Executives who are exposed to the power of stories often ask me how they can get interesting anecdotes they will be able to use as business stories. After they learn how to spot a personal story with a business point, their natural tendency is to recall such stories or look for them in the workplace. But one of the most beautiful things about using storytelling in business is that these stories can also be found in our personal lives, outside of work.
The season of vacations and travelling abroad, now ending in the northern hemisphere, is a great opportunity to enrich your story repertoire. A new environment, a different culture and people, all are fertile ground for new business stories. Here’s an example:
In April 2015 my wife and I travelled to Sicily. One of the stops on our route was Erice, an amazing town with a castle whose medieval walls were perched on a cliff that went as high as 750 meters. One of the ways to get there was by cable car, which we decided to take.
As we drove into the street where the cable car’s lowest station was located, we were approached by two young men who wanted to know if we were looking for parking. There were parking meters all along the street, and vacant parking lots, so their interest seemed suspicious. Was this our first encounter with the famous Sicilian Mafia’s junior representatives, we thought?
We didn’t want to give in to the system, so we drove on, hoping to find another parking lot nearby, or to park in another street. But shortly I saw in the rear-view mirror that a scooter was following us. The hint was quite clear: There’s nothing you can do – we own the streets.
We ended up returning to the street beside the cable car station, where the two men returned, smiling. ‘Four euros’, one of them said. ‘And what about the parking meter?’ I asked. ‘It’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re here’, the man said. When we got out of the car, we saw that the parking meter wasn’t working, so the ‘collection’ was being performed manually.
After we’d given in to the system, and understood that there was no point in two tourists fighting ‘Sicilian customs’, paying four euros for a few hours of parking, including the guarding of our car, suddenly looked like quite a good deal – compared, of course, to the parking rates we are accustomed to in Tel Aviv.
And what is the business point of this story? In managing a multicultural organisation, executives sometimes have experiences that are irritating, that contradict procedures, and challenge their integrity or other principles. The natural tendency is not to submit, to try and stop these deviations from taking place. But we don’t always have to fight for our principles. Sometimes we need to look at the cultural context, distinguish between the wheat and the chaff, and exercise proportionate judgement.
So if you’re about to go on a holiday, or you’re in the middle of one, take a few minutes to reflect on the interesting things that have happened to you. There might be some valuable stories in there.
Found one? Write down only the relevant facts, like the date, place, people’s names, and details we tend to forget with time, and then note the business point of the story. Maybe it’s a great anecdote that you’ll be able to pull out of your hat when you talk to your employees one on one, or during a team meeting, presentation or a sales call.
To be an effective at telling business stories requires practice. Learn more about our training programs here.
About Udi Nachshon
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Udi is a business storytelling trainer and consultant. He enables senior executives and corporate brands to achieve greater leadership with stories. He has an extensive background in communications consulting, with 30 years’ experience in strategy, PR and journalism. Udi is a partner of Anecdote and delivers the Storytelling for Leaders® program