In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the Heath brothers tell about an experiment Chip Heath conducts at Stanford University.
Chip breaks his class into small teams, gives each team a bunch of statistics about inner-city crime and asks them to develop and present a set of recommendations for how to reduce inner-city crime. Each team does its work, prepares its message and delivers its pitch to the other teams. The team members grade each other’s presentation, which ensures that everyone actually pays attention to all the pitches.
Ten minutes after the presentations, Heath unexpectedly asks the students to take out a sheet of paper and write down all the key points they remember from the presentations. After only ten minutes, only 5 percent of his students remember any individual statistics, but 63 percent of the students remember the stories that were told by each of the teams.
We are a storytelling people and yet we spend our careers trying to eliminate stories and turn them into bullet points. Three bullet points per slide with three subbullets, please. Oh please!
One of the best ways we elicit information from top performers is by asking them to tell us a story: a story about a client with whom they built a relationship or a problem they overcame or other ways they think about and produce their excellent results. Interestingly, top performers are all adept at telling us their stories. Average performers struggle to relay what they do and the way they spend their time into the meaningful context of a story.
We ask ourselves, do storytellers make the best performers? Or do the best performers become good storytellers? Either way, we are confident that the ability to convey their work in a meaningful story is a key marker of top performers, and it is a skill that can be nurtured and improved upon by each of us.
Question to ponder:
- Does your culture value and reward stories or bullet points?