“Bob has clearly demonstrated to senior military officers the fundamental relationship between successful leaders and their ability to generate compelling stories and instrumental in identifying our communication weaknesses.”
Susan Higgins, Deputy Director Naval Post Graduate School
More than 60% of the companies originally listed on the Fortune 500 have vanished. All these casualties of capitalism have one thing in common: they lost their story, then they lost market share.
Just a few years ago Ford was in a pickle.
Ford has been one of the most successful, iconic businesses in the United States. It’s been building automobiles for almost 100 years and its brand is recognized around the world. Yet in 2003 and ‘04 pundits were talking about the real possibility that Ford could go out of business. Ford’s old story of building tough trucks and SUV’s at the exclusion of smaller, more fuel efficient cars was not working. The company had alienated many younger customers, especially women. People were turning to other carmakers like Toyota and Honda. These companies were telling stories that appealed to a younger, more diverse base.
So Ford did something courageous it hired a new CEO by the name of Alan Mulally.
Alan was not an auto industry insider. He came from aerospace — with a fresh new story. His story was simple: “We are going to build highly efficient, high quality cars and trucks. They will be safe, innovative, fun to drive.” He also borrowed several billion dollars from private sources before the financial collapse of 2008/09. This put Ford ahead of its US competition and the company followed through with new products that resonated with Mulally’s new story. After years of losing market share, Ford became profitable again in late 2009.
Companies that have survived and thrived have powerful, vibrant narratives that give them a strong sense of community and identity. These stories make people care and understand what these companies really stand for. If you want a business that will last, start with a great story. If you want to make sure your current venture survives, fix the story first.
What’s your business story? Are you making people care? Are you creating community? Do people know what your company stands for?
Join our community of storytellers on June 30th to breathe more life into your business! Sign up by June 15th (just 3 days left!!) and get the early bird discount.
Transformation – change – is the last of our five elements
and the goal of every story. When you see it, it is incredibly powerful. Change
as a human experience – not as a bumper sticker, not a slogan, not as something
to be achieved in the future – but as a here and now reality is what all
elections are about. This ad, which I found on Andrew Sullivan’s site, lets change
show through unadorned. Changing the world starts by changing your mind. What more is there to say?
Sarah Palin is not the only interesting story coming out of
Alaska. Ted “Hell No” Stevens is on trial for failing to report “gifts” from
“lobbyists.” His is also running for reelection. The DNCC put
together this little gem. I don’t like negative ads, but this one is too genre
perfect to pass up. If you still have doubt that great political ads are story
driven, this 30 sec spot should lay them to rest.
A quick 5-elements analysis: The Passion (irreducible core)
of the ad is carried by the opening sound track – a cross between a political
thriller and a local news stations investigative reporter theme. It establishes beyond doubt that this will be a crime story. The people in the van are our Heroes
(we even see Stevens’ house on a video monitor stressing their point of view is
our point of view). Stevens is the Antagonist “He thinks he is above the law”.
And crucially there is a moment of clear awareness when one “reporter” says
disgusted, “And I voted for him.” Finally a transformative tag line “It’s not
about Alaska anymore.” This is great stuff.
BTW, if anyone has any great Repub ads I’d love to analyze
them. Most of what I’ve seen from the Repubs are tired retreads, but I’m
probably missing something. Enlighten me, please.
It was a classic
five-element story line. The crowd was wildly PASSIONATE before he spoke,
having been fired up by Al Gore and Stevie Wonder so he wasted no time and moved
on to immediately accept the nomination, becoming the Dem official HERO. The
vast majority of his time he spent defining his ANTAGONIST by methodically
connecting McCain to Bush’s unpopular policies – specifically linking him to
the failure to catch Bin Ladin (“Don’t say you will follow Bin Ladin to the
gates of hell. You won’t even go to the cave where he lives!) and to higher gas
prices (“Senator McCain has voted 26 times against alternative energy sources…
More drilling is just a stop gap measure”). Then he went for the jugular,
bringing up the issue of “judgement and temperment” on a day when McCain’s
nasty side had surfaced in an interview with Time magazine, throwing the press some fresh meat and making “temperment”
a point in the upcoming debates.
At the same time Obama was laying out specific policy initiatives – that is, he was giving us clear
AWARENESS of how we as a nation can get back on the right track. And he ended
on his theme of Change – TRANSFORMATION. So the speeches storyline was
complete. He touched all the bases, and that is the very definition of a homerun.
I’m not usually a big fan of Chris Mathews, but as a
political speechwriter himself he did a great analysis of this speech. Check it
out here. I particularly like what he said about “attacking from a defensive position.”
But maybe Al Sharpton had
the best one-line summary, “Obama took the gloves off but never stopped
smiling, and that is a very dangerous opponent for John Mc Cain.”
With his loss in South Dakota Barak Obama accumulated the
magic number of delegates to win the Democratic Nomination of the first ballot
– theoretically. And the media says it is in the bag. Of course, they have been
saying that for months. And may be it is. But for a campaign whose slogan is
“Change We Can Believe In” the Obamistas seem deeply certain that none of their
over 2000 delegates will change their minds in the long months until Denver,
months in which McCain will begin his attacks and Obama’s responses will be
Remember that none of the Super Delegates are legally bound
to vote the way they say they will when talking to the press. And most of the elected delegates are not legally bound to vote the way they said they would on the
ballot. As Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And it ain’t over
until the Convention calls the role, counts the votes, and all those balloons
drop. It IS all over but the shouting, but shouting is what a good convention is all about. That and silly
As the Dem activist ladies chanting “McCain ‘08” in front of
the DNC rules committee Saturday made quite clear, it could be a very fractious
convention. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned – unless of course it is 18
million of them. And I’m not sure even Hillary in full compromise mode can control that. This is actually a very good thing for the Dems.
Why? Because so far there really hasn’t been a clear moment
of Dem awareness. The penny hasn’t dropped. Until that moment no real
transformation can occur. I’ve been looking for it; I’ve been waiting for it,
but haven’t seen it yet. But we will see it as the smoke clears. And that will
be what we are dealing with as the blog gets back into gear.
In the mean time there were THREE important speeches last
night, and TPM Election Centraol has all three. Hillary ,Obama and McCain.
Check them out. They are the tea leaves from which the future can be read. You
can see them by clicking over.
At the CNN Dem debate last night Hillary Clinton gave one of
the finest closing statements – hell, one of the most effective story moments
period – at any debate in memory. Better than anything in JFK-Nixon, (even
Nixon’s sweating lip) and better than Reagan’s exquisitely timed, “There you go
again,” against Carter.
Hillary responded with a broad smile,
reminded us of the crises she has faced without having to list them – they are
part of our collective memory – then deftly took the answer to another level.
She talked about her attendance at the dedication of a medical center for
rehabilitating wounded warriors back from Iraq. She and John McCain were the
only two elected officials invited, which allowed her to skillfully link
herself with the presumptive Repub candidate, but she kept the visual imagery
on the wounds and suffering of the troops and their heroic struggle to recover.
And she took her time doing it. She was making us SEE why this election
matters. It is about real people, real medical care, and the real consequences
of presidential decisions.
In story terms Hillary moved the
debate from her struggle with her Antagonist (Obama) to the next story element
– our Awareness. In The Elements of Persuasion we say that every successful
story needs a moment of Awareness that allows the hero – that’s us in an
election – to make the decision that will lead to real transformation. This
moment is often fleeting and easy to miss. Not this time. At the San Antonio
CNN debate the moment of Awareness was Texas Big.
In many ways Hillary’s
answer was a call back to her earlier spontaneous answer to a question at a
diner in New Hampshire that some felt turned the tide in that state’s primary. You can see that one again here.
Will one moment in the San Antonio
Debate be enough to transform Hillary’s downhill slide? Hard to say. But the it
was definitely a story moment for the record books
If like us you have spent hours searching the malls for the
perfect gifts, you will be happy to know that you are going to get all that
time back! At least that is the statistical result of recent studies that show generous
giving is a positive survival trait in humans. One reason may be the neurotransmitter
Oxytocin is stimulated by such things as touching and being
trusted and is shown to facilitate the bonding of mother and child. If you are building
a brand, this is the stuff you need your customers producing when they hear
your name. And it is clearly connected to giving. A report published by the
journal, ONE, shows that giving test
subjects Oxytocin made them much more generous. It seems to be a two-way
street, so the act of generous giving gives you a shot of this hormone as well.
And Oxytocin is a gift that keeps on giving – to you! The hormone is known to
reduce heart rate and blood pressure, promote wound healing, and reduce the effects
The best gifts to give are the most personal. Giving of your
own time trumps all the rest. A review of over thirty studies on the subject done
by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people who
volunteer time to help others have lower mortality rates, function at a higher
physical and cognitive level, and are less likely to be depressed than others.
You get more benefit if you are older, and if you give more than 100 hours a
year. We’ve said before that one of the smartest career moves you can make is
to find and support an important social cause at work. Now it turns out it
might just save your life.
If you have been a regular reader of this blog you noticed a
stunning transformation a few weeks ago. We suddenly went from being a bland
off-the-typepad-shelf way to post words, to being an actual blogsite designed to
tell a story. The change involves more than just new colors and buttons. It
involves a whole new point of view. The Hero responsible? We owe it all to Amy
Lenzo, Creative Director of Clear Light Communications.
If you are a very long time reader you will remember Amy’s
website Beauty Dialogues. We raved
about it in one of our very first post because Amy’s photos are such stunning examples of images as stories. But in
the intervening months (has it really been that long?) she also has added written
content that is not to be missed.
Her thinking on the link between design, the Internet and
community is profound and, yes, beautiful She tells a great story. She knows
all the facts and wraps them in such good-hearted emotions that we are
compelled to see things differently. And the more we work with Amy and Clear
Light the more we know “we ain’t seen nothing yet.”
We often tell our clients that story is not a marketing
add-on – something you come up with after you have a good idea to sell it.
Story is how you have that really good idea in the first place. This is
particularly true of design stories. Great design, the type Amy does, doesn’t
just present information, it reveals the stories underneath. Great designs are acts of
discovery. Check out Amy’s website and discover for yourself how design can help
build a living web community. You will really thank me for this link.
Whether you are a Repub or Dem your
front-runner’s poll numbers are collapsing quicker than a dynamited Vegas
casino. What gives?
With Hillary it is all about likability. She may be the most tactically skilled politician of her generation
but she is far from the most natural. That allowed Obama, who IS a natural, to
make his move. Paul Krugman has been writing for months that Obama’s positions strongly slant right. When Hillary says attacks are
“straight out of the republican play book” that is what she means. With Karl
Rove’s love letter to Obama now on open display in the Financial Times and available to use in Hillary’s counter-attack things are set to get nasty. Stay tuned; Edwards could be the big winner in
this dust up.
On the Repub side Giuliani’s
campaign has always been a train wreck waiting to happen, but his signature
sneer and swagger plays well in the clinches so he might still pull it off.
Mitt Romney’s problems are more hard-core. The Repub spin machine spent twenty
years associating the words “liberal” and “Massachusetts.” Even a master like Frank Luntz would find it
hard to reverse field now. And the simple fact is that Mormonism is not
fundamentalist Christianity. There is no Book of Mormon in the King James
Bible. For some, like Florida preacher Bill Keller, pretending otherwise is flat out Satanic. Keller may be extreme, but in the
Republican South Carolina Primary, extreme is normal.
Mitt made things worse by electronically stuffing the ballot box
at the Value Voters Summit.
We think that is what really kicked church-based social networking into high
gear, fueling the Huckabee surge in Iowa. We said at the time it was going to
be trouble. Hell hath no furry like a born-again scammed.
This site tries not to play favorites. But we have to admit that in recent weeks we’ve spent more time looking at the Repub campaigns than at the Dem’s. Well, who doesn’t gawk at a car wreck when you drive past one on the freeway? And Hillary’s careful consolidation her base has all the excitement of watching ice form on a New Hampshire pond. Now, finally a Democrat has done something really worth paying attention to.
John Edwards – you remember him; southern boy from a hard scrabble family with a silver tongue and a twinkle in his eye married to that feisty lawyer lady (gee, that reminds me of another Dem who once ran for President and won) – has made A GREAT SPEECH. If you like political storytelling you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing.
Notice how it follows our five-element model.
1. First, Edwards discusses the moment that he and his wife had to decide what they really cared about – their PASSION.
2. Then he describes the American People with their HEROIC “can do” spirit – this is the base he is hoping to win over.
3. Next he defines his ANTAGONIST – the corrupt, lobbyist-laden mess that has become business as usual in evil old Washington DC. He very skillfully links Hillary to the bad guys without demonizing her and actually saying she herself is corrupt (though he comes awfully close).
4. Now he uses a quote from Abraham Lincoln to make us AWARE of why this matters so much. The dream of America won’t be destroyed by foreign enemies, but by our own moral failures.
5. By the end of the speech he hopes he has TRANSFORMED our sense of what the campaign is all about.
Whether he did it or not is hard to say. But at least he gave it one hell of a good shot.