Just tell a story

(Een column over verhalen in de zakelijke IT-context. Ik schreef deze tekst voor een binnenkort te verschijnen boek van het BI-Podium.)

I am becoming more and more convinced of the importance of telling a story. I am biased, of course, given that as a storyteller, creating and telling stories is what I do. But then again, I am also a trainer and consultant for IT organizations. In that domain too, I am impressed by the power of telling a story – a good story, of course. And I am surprised at how hard this seems to be. All too often, we tend to generalize and abstract. “Usually, actors behave like this.” “This will lead to an alternative flow in the business process.” “Issues are escalated to the steering committee.” Sentences with all the life sucked out of them.
A story is about a hero who endeavors to reach a goal and encounters obstacles along the way. As an audience, we identify with the hero and we want to know how he goes about overcoming those obstacles. We want to know how Joan, a data architect, managed to deal with the conflicting requirements from the two customer departments. We want to know how Andrew, a project manager, went about saving his project with a looming deadline. Tell a story that illustrates your point and you don’t have to make your point anymore. Tell a story about recognizable characters or dilemmas and it will be remembered. Tell a story about what it means to you and we will believe you.
Next time you want us to pay attention, do not talk about what actors usually do; tell us about the time that a customer made a call to headquarters. Do not talk about alternative flows; tell us about last week when all hell broke loose because a particular customer sent an email instead of a letter. And please, issues are not escalated. If you want us to understand the use of a steering committee, tell us about the last project when there was a big fight and tell us how the steering committee helped to solve the problem. Just tell a story, and don’t be surprised if this time people listen.

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