Enlightened Conflict

what firing someone says about you

May 10th, 2017

you sir are fired

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“We should place confidence in our employee. Confidence is the foundation of friendship.

If we give it, we will receive it. Any person in a managerial position, from supervisor to president, who feels that his employee is basically not as good as he is and who suspects his employee is always trying to put something over on him, lacks the necessary qualities for human leadership – to say nothing of human friendship.”

 

—–

Harry Humphreys

 

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“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.”

 

—-

Agha Abedi

 

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Well.

 

Leading and managing people is possibly one of the most rewarding things you fire bee strategy drive incan do in a business career.

 

Firing people is possibly one of the most unrewarding things you can do in a business career.

 

Unfortunately these two things are inextricably linked.

 

I could argue that once you assume responsibility for firing someone you learn more about yourself, and I imagine others learn about you, than almost any other responsibility you assume as a leader.

 

No one likes firing people. Well. no one who is any good at business leadership. I don’t care if you absolutely hate the person you are firing, if the person has actually committed a fireable offense and you are in the right to fire them, or even if you fire someone for good reason … suffice it to say … it never feels good to fire someone.

 

And because of that … a good business leader never delegates the tough termination. And they never send someone to terminate a direct report.

Generally speaking … you fire anyone who is a direct report, or you were directly responsive for hiring, face to face.

 

Yeah.

setbacks one of those days poohThis may not be, logistically, the easiest thing to do but it is part of the burden of responsibility. It is the mantle you wear and it is what you are obligated to offer the person being terminated – dignity & respect.

 

Anything less than that and you are shirking your responsibility.  Anything less than that is … well … chicken shit. And you are a chickenshit business leader if you do not do these things.

 

Sure.

 

What I just shared is a hard lesson but one business people learn in young management.

 

I will never forget the first person I ever fired. Paul.

An absolute great guy in absolutely the wrong position and possibly career. But that doesn’t mean it was easy to terminate him. While I was 99% sure it was the right thing to do <and my boss and her bosses agreed> there was an extraordinarily loud 1% in my head that kept me awake that night.

Inevitably he chose a different career and went on to become an SVP of sales.

And he was kind enough to drop me a couple of notes to tell me it all worked out for the best.

 

But I will never forget firing him. I can honestly say I never forget anyone I have fired <and that is a semi-long list after years of management>.

 

However.

I would like to think my leadership career is measured more by the people I did not fire.

 

Not firing, in a larger organization, can be harder than you think.

 

I think I spent more time explaining to the most senior people why I would not fire some of the people I managed than I did ever discussing almost anything else about employees with them.

 

Well. That is … it felt that way.

The crap that floats upwards into senior leadership about individual employees is amazing. The littlest mistakes and quirks seem to take on exponential size when it arrives at the most senior people — and they do not hesitate to share their disproportional views.

 

Regardless. All of those views cut into the ‘trust belief’ … are they respected within the organization, do they have the trust of the organization and can they be trusted with their responsibility.

totally worth it show for it life

And that is when you earn your stripes as a manager. You do not cave in to the ‘easy thing to do’ but rather stand up for your people and let the chips fall as they may. Oh. And you learn it is totally worth it to not take the easy way out.

 

Let me be clear.

No one is perfect. I was not a perfect employee nor was a perfect manager. And, yet, when judging employees there sometimes is the ‘perfect measure’ of which becomes the absurd standard.

 

Yes.

We should judge senior people more critically but we should judge them fairly.

 

Anyway.

 

I didn’t fire a lot of people. And I can think of at least 4 who made me incredibly proud that I didn’t … despite some pressure from others to do so.

 

All 4 of these have sent me notes at different points, not thanking me for not firing them but rather for simply giving them a chance, believing in them and seeing something in them that they knew <because all employees know when they are under ‘the human resources microscope’>  many others didn’t.

All 4 of them have been professionally successful and, more importantly, are solid good human beings. Neither of those are because I didn’t fire them but rather vindicate the non-firing decision.

 

All that said.

 

Firing someone, despite the pain of actually doing it, is often the easy way out and is certainly a way to avoid looking at your own flaws.

 

Flaws? I sometimes believe one of the hardest things you can learn in your career is that your best is not particularly special.

Learning the fact that your talent, in reality, is matched by a shitload of people.

Learning that your best is relatively easily matched by a shitload of people.

 

It is an unfortunate truth that:

 

  • Talent is talent.
  • Smarts are smarts.
  • And expertise is almost always relative.

 

reality-slapped-you-really-hardAt any given point in Life and your career you can look around you and if you are self aware you will note you are rarely the most talented, rarely the smartest one in the room and rarely the only expert.

 

Even on your best day you may not actually be the best.

I imagine that is a tough thing to get your head wrapped around.

But I also imagine if you do wrap your head around it evaluating employees and how you fire them is affected.

 

I always watch how someone terminates an employee.

You can learn a lot about people in that situation … and you can learn a shitload about how someone feels about dignity, respect and responsibility in how they terminate an employee.

 

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Postscript 1: under the general heading of “chickenshit” from a business perspective:

 

There are hundreds of different viable reasons to fire someone and if you have the responsibility to hire & fire and it is ‘at will’ you can do what you want. But HOW Trump fired Comey was chickenshit.

 

It wasn’t face to face with a direct report <or even face to face with anyone … just a letter delivered by a non-government employee>.

November 24, 2015

While there appeared to be no sense of urgency to terminate the action was taken with an absurd sense of senseless urgency which permitted Comey the indignity of being blindsided, in the middle of a commitment to the people who reported to him and not even in town.

 

This was a chicken shit way of terminating an honorable employee. It is indicative of Trump’s lack of character.

 

Postscript 2: Under the general heading of “this is some crazy shit” from a business perspective:

 

Firing someone for lack of confidence when the people who you are actually working for have a general lack of confidence in you is slightly surreal.

 

This may actually be the ironic point of the day.

Yesterday Donald J Trump fired his FBI Director because of ‘lack of confidence.’ Well. If that is a true criteria and I were to look at some national polling data I could argue Trump could be fired on the same criteria by the American people.

 

Most leaders do not defend their firing decision through childish name calling.

 

“Crying Chuck” “Richie” in quotes <instead of Richard>. Calling people diminishing names. Childish crap like that. I have been criticized as a leader for people I have fired, as well as people who i didn’t fire, and when appropriate I responded with some “why I did it” information but I never deflected my choice & decision onto others by suggesting they were not qualified to criticize … and I certainly always treated peers with a modicum of respect.

 

Tweet response rather than standing up in person

 

Sniping from the sidelines is not leadership.

Period.

‘nuf said.

unstimulating relationships & your work life

May 2nd, 2017

burned out employees unsatisfied

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“I see a lot of people in unstimulating relationships. If people were a little less scared of ending things they’d get more out of life.

You meet the right person at the right time and they fulfill a certain something in your life. You fulfill something in theirs.

 

But there’s a time limit to that. “

 

Laura Marling

 

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“When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

 

—–

Sigmund Freud

 

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So.

 

Unstimulating relationships. This is actually about business … and about ‘time limits.’

limitations difference knowing

As a business manager you end up grasping a couple of truths about your employees and their relationship with what they do, their work, their careers and the company.

 

The first truth is that many of the employees are just doing their job. They are in a relatively unstimulating relationship with their job & career … and they are kind of okay with that.

 

As a manager you genuinely try and make the relationship a little more simulating for them and, if you are truly genuine, while the these employees may never get as passionate or interested as you would like … they appreciate you caring enough to try and … well … on occasion … will try harder for you and the company.

 

The second truth is that there are some employees who are actively seeking stimulated relationship with their jobs, careers and the company. If they are in an unstimulating relationship, suffice it to say, they will make you miserable out of their own miserableness.

 

As a manager you genuinely try and keep these employees stimulated. If you do it well, these people kill it. they are absolute monster achieving workers/thinkers/doers in the work place. Get it wrong with these employees and … well … most leave to find some stimulating relationship.

 

Understanding these two truths is surprisingly like getting a pail of cold water thrown in your face.

Well. At least it was for me.

 

I am not sure it was the same for others but this may have been one of the most difficult things for me to understand, and deal with, when I moved from managing a group <where you get to hire everyone and try to have them match your attitude> to managing multiple groups, departments and a bunch of people you do not hire yourself.going through the motions good work unsatisfied

 

I, personally, struggled to understand how anyone could come into work each day, be relatively unstimulated and not only do good work but actually want to come in and do good work every day.

 

But a lot of people do just that.

 

It took me awhile.

But I got it. At the same time I also understood that you never really let the unstimulated group of employees remain completely unstimulated. You kind of never really let them completely start doing their work by rote or like robots.

Mostly you just try to give them some positive stimulation on occasion.

 

Anyway.

 

Being an employee is a dance. You have a dance partner and sometimes there is a song you hate and do not dance, sometimes there is a song you hate and you are asked <or told> to dance and sometimes there is a good song and you will dance no matter what.

That is a fairly metaphoric example of a stimulating employment.

 

But I will point out something I purposefully did. I suggested the bad song is playing in two of the three scenarios.

 

Yeah.

And that is still a stimulating relationship.

Go figure.

 

For some reason we seem to think we need to love our jobs all the time <or the significant majority of the time> or inject passion into what we do.

That is, frankly, a little nuts.

 

Mostly we should be seeking to have employees be proud of what they do <even if they don’t actually love what they do> and, as a manager, be wise enough to know what to overlook.

 

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“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. “

 

William James

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after a tough day of work drinkWork is called work, and not ‘play, for a reason.

 

It’s work.

And sometimes work takes some … well … work.

 

I could actually argue that the ‘working at work’ can be stimulating if you view it correctly.

But that really doesn’t sound logical enough to invest energy in.

 

And maybe that is the key to understanding this whole ‘unstimulating relationship” thing … logic.

 

I can truthfully say that behind closed doors senior managers talk far too much about “logical” ways to stimulate employees and tap into some mysterious passion muscle we absurdly believe every employee has within <to be focused on our business and their work within our business>.

 

Once again … that is kind of nuts.

 

To be clear. I do believe everyone has a passion muscle within but to think it can randomly be directed toward ‘work’ <which, I will remind everyone, is called ‘work’ because it is work … and not play or relaxation or ‘fun’> is the nuts part.

 

Logically we should just accept the fact that many employees have mentally we are just going through the motions unsatisfiedcome to grips with a job in which they are not in an overly stimulated relationship with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to do a good job nor does it mean they will not care it just means that their job is more a paycheck and not a career.

 

All that said … let me close with where I started … “time limits.”

 

All employees have limits in an unstimulating relationship – all … the ones who live with being unstimulated and the ones who actively seek stimulation. I am fairly sure most employees don’t create tangible definable limits … they more often probably fall into the “I will know when it is time.” 

 

All business managers should recognize that all employees have ‘time limits’ when it comes to anything unstimulating. What that means is you cannot get away with being an uninvolved, uninterested, un-energy creating manager for too long. I don’t mean to imply many managers do that but I will note that creating stimulation and seeking to energize a stimulating relationship between your employees and your business is hard work.

 

It isn’t about some motto or slogan.

 

It isn’t about donuts in the mornings and fun team meetings on Fridays.

 

 

unsatisfied key to success passion business womanIt is about finding ways to show employees that their work is respected, their contributions are valued and that there are opportunities to grow as a person <intellectually, skills or responsibilities>. Yeah. I just offered that up as a solution to stimulate relationships and nowhere in that was any activity or initiative. All I outlined was possible destinations – mind, body or leadership.

 

Nothing stimulates an employee business relationship more than being a business that suggest they will enable an individual to ‘be more than they are today’ if they have the time and interest.

 

To me … businesses with an unstimulated relationship with their employees may be doing ‘things’ but they are just going through the motions , maybe using too much logic, to create some false stimulation.

 

Here is the truth. Show people where they can go and tell them you believe in them … and a shitload will be stimulated, all on their own, to engage in the relationship.

 

 

not answering questions and deflection

April 21st, 2017

Question Cloud the issue answer business

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obfuscate

This is the word to use when evasion is achieved by clouding the issue.

Creating a smoke-screen.

 

prevaricate, evade, dodge

 

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“When shrouded meanings and grim intentions are nicely polished up and pokerfaced personae are generously palming off their fantasy constructs, caution is the watchword, since rimpling water on the well of truth swiftly obscures our vision and perception.

(“Trompe le pied/wrong foot.”)”

 

Erik Pevernagie

 

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So.

 

There is possibly nothing more aggravating in business than someone not avoid word businessanswering “the” question. To be clear on what I am speaking about … they answer a question … just not the one you asked.

 

I am not going to argue that some questions are not easy to answer.

I won’t even argue that we get asked questions we don’t know the answers to but the situation dictates we make something up <yes … that happens in business>.

 

But abandoning the question completely is … well … complete bullshit.

 

But you know what?

 

I think the main reason it is so aggravating is because it is truly a reflection of intentions.

 

There is even a book called The Anthropology of Intentions by a professor, Alessandro Duranti, who kind of tackles this whole discussion of intentions & words.

He offers us the thought of ‘intentional discourse’ wherein an individual filters words through their beliefs & desires and their plans & goals to guide the discourse <regardless of whether the rest of the people want it guided that way>. In other words, using another phrase he offers us, by engaging in an intentional continuum people ponder their use of words through self-interest motivations <some good & some bad>.

 

By the way … I am fairly sure I mangled his academic masterpiece … but you get the point.

 

Ah.

“You get the point.”

 

I share that again because while we sit there aggravated at someone who completely avoided answering the question asked … we almost always also sit there wanting to invest a little of our own energy trying to assess why they did it. Because, in our aggravated minds, in its most simplistic viewing … avoiding the question is solely about shifting attention – away from something and toward something else.

 

Sure.

It could be something as simple as steering you away from their lack of deflection answer question avoidknowledge and steering you toward something they may actually know.

 

But, in most cases, a full abandonment of a specific question is complete & utter deflection.

 

In the intelligence community they call this effort to shift attention as deflection or misdirection. Magicians do something similar getting people to focus on one thing and away from the trick itself.

Completely avoiding the question is the business version of a distract-the-audience approach. It is this weird moment in which someone pretends to answer the question by actually answering some other question that magically appeared to replace the question really asked.

It’s almost like entering an alternative universe for a while.

 

Sadly. Aggravated or not … the more practiced the deception <the more practiced the business magician is> the more likely you hesitate to step in <and the more you get aggravated as you hesitate> and correspondingly … the more many of these people actually believe deception works.

 

It is maddening.

 

Worse?

If they are good at it … when someone responds to a question by not addressing the points of the question, thereby avoiding the issue itself, it doesn’t create unrelated discussion to the issue … it simply avoids the issue in totality.

 

Well.

..... watching the question being ignored .........

….. watching the question being ignored ………

I am fairly sure we have all sat there in a meeting and watched something like this unfolding right before our eyes.

 

The visceral response, the aggravation, we have to this ‘answer evasion’ situation is most likely found in the revelation it is occurring … watching it unfold before our eyes.

Philosophically, we can see that through some internal conviction to retain something they feel like they should own <their reputation, their title, their perceived intelligence, their whatever> they justify evading the question.

 

Conviction. Yeah. I just used ‘internal conviction.’ This means their intentions reflect they are more important than not only the question itself … but you. You are not even dignified with an answer.

 

It is irksome <at its least worst>.

 

It is loathsome <at its most worst>.

 

Look.

 

I give a partial pass to the asshats you can see who have some answer they want to give everyone, regardless of what question is asked, and blurt it out when given the opportunity. They haven’t deflected the question … they just ignored it as unimportant to what they want to say and have been planning to say no matter what has been said up to that point.

 

It’s the ones you know heard the question … and just ignored it. Or avoided it. Or just didn’t answer it despite the fact they heard every word, every syllable and every intention from the question giver.

 

In other words … they intentionally do not answer the question.

 

<envision a deep sigh here>

 

I want people to face questions head on. And what makes this even more aggravating is that you know these people are quite capable of taking things head on.look over there answer

 

How do I know that?

 

These are the same people who will attack, or ‘aggressively question’, the intentions of the question giver themselves. It is a common tactic for the answer avoiders. The natural instinct is to ‘defend’ … to answer the attack. Fuck that. I want to say … “just answer the fucking question asked.”

 

How else do I know these people are quite capable of taking questions head on?

 

These are the same people who will attack, or ‘aggressively question’, the question itself. This is not a deflection tactic … this is a ‘turn the question back on itself’ tactic. And, once again, your natural instinct is to defend or … well … answer the question you are asked.  Fuck that. I want to say … “just answer the fucking question asked.”

 

And maybe what makes this ‘not answering the question asked’ so maddening is that we, most sane pragmatic business people, tend to sit back <after saying “WTF”> and try and unravel why it happened and what the hell just happened.

Unless you are in an interview scenario <in which you always have an opportunity, one-to-one, to hunker down and hammer out a clear answer> you are most likely in a room with other people and the non-answer has sent at least some of the people careening down a completely different road.

 

That makes it even MORE aggravating.

 

One intentional non answer to a question can completely derail a meeting or a avoid questionsdiscussion.

 

That is intentional discourse. Or how about the other phrase from that academic’s book … engaging in an intentional continuum.

 

Oh.

 

And one last way you know these asshats are intentionally not answering the question is when they cleverly decline to answer the question with the infamous head fake answer … “I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ll work on finding the information for you and then get back to you with an answer” <and they have no fucking intention of ever getting back to you>.

 

Yeah.

 

You know … sure as shit … they have no plans to work on it and will never ‘get back to you’ unless you call them on it.

They are intentionally refusing to answer the question assuming the conversation will move on and, in a laundry list of other shit to do, that this one will either never make the list or be so low on the list they can stiff arm you on answering based on “working on things more important.”

 

Its bullshit. You know its bullshit. They know its bullshit.

 

Well.

 

Fuck you.

Fuck you and the non-answering horse you rode in on.

 

In my mind a good well-articulated question demands some accountability. The one given the question is now accountable for the answer. They may try and deflect and they may just answer a completely different question … but a question asked exists … it does not disappear. You cannot get away from it.

 

Let me share a graphic example of why accountability remains whether the question dodger likes it or not.

 

You open your front door in the morning and there is a nice pile of dog poop avoid question bomb stink business problemssquarely in the middle of your front door opening. You either clean it up or you avoid it. The question dodger never acknowledges the pile and steps over it moving on to something else. The shit stays at the front door and over time the smell increases and the flies crowd around.

A good question unanswered is just like that. And a question dodger cannot avoid the smell in the end.

 

All that said.

 

My message to the asshats who completely do not answer the question asked:  You will be accountable to the question and to cleaning up the mess … now … or later <and quit aggravating me by not answering the fucking question>.

 

 

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Author note:

When I reread this, which took me less than a ½ hour to write, I was a little asshole admittingsurprised by how … well … aggravated the tone was.

Lots of ‘fucks’ and ‘asshats’.

I left it as is because as a 50something business guy who has always attempted to take on what needs to be taken on regardless of how painful t may have been <and career wise possibly less than prudent> I get a little angry about how the business world has become incredibly unkind to the risk takers & truth tellers and seems to reward the less-than-competent and ‘political maneuverers’ more often than it should. That’s my excuse for why I let this one stand as it does.

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and from time to time they permit themselves to be told

April 4th, 2017

letters to myself never read

 

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“The world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told …”

 

—–

An aboriginal saying

 

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I believe that the magic and power of a story can encourage and fascinate you.

In prehistory, outside the cave it was dark, but inside they had a fire and somebody was good at telling stories.

Every time I write, I think of the cave.

We are one group, outside it’s dark and wolves are howling, but I have a story to tell.

 

—–

Haruki Murakami

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Ok.

 

stories on wallsIt’s difficult to discuss stories too often.

The fact is that being able to tell a story … okay … tell the story you want … well … is possibly one of the most important skills anyone can have – in life or in business.

 

But let me stay on the business side of stories.

 

Throughout my career I have had the fortune to work with the most unglamorous products & companies you could ever think of <industrial products, commodity like machinery, etc.> and some fairly glamourous products & companies.

 

What they all have in common is that they have a story to tell … and when told well it makes them successful — in sales, in market place positioning, in competitive scenarios, in public discussions, etc.

 

I used to think storytelling was so natural to everyone I assumed everyone would want to tell their story … or maybe better said … talk about their business, their company, their product … as a story.

 

I no longer think that.

 

I haven’t figured out if it is that not everyone can actually tell a good story or that business has beaten the shit out of people so badly that the default articulation is a list of functional features and pragmatic benefits. What I do know is that business storytelling, in general, sucks.

It is absolutely horrible.

 

Meaningless metaphors and less-than-relevant analogies and misused quotes are scattered among the useful functional and pragmatic in the attempt to elevate that which is usefully boring to interestingly useful.

And because that is the case … well … most people either think storytelling is really really hard or that storytelling really has no place in what they are doing.vivid story demonstration metaghor

 

That is nuts.

 

The truth is you can take the most boring of boring, the most functional of functional & most ‘seemingly same of seemingly same’ and wrap it within a story and it … well … becomes compelling, interesting and distinct.

 

The truth is any business contains the essential parts to create a story … heroes, villains, vivid demonstrations or metaphors, life & death and even mysteries and solutions.

 

The truth is anyone can tell a story <it is possible that not everyone can write a story though>.

 

In fact … I feel relatively confident is stating that a good story to tell makes everyone better & more interesting.

 

I do not care what industry you work within or what type of product or service you sell or represent your word is full of stories … and, most likely, a fabulous story just asking for permission to be told.

 

All that said.

 

Someone is most likely sitting somewhere scratching their head thinking … “WTF, that sounds good but I have no clue what to do.”

 

Aw.

 

You do.

You do know what to do.

 

Stop thinking about selling your idea or selling your product/service or even selling your company … think about telling a story.

 

Shit.

 

nuts and bolts commodityI could work for a nuts & bolts manufacturer and be able to put a picture of two nuts & bolts side by side <one mine and one someone else’s>  which look 99.9% exactly the same … and be able to say … “Let me tell you a story about this nut & bolt … because its story is different than this nut & bolt. They look the same but their story is different.

 

Oh.

 

And my story wouldn’t be solely some manufacturing mumbo jumbo but rather a story about who counted on it and how my nut & bolt was the best friend to someone and … well … you get the point.

 

Unfortunately we don’t seem to be in the storytelling business in business these days.

 

Instead we bore down on manufacturing specifications, stress quotients, side by side rankings and a whole bunch of technically important functional aspects.

 

And you know what?

That shit is important.

 

Really important.

 

nuts an bolts story city growTo be sure … if it is my nut & bolt holding a wing on some plane carrying 300 passengers you can bet your last dollar the technical aspects of my nuts & bolts matter. I don’t argue that.

What I argue is HOW the technical aspects are articulated and delivered. What I argue is that if I can make my nuts & bolts look like a city of ideas through some story … I win.

 

Stories make presentations more interesting.

Stories make bland functional aspects take on some color <which equals value>.

Stories persuade people think <and thinking equals engagement>.

Stories to motivate us to see beyond the simple nut & bolt.

 

Suffice it to say … what you say is lost if you do not master how you say it.

 

Storytelling has been a mainstay of the marketing world since … well … forever.

And while it tries to sneak into the non-marketing aspects of the business world it often gets stiff armed by functional communicators – “get to the point” people.

 

This ‘get to the point’ point is nonsense.

 

Storytelling doesn’t sacrifice the functional and pragmatic and practical … it actually elevates it to ts highest value.

 

I could argue that stories are the essential driver of value, change & persuasion … throughout the history of business.whispers stories

 

Look.

 

I would never tell a business to not show the numbers, graphs and facts. It is important.

But strategic use of a good story can make those same bland things surprise people, make them become compelling characters in a story and instead of being cold hard facts laying on a page they can become things that make us think & feel.

 

Story telling is important in that it engages people, communicates relevant meaningful information, builds value on some things that can often be difficult to build value on and, ultimately, it makes you, your product or service & your company distinct.

Why? Because it has a story to tell.

 

The business world is full of stories, and from time to time they permit themselves to be told …

 

 

Enlightened Conflict