Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Telling a Story

When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.
-Daniel H. Pink
from Part Two: The Six Senses
Five: Story, p.103
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
I've been thinking about this while preparing for a meeting this afternoon to discuss with the various stakeholders where I work the next steps we should take in our documentation and knowledge management planning.

We have a nifty new web platform upon which to impress our wisdom and will for the consumption of our customers, partners, and prospects, but between me, customer service, and product, we all have differing approaches to the direction our company should be taking.

I realize in reading Pink's book, that the reason I blog so much (I only infrequently blog on "A Million Chimpanzees," while I blog incessantly elsewhere). I write in order to tell a story, the story of whatever is happening to me at the moment.

But why do I tell these stories? To entertain others? To elicit knowledgeable responses from experienced readers about some puzzle or conundrum I've encountered?

Yes and yes, sometimes. But more often than not, I write in order to process my lived experience, so that I can externalize, by writing my own words and then reading them, what has only existed internally up until I blog about it.

I suppose I could tell my story, that is, I could speak it. But as articulate as my spouse says I am, stories make more sense to me when I write them and read them. Information, all by itself, doesn't have all that much meaning until placed within the context of the story.

Then the light bulb clicks "on" above my head.

On page 105, Pink quotes Ursula K. LeGuin:
"The story--from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace--is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
In deconstructing clunky User Manuals and API Guides, I'm faced with the challenge of convincing a group of highly technical Left-Brain-dominated workers and managers that the best way to convey what our customers need to know about our product is to tell them a story.

In fact, Pink suggests that there really is only one relevant story that is told describing the journey of the Left-Directed (L-Directed) knowledge worker through the sometimes painful transitory process of becoming a Right-Brain-Directed (R-Directed) conceptual storyteller, the story of a hero.

I'll spare you another "blockquoted" paragraph of text. You can find an example of the hero's story in Joseph Campbell's 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In brief however, the hero story has three parts:
  1. Beloved hero is confronted by visitors who convince him/her that he/she is worthless/useless and must abandon his/her country.
  2. Hero reluctantly goes into exile, but with the help of kind mentors in a far-away land, becomes transformed into the hero his/her land both wants and needs.
  3. Hero returns as "the master of two worlds" and improves both of them.
I don't know that the Write the Docs conference I attended last May qualifies as my "hero's journey," but having never attended such an event before, I was reluctant to go. I hate change as much as the next person.

But now I have returned from my journey possessing some minor sense of transformation, and I've been looking for an opportunity for expression.

Today may be that opportunity (OK, just one more quote).
And Xerox--recognizing that its repair personnel learned to fix machines by trading stories rather than by reading manuals--has collected its stories into a database called Eureka that "Fortune" estimates is worth $100 million to the company.
-Pink, p.108
So in the future, when a customer visits our support website, keyboards a query in the Search field, and then presses Enter, the initial response should always begin (metaphorically), "Let me tell you a story..."

I hope to tell a good story this afternoon.