This week I flew from the UK to California. I rented one of the Airbnb apartments in the Bay area, rideshared with Lyft, drank coffees Americano from Starbucks and had lunches at Whole Foods Market. This year’s IABC World Conference 2015 couldn’t have a better theme, ‘Changing the Landscape: Informing the Future‘.
More than 1,000 attendees and a variety of speakers gathered from across the globe to explore new ways of communicating, living and working. With over 80 sessions to choose from, not one day went by that I didn’t feel I could make interesting connections and learn something new.
The world began and will end with a story
For IABC APAC Director and Blogger Subhamoy Das, stories are the scaffoldings of business communications, but also of life. “We all live our lives through stories. We make sense of our world and our place in it through stories!”
As American novelist Reynolds Price once said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo Sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”
After all, plenty of scientific studies have addressed the impact of stories on the brain. For example, the brain releases dopamine into the system when it experiences an emotionally charged event, making it easier to remember and with greater accuracy. A story also activates parts in the brain that allows the listener to turn that story in to their own ideas and experience thanks to a process called neural coupling. Another interesting field of research is around the cortex activity and how well told narratives switch on our senses, motions, and feelings.
But, anatomy aside, why are stories so important to communicators? Das’s answer is fivefold:
“Storytelling is the new differentiator; stories provide simulation – knowledge to act; stories provide inspiration – motivation to act; credible ideas make people believe; emotional ideas make people act.”
If you think that this is just a pile of wood, think again. Das cited a study sourced by One Spot, which indicates that 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like a story. On this premise, Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick‘ can be a useful read, which explores six principles of sticky ideas: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories.
However, some of today’s most innovative stories are co-created – people tell their own stories, which are more trustworthy than any official company release. In the context of work, having staff who authentically share their narratives becomes a powerful means for employee advocacy.
The new audience
From a storyteller’s point of view, Das suggested distinguishing four types of stakeholders, what he called “the new audience”. The Seekers like to go deeper into the story, exploring different worlds, and learning new things. Relaters want to discuss and share their favourite narratives with friends and family, in-person and online. Realists want stories that lead to personal growth, productivity, and all-around better living. Players are super-engagers and into just about everything – from following their favourite characters on social media to becoming characters themselves.
This classification can be useful in measuring a story’s success. For example, communicators can look at the immersion of seekers – how deep and extended is their experience?; or the interactivity of relators – how proactive are they?; or the integration of realists – how wide and cross-platform conversions are they making? Finally, there is the impact on players – how inspired are they?
As a framework it of course may miss the nuances of communicating in a real complex world. Yet, it may be an helpful starting point for communicators who want to work more productively in the storytelling direction.
And, indeed today communicators have plenty of innovative tools to source their stories – from Storify, to Snapchat, Periscope and even cinemagraph (see picture). The latter is said to be the future of storytelling on Facebook – a mix of still imagery and video that the social network is encouraging the creative to embrace.
Be Curious, Humble and Playful
Knowledge is power, they say. However, the Internet has changed everything. Perhaps, we should ask ourselves if there is any power in not knowing. Often it is not what we know that matters, but our ability to learn. One obvious reason for this is that when we are new to something, we ask questions. We listen more. We are alert. We experiment. We do our best thinking.
But it seems that we have fallen out of love with ignorance. As Liz Wiseman, President of the Wiseman Group and author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, put it: “It is very easy to become comfortable and think that we have all the answers. Experience builds blind spots.”
This is partly justified by a system, which requires people to “be qualified for” whatever job they are asked to perform or situation they have to face. However, according to Wiseman, it is when we are “curious, humble and playful” that we drive top performance.
There is another reason why businesses should pay attention: When leaders say ‘We don’t have all the answers’, other people can step in and make a dramatic impact on the intelligence of the organisation. This is what ‘Multipliers leaders‘ do – they attract and optimise talent, create space for the best thinking, stretch challenges and instil ownership and accountability among their teams. “Multipliers leaders see people as smart individuals capable of figuring out how to solve a problem.”
Now, with today’s volatility and unpredictability riding so high, would seem a good time to have more Multipliers at work.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. Many workplaces still have to deal with the ‘Diminishers‘ – the empire builders, tyrants and know-it-all micro-managers. “Diminishers hoard and underutilise their talent, create stress that stops thinking, tell people what to do, make all the decisions by themselves and manage every detail.” Yet, as Wiseman pointed out, the latter leadership style rarely leads to innovation. Plus, employee engagement suffers, along with those who never felt connected with the company in the first place.
So, in the long term it may well make sense for leaders who want to maintain their best talent and nurture a culture of creativity to be listed on the Multipliers. “When we operate from a place of not knowing, we discover. It starts with asking and seeking.”
Since the rise of mobile technology the efficiency and productivity of front-line staff have improved dramatically. Indeed, mobile devices are appealing not just to employees, but to internal communicators: diminishing their burden, Shel Holtz suggested, mobility provides a boost to peer-to-peer communications. That was also one of the arguments made by Senior Manager of Content and Digital Strategy at Walmart Shane Mclaughlin. “Social and mobile have shifted the employer-employee contract. It is about human-to-human. Your device is part of you.”
In the battle between IT and Communications, optimist Chuck Gose argued that mobile is a chance for the two functions to finally come together, and prove their value. While the divide is still present and large in some companies, there should be a lot more cooperation floating around in near future. After all, technology is moving fast. If organisations are to keep up and deliver the best service to their employees, there is no choice but for IT and Communications to be better partners.
It should also be more alluring to change agents, since mobility is about mind-sets. Indeed, to transform this technology into systems of engagement, organisations need to adopt a mobile ‘mind’. As Holtz put it: “Think context; the mobile moment – What do people need when they are not at their desk? Social is immediate; it allows us to move quickly and change accordingly to the context.”
When we talk about mobility we tend to think about phones and tablets. But, the phenomenon is much richer than that. Holtz pointed out that wearables are already entering the workplace. And plenty is also said about the arrival of robotics, drones and virtual reality devices. Hence, as Mclaughlin said: “It is important to continue to explore how new technology can benefit the whole organisation. Think of the opportunities you are missing.”
There is no reason why the same moral should not apply. It is a great idea – as long as it comes with the right purpose and intentions.