The world is changing and visionary CEOs are forging a new paradigm. They’re discovering that you CAN boost profits and make the world and your people better off. You CAN be fulfilled, grow, and be a decent human being. You CAN be decisive and vulnerable. How are they doing it? You can learn from the best. We have. Welcome to the first of our one-on-one up close and personal looks at NZ’s leading visionary CEOs. Nick Astwick!
Success is over-rated. Think about it. After every big event, once the crowds and athletes have departed, what remains? Empty streets, litter, the sound of the wind and the creak of the abandoned winner’s podium.
Ask any Olympic gold medallist about that ‘lost’ feeling they get when the shouting’s all over. Think about the sense of regret you may feel when a good story ends. Hitting your sales budgets does not make you a great business. A happy ending does not in itself make a story good.
Staff need to constantly strive for wins
These outcomes are alright for stories and the Olympic Games. For all one-off-events that must come to an end. But your business is not a one-off event. One win must follow another, on and on, forever. So how do you keep it going? How do you keep your staff striving for win after win without getting bored? What do you do about that sense of déjà vu which, whether it follows a win or a loss, can incite feelings of futility?
In our previous two blogs “What Hollywood can teach business about culture, purpose and success” and “How do banks, retailers and insurance companies use storytelling to build success?” we discussed how purposeful storytelling could help you achieve successful transformation or cultural change within your organisation (for more on storytelling to build business momentum download our free eGuide here). But once you’ve achieved your initial objectives, how do you keep momentum?
The Dramatic Question
In the blog “How do banks, retailers and insurance companies use storytelling to build success?” we used Dunkirk and the rescue of more than 300 000 soldiers as an analogy to explain the concept of the ‘inciting incident’ (the battle of Dunkirk) and the ‘dramatic question’ (who will rescue the soldiers?) as two devices that are useful for achieving business objectives, in the same way as they achieve story goals.
If the heroes of the story were able to answer the dramatic question quickly, then that would be it. The soldiers make it home safely. The end. And yet, this is exactly the dilemma that confronts companies all the time, at that moment they meet their targets.
But unlike a story, there is no ending for your business. There’s only onward and upward, or a slow drift in the opposite direction.
The answer? To keep your customers, your staff and other stakeholders engaged and motivated, you need to uncover more dramatic questions.
Fortunately, there’s also no end to inciting incidents when you’re in business – for example, head office whims, digital disruption, economic downturns, new inventions, changing social attitudes, fickle politicians.
For every inciting incident, there is a dramatic question. Sometimes the inciting incident is in your face, other times it’s sneakier, more subtle or a vague sense of disquiet.
Some of these dramatic questions may be:
- ‘How do we work within the restrictions set by head office?’
- ‘What will we do about emerging technologies?’
- ‘How do we deal with the fact that we make junk food when what we really want is to teach people to have healthier eating habits?’
- ‘How do we respond to our competitor’s new invention?’
It’s these challenges, that keeps the story interesting and the business striving.
Employees need to be a part of the Story
Importantly, if you want to keep your employees engaged you need to include them in your story. They need to be an active part of it. They need to be the hero, the audience, the stakeholders in your story. Once your staff suddenly find themselves abandoned on the beaches and no rescue in sight, they get motivated pretty quickly.
Tip: #1. List your inciting incidents and develop an understanding of the dramatic question in your business.
Tip: #2 Listen to your staff. Go to them for solutions. Let your staff try things, make mistakes and get back up and try again.
Tip #3: Let your customers into what you are trying to achieve, and then they will cheer for you, cry for you and support you – but they need to be part of the story; actively enrolled.
Do that, and you’ll keep your employees and your customers totally ‘hooked’ on the story you’re telling.
If you want to know more about storytelling, I highly recommend these two books (the bibles of storytellers):
‘Story’ by Robert McKee; and
‘Screenplay’ by Syd Field.
To read more on how purposeful storytelling can help you achieve successful transformation or cultural change within your organisation, download the eGuide “Why 70% of Organisational Transformations Fail and How to Fix the Problem” here.
How do banks, retailers and insurance companies use storytelling to build success?
338,266 Allied soldiers are trapped on a beach and threatened with total annihilation. Will they survive? Wristwatch salesmen Billy and Nick lose their jobs when the digital world overtakes them. Is this the end of their usefulness?
The Inciting Incident
All great stories begin with an inciting incident. An event that changes everyone’s lives. In a movie like Dunkirk, it’s the moment when you realise 338,266 soldiers are waiting to be rescued – some neck deep in the water – but the Royal Navy is no longer coming to get them.
In the corporate world, it might be the moment you realise Amazon is opening in your country, or when your customers suddenly align with a new technology or when economic events suddenly change your landscape.
‘The Internship’ (2013) is a movie, but it has a business message. Billy and Nick lose their jobs because mobile phones have replaced wrist watches.
Up until the inciting incident, nothing much is happening. It’s just business as usual. But once jobs are lost, soldiers are abandoned, and new technology makes you redundant – each an inciting incident – the major dramatic question of the story emerges.
How will the soldiers get home? How can the retailer survive Amazon’s drones? How can Billy and Nick make themselves relevant again? How will the bank adapt to the arrival of new technologies?
The Major Dramatic Question
Following the inciting incident, the major dramatic question is the linchpin. It’s what holds the story together, creates a hero and keeps the audience hooked. We stay to watch the movie because we want an answer to that question. How will the soldiers survive? Who will rescue them?
The major dramatic question is relevant to your business as well. It keeps your employees engaged because they’re asking major questions too. Questions like: “How are we going to create a better society?” “How are we going to teach people about money so they can do good things with it?” “How will we use real stories to inspire people?”
Your People are the Heroes
In effect your people, your employees, are the hero of the story.
If a story teller doesn’t manage to communicate the major dramatic question – which demonstrates the purpose of the story – then the story fails; the audience disengages. They’re no longer interested. They turn off the TV. They close the book, and they go to sleep.
Examples of this disengagement at a business level occur every day. Business initiatives flounder. The company seems up to its neck in deep water. No change and no rescue in sight. They stop wondering ‘how?’. Instead, staff disengage. The passion wanes.
Here are three steps to help you discover your dramatic question; your purpose:
Get a blank piece of paper and sit down with a pencil. Now ask yourself:
TIP #1 What’s the inciting incident?
It could be new digital technology is making your business redundant, as it did to Bill and Nick. Perhaps it’s Amazon drones flying over your house, or peer-to-peer lending platforms.
TIP#2 What’s your dramatic question?
For example, how can you adapt? How can you make the world a better place? How can you still be relevant? How will you justify your existence?
Think of the answer to your dramatic question as your organisation’s purpose. Make sure it’s a purpose you care about it. No one reads a book or watches a movie if the protagonist isn’t all in. If the hero isn’t going to give a 110% to achieve the goal of the movie, what would be the point? You can’t tell a good story if the central question – the purpose – isn’t real and compelling.
An armada of small boats set sales to rescue the stranded soldiers. But their mission will face adversity and obstacles, but the cause is worth it. Bill and Nick apply for a job with Google (if you can’t beat ‘em) and must pass the rigorous internship programme, finding themselves up against computer savvy geeks and geniuses.
It isn’t going to be easy resolving your dramatic question. Nothing worthwhile ever is, but you can’t get through thick and thin if you don’t care.
TIP#3 Cometh the hour, cometh the heroes.
Not every hero is suited for every task. Not everybody likes war movies. Some like comedies. Others prefer romance. Not every story appeals to everybody. Your employees are no different. They’re never going to be hooked on a story – or battle heroically through thick and thin – if your purpose doesn’t resonate with them.
There will be people in your organisation, perhaps a lot of them, who just aren’t on-board. However, once you know your purpose, you can begin to recruit with your purpose in mind. Cometh the purpose, cometh the people.
At RealTV, we understand that every good video we produce – whether it’s safety or new products or building a customer service culture – engages and resonates when you communicate what you’re doing (your purpose) ‘why’ you’re doing it (the inciting incident) and ‘how’ you plan to get there (the plan).
It works for corporate videos, and movies and big business propositions too.
What Hollywood can teach business about culture, purpose and success
Have you ever experienced an organisation where all the employees are motivated? Where they are creative, innovative, problem solvers? Where they are aligned with why they do what they do, and where they get out of bed every day because they’re excited to be a part of it?
Pie in the sky?
During my 20s, I worked on film sets and it was a constant source of amazement to me that hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people would work together so seamlessly. They knew exactly what they were doing and when to do it. They would sweep through a film set – moving, creating, building – in complete silence. It is simply fascinating and mesmerising to watch.
The first time I saw a film crew setting up a café scene, I remember thinking, ‘Wow! If only countries and businesses were run by teams like this! What an amazing world we would live in!’
On that particular day, I was a lowly stand-in (the person who fills in for the lead actor when they go to have their make-up done), but when I sat down at the table and picked up the menu, I was blown away.
Someone had taken the time and care to not only create the menu, but to fill it with delicious food, amazing images and in between the lines of print were little jokes for the reader. It was the most amazing menu I have ever read, and no one would ever read it but me. So, why did some lowly set designer take all the time to do all that detail?
I’ve come to realise that the answer is simple.
A Bigger Mission
Film makers are story tellers and every person employed on a film set believes they are a part of something bigger. They are a part of the story that they are creating.
Most companies will tell me that they don’t do anything as exciting as making movies, but I would beg to differ. I don’t work in the film industry anymore. These days we make corporate transformation, internal communications and training videos because I wanted to bring that storytelling culture to corporate business.
I wanted to help businesses capture something of the culture of being part of a bigger story because I believe it’s through the workplace that we can begin to make not just our lives, but the world, into something better.
Business has the power to do good things like educate people about their finances, change the eating habits of the population and reverse global warming – not Governments, but business.
Storytelling to Inspire
Companies, corporates, SMEs and even the not-for-profit industry can learn a lot from Hollywood. Rather than dismissing story as a medium that ignores the facts and figures, businesses would be well served by looking to the art of storytelling as a way to inspire staff, customers and society as a whole – to see it as a way to connect the business and its people to real purpose, and in so doing give our employees the courage to act, and to set teams up to succeed.
To read more on how purposeful storytelling can help you achieve successful transformation or cultural change within your organisation, download the eGuide
Love is a verb: Work Your Love.
James Carville, was the Campaign Manager and the brains behind Bill Clintons 1992 election campaign. In what they called the War Room he had a huge banner hung up. Famously it proclaimed, “It’s the Economy, Stupid” – meaning, stay focused on that issue, and we’ll win. And they did. But it’s a lesser-known statement that he made to his team, that he attributed to his Grandmother that I’ve always thought was the real key to his teams success, and Clintons election victory. He told them, “Love is a verb. To work, is an act of love.” That speech, and that idea, galvanised the team.
That attitude is a choice. It’s not determined by your choice of work. It’s an attitude that can be brought to any job. It’s the attitude I try to capture in people within the companies I film. To celebrate and shine a light on something that many people don’t realize is a heroic act – to work, and to work well.
Whether its documentaries or videos for business’ the best part of my job is listening – with a camera. Actively listening, not just to the spoken remarks, but to what people would love to say, but perhaps cant articulate, or are not even aware of themselves – to truly see the person behind the job. And to see the synthesis of the person with the job as an incredibly important end in itself. Something to be noticed and celebrated. When we are noticed and celebrated, we excel.
Stories must make the universal personal. Otherwise you are left with statistics on a spreadsheet. Private Ryan represents all soldiers. Batman represents everyone wrestling with ethical issues and justice. Its no different in the world of corporate stories. One person doing a job well is a surrogate for every team member. Seeing love as a verb can reverberate throughout an entire organization. But it starts with a person. And its told through storytelling.
At the end of a shoot day, my hope is that that person feels noticed and appreciated – that she feels her acts within the company are truly seen and heard. More and more the images we see on screen are of vacuous celebrities, captured by cameras, airbrushed, and foisted upon us at the supermarket check out. In the face of this, it’s incredibly affirming for a real person and her team to see themselves and their stories told well, celebrated and influencing others for the better.
At the end of filming, we can all be pretty tired. But it’s the right kind of tired, because everyone’s worked hard. We’ve done our best to serve and do justice to another’s story.
So what do you do? What work do your people do? Can it be elevated to an act of love? It might be far closer to home, and look, at first sight more prosaic than fantastic or glamorous. But if we look closer, and listen harder, we can find ways to showcase and celebrate those simple acts of work. Because work is precious. Work is love. And love is a verb. Follow that, amplify it, and your team, like James Carvilles will win.