Today’s post is part one of a transcript from my recent interview on the Voice America Business Channel show ‘Story Powered’ hosted by Lianne Picot. The topic of the program was communicating strategy with story, and the anti-stories that can affect changes that you’re trying to make in your business.
Part 1 of the podcast episode – ‘Communicating Strategy with Story’ introduces Lianne as the host, and I get to tell you a little of my own personal story about how I got started in the storytelling field.
Hello and welcome to Story Powered, I’m Lianne Picot, your host. Thanks so much for being here and listening to the show today. I’ve really been looking forward to today’s show. I can’t wait; it’s one of my favourite topics. We’re talking about communicating strategy with story and I’m a big strategy fan, and I look forward to talking to today’s guest.
It’s Mark Schenk, from Anecdote in Australia. Today, as I mentioned earlier, we’re talking about communicating strategy with story. We’re also talking about anti-stories that can affect the changes that you’re trying to make in your business. We’ll be talking about that in a minute, but first I want to share the story of the week. I have stolen this story from the Anecdote website and I highly recommend you check it out because it’s stacked with loads of great story stuff. This week’s story’s a little different, it’s more of a research piece than a story but it’s told in story form.
“A few years ago Professor Adam Grant from the University of Pennsylvania conducted an intriguing experiment, and showed that simply reminding people of the meaning and significance of their work can double their productivity. He did this by simply sharing stories from those people who benefited from the call centre’s hard work. In this case, benefactors of a fundraising organisation.
Here is how Grant ran his experiment. Working in a fundraising organisation call centre, Grant divided his participants into three groups. People who were reminded of their personal benefits to the job, people who were reminded of the significance their tasks were having on the benefactors of their work, and a control group.
The personal benefit group read stories from other employees about the benefits of the job such as money, skills, and knowledge. The task significance group read stories from the people the organisation was giving scholarships to, and how these scholarships affected their lives.
The control group didn’t hear any stories. The results were astounding. People from the control group and the group reminded of the personal benefits looked almost the same, and didn’t see any significant change. However, the people who were reminded of the significance their task was having on the benefactors, more than doubled their weekly pledges, from an average of 9 to an average of 23; and, more than doubled their weekly pledges, from an average of 1,288 dollars to an average of 3,133 dollars.
The biggest gains came from employees who were previously unmotivated. This is a really great example of something that I saw in the non-profit sector when I worked there for a long time. I work with non-profit organisations now but also with for-profits which is the big piece about the why people are doing work and often it doesn’t matter what level of task you’re participating in.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting paid or volunteering, knowing how you’ve impacted somebody else’s lives is one of the most powerful stories you can hear. It’s also one of the most powerful stories that people share with other people because they’re proud.
That leaves us to talk about strategy today and I’m delighted to introduce Mark Schenk, he’s the managing director of Anecdote. He left the Air Force in 1998 after a twenty year career as a logistics officer. I’m looking forward to hearing that story of jumping into consulting.
His foray into the consulting world took a surprising twist when he stumbled across the incredible natural power of stories. This led to a major change of careers, focused on discovering how organisations and leaders can tap into this power.
Anecdote was formed in 2004 with the purpose of helping restore humanity to the workplace. I just love that because we really do need it. Mark has led over sixty leadership programs since 2006 in Australia, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. and helped some of Australia’s leading companies make their strategies stick.
He’s a regular golfer, an aspiring underwater photographer, and since 2009 he’s been engaged in a quest to catch a Murray Cod in Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin. Cod stocks in the lake have yet to be impacted by Mark’s efforts. Mark, welcome to Story Powered.
Thank you very much Lianne, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Well that’s a very fishy story you’re telling there in terms of your cod stocks, do they just get away from you?
Its a relatively rare fish and it’s an iconic fish in Australia. People do catch them in Lake Burley Griffin, but that’s not me. I spend a lot of time trying and, fortunately, I actually enjoy being out on the water so even though I don’t catch anything I still enjoy myself.
That’s good. So Mark, I’m so glad you could be here and like I said before, I’m just so excited to talk to you about strategy because I think it’s one of the pieces that we often forget that not only do we have to create it, we have to communicate it in a way that attracts peoples’ attention and potentially loyalty. Tell us a little bit about you, what’s your story?
I often get asked that question, how do I come to be involved in business storytelling? Particularly by people who know that I had a twenty year career in the Air Force, so it’s seen as going from something practical to something quite esoteric. I definitely don’t see it that way, and that will become clear. I guess there have been a couple of really major turning points that have led me to be where I am today. One of them occurred way back in 1978. I was one of those kids that always knew what I was going to be. It was very simple: I was going to be fighter pilot.
I expect there are a lot of teenagers out there who have the same aspiration, but I was fortunate. In my final year of high school I spent a year going through the selection process for pilot training for the Air Force, and got through all of the board interviews, the psychological testing, the aptitude testing, the academic testing; and, got through all of that and was selected for pilot training.
I turned up for the day I was about to head off to Point Cook to start my pilot training, and I had to do a final medical one, so I still had shoulder length hair at this stage and that was about to be shorn off. I was in for my final medical, and the doctor was there in his white coat, stethoscope around his neck. He did a few basic tests and then he put this big book down in front of me. He opened the book and said, “Look on this page with the circle of coloured dots. Within each circle, there’s a number, so just tell me what the number is.” I looked at the first page and quite clearly could see the number 25, so I told him “25”. I turned the page, and on the next page, I couldn’t see a number. I turned another page, and another page, and another, couldn’t see any numbers. I remember I looked up the doctor and I said, “You can’t fool me. There are no numbers on these pages.” The doctor looked at me and he walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, and he just said, “Sorry, son. You’re colour blind.”
With those few words, my entire … everything that I had planned dissolved. It was a big turning point. I’d just turned 18, so I did what any 18 year old would do. I went to the beach for six weeks. I surfed, I played golf and I drank. That was okay, it’s legal in Australia; the legal age for drinking is 18, so I did that. I chased girls, I did all the usual stuff; and, I figured out what I was going to do with my life.
I went back and sat down with my dad, and I said, “Hey, Dad, I’m going to be a golfer.” Dad sort of looked at me and he said, “Ahh, yeah. Remember how I caddied for you in the club championships and you had that three foot putt on the 18th hole and you missed it? Remember that?” I went, “Yeah.” He goes “How do you feel about that?” I went, “Okay, yes. I understand. I’m not going to be a golfer.” He did that pretty effectively.
What I did do is, I joined the Air Force and I spent 20 years as a logistics officer, sort of running airfields and fuel installations, and that sort of thing. When I left the Air Force in 1998; and I had a tremendous time in the Air Force, it was a wonderful career, I joined a consulting company, and on my first day there, I met Shawn Callahan, who is now my business partner and the founder of Anecdote.
Shawn and I immediately formed a friendship, and we started studying collaboration; how do human beings work together effectively? It was something we were really fascinated by, and it turns out that collaboration is a complex activity, which led us to study complexity and complex adaptive systems. That was where we kept bumping into story as a vehicle for which humans make sense of the world, particularly when things are complex.
I think from that genesis back in 1998, Shawn and I developed this incredible fascination with stories that led to, some years later, Shawn forming Anecdote and I joined him a month or two later and so an interesting introduction. Our purpose is to help restore humanity to the workplace and heaven knows that there are a lot of organisations that need more humanity.
They most certainly do.
That’s a great story, thanks, Mark. I love it because it’s from that piece around what we want to be in the story of ourselves when we’re younger; and, it just shows how different it is – the journey we can take. I love that and thank you for sharing that.
In part 2, Lianne and I delve a little deeper into ‘story’ and the art of business storytelling, story listening and what we call story triggering.
You can listen to the full podcast below:
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: