories. So outside of the, you know, strategically asking yourself these questions, you can also do research. This is a simple Going on Google or whatever browser you search engine use, and just typing change stories from looking for a story about change. If it's too broad, maybe it's going to take you too long to filter down through all the stories that are going to come up. But often you're going to find a page with 10 stories, you're going to find a few links that seem to be particularly interesting and you know, don't always need the best story, you just need a story that fits the purpose or the point you're trying to make. So in my case, I was looking for that I actually Googled change stories. And I don't think I found anything that I immediately like they had a couple of candidates. And for I toyed for a while with the idea of the I didn't want to do the codec story. You know, Kodak didn't realise that digital photography was going to be a big thing. And they kind of screwed up business that they were in an industry where they completely dominated. I thought that was a bit done to death, the same with Blockbuster and Netflix. I toyed around with the idea of using the BlackBerry story, I thought that was a little more interesting, because although everybody knows how BlackBerry essentially disappeared, even though they were the most popular phone for a very long time, I don't think that many people know the ins and outs of that story. So I I found that one, I liked it. I actually rehearsed it a couple of times, but I wasn't really feeling it. And then I did the last thing that that I occasionally do, which is go to trusted sources. So maybe there is a blog you like maybe there's a podcast that always has good stories. I don't know, maybe there's another storyteller out there that you respect, and you listen to a lot of their stuff. So what I did is I went to one of the richest source of business stories that I know, which is the anecdotally speaking podcast. Now if you who listened to my show you you heard me talk about the guys from anecdote plenty of times, I had one of them, Sean Callahan on the show, I really really liked their approach to stories in their big believers in this idea of small stories of finding small business stories, and telling those and they have they put very little focus in crafting stories or how you tell the stories for them is just you know, find a story that does the job. And that's essentially what you need to be doing. And their podcast is short, it's usually 1520 minutes. One of them tells a business story, they score that story, they talk about why they think it's good, or why it's not that good when they would use a story like that. And that's about it. So I because I was a bit backed up with episodes that I wanted to listen, I scroll through the whole list of of episodes, and I saved some of those that I thought might be interesting. And then and then I'll actually online. That's not what I did. What I did was they had a they had an episode of their favourite stories. So I listened to that one. And the the other host of the show, Mark, he wants to send you but I'm not having I'm having a massive issue with surnames today. But anyway, Mark, he mentioned that one of his favourite stories was the backwards bike story. So he told that, and at first I thought ne ne I'm not not sure not sure. I mean, it was clearly a story about the difficulty of change. But I I didn't love it. But then I went and did my own research and I looked up the story, I found a few more things about who Dustin sending was and what exactly the process he went through with with telling the story. And as I did that, it occurred to me what had been going on with my daughter Ellis, I as I was really going through the the the backwards bike story, I thought Hold on, my daughter is having a lot of trouble changing the way she rides a bicycle. And then I thought okay, now now I liked it because I could start with something very personal and kind of more amusing, I thought, then the destin Sandlin thing, but then I could use that as a bridge to say you know, but she's a kid, when she's older, this will be easier. And then I have a story about that and sending in you know, seeds not easy. And from that I could pick out a model like a scientific way of talking about change and why our brains struggle so much with it. And wire communication is the thing we're doing that is making, you know, it's the wrong cog in the bicycle that's making our communication backwards or work backwards. So that's how I found that one. I tried my usual approaches nothing was coming up. Then I did a bit of research I went to my trusted sources found one thing that a bit more research then I went back to, to something that I had actually written down one on homework for life, which was my daughter really struggling to learn how to write a rubber bicycle. And then I use that on the keynote. It worked really well. People really like the story. It suited other parts of the keynote as well, both parts in both my kids and destin Sandlin story, suitor that, and that's when I found that story. So there you go, you know, you have, you can collect stories by doing something like homework for life or regular journaling. You can listen to find stories and you know, listen to podcasts, and read business books and write down stories as you find them. So that's the collection approach. And the strategic finding approach is doing things like the four or five F's first, last, or it's best to asking yourself very specific questions about when did you realise this? When was the first time that you figured out this


was important? When did you learn this? When did you or someone else get in trouble for not knowing this for not knowing how to do this? Well, so those types of strategic questions, you can do research just Googling for stories. And you can go back to trusted sources. And with all of those things, I don't think I should ever, ever have to listen to the thing I hear so often from clients and from everyone else when it comes to stories, which is that I don't have any stories, which always has to be said with a whiny voice. You probably heard this before, because it's true. There you go. If you want any of these, if you want any of the resources that I mentioned here, I'm going to put a bunch of stuff on on the show notes or some stuff I get lazy with that stuff. But just drop me a line, or hit me up on LinkedIn or drop me an email at Francisco at Francisco mahfuz.com. And I can send you the first last verse best worksheet, I can send you the story journal that I often give to clients. And that that because this has just gone on for longer than I originally intended. 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 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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