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Just-In-Time Cafe Podcast, Episode 16: Telling Stories That Create Monumental Change With Mitch Ditkoff, President of Idea Champions - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Join us this month where we’ll discuss an app that creates a digital workspace. On the Bulletin Board, we’ll say good-bye to a Quality Lion and then we’ll find out what happens when you let sailors out of the box. For Tools of the Trade we’ll review a book that makes the argument that stories are not just for bedtime any more. We’ve got a Special Request from a learner who asks how one fires one’s boss and Today’s Special is an interview with a master of innovation who once asked, “What would Santa do?” Find out the answers to these and other questions in the June episode at the Just-in-Time Cafe. We here at the cafe think it’s okay to add a little chocolate to your coffee as we head into summer proper. See you there!

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Just-In-Time Café, GoLeanSixSigma.com’s official podcast where we help you build your problem-solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500 to small and medium-size business to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.

Introduction

Tracy O’Rourke: Well hello, Elisabeth. How are you today?

Elisabeth Swan: I am great, Tracy. How about you?

Tracy O’Rourke: I am doing wonderful. I’m ready for a coffee and a little chat with my bestie.

Elisabeth Swan: You’re so sweet. Well, I think it’s full on June. I’m going ice coffee. How about you?

Tracy O’Rourke: That sounds great. I’ll meet you in the dining room.

Elisabeth Swan: Meet you.

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and this is Elisabeth Swan and we are your hosts. It’s great to be here and I want to know what’s on the menu today, Elisabeth?

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Elisabeth Swan: I’m glad you asked, Tracy. Coming up for an Appetizer, we’ve discovered an app that lets you create a visual work space. We’ll talk about that. On today’s Bulletin Board, we’re going to honor a member of our quality history who passed away recently. And then we’re going to move on to find out what happens when you let sailors out of the box.

For Tools of the Trade, we’re going to cover a book that demonstrates that stories are not just for bed time anymore. And today’s Special Request is from a learner who wants to know the best way to go about firing your boss. And then for Today’s Special, we’ve got an interview with an innovation master who once asked, “What would Santa do?”

Tracy O’Rourke: I am so looking forward to this.

Elisabeth Swan: OK. Up next then, it’s the appetizer.

Appetizer: Mural

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, Elisabeth, so what is this app that lets you visualize work?

Elisabeth Swan: So this is an app by the name of MURAL and it’s a shared workspace so this goes in your browser. It comes with ready-made templates. So you could do things like storyboarding, kanban boards, figuring out work plans, projects. It’s very intuitive. It has got shortcuts like I was putting post-it notes in a kanban board. I shared it with you. We worked out the to-dos and what was going to happen for this podcast.

And every time I went to create a post-it note, it said, “Hey, just double click and that post-it will appear.” So that was intuitive. I figured it out fairly quickly. It let me install through Google so I didn’t have to create a separate log on.

I was considering using it for my own personal kanban, write my own personal work plan because I don’t have any wall space left to write. So this was like a nice sort of online visual board.

It was built by a guy who is trying to collaborate on gaming. So they’re figuring out how to design games. But that means – yeah, that means they are using Lean Agile tools. So you got those kanban boards. You got five ways. There are a lot of things in there that are for them but can be adapted like storyboarding that you could use for process mapping and things like that.

So, good collaboration whiteboard for remote teams. I think that’s the big deal here is this is for remote teams and that’s just a fact of modern living, right? Teams are remote. It was – the pricing is $12 a month per person but you and I got that 30-day free trial. So what do you think about it?

Tracy O’Rourke: I really like it as well. I think that it seems very simple, user-friendly. It did remind me a lot of PowerPoint. And then it made me think, “Well, how is this different than PowerPoint?” Because I am a whiz at that and if I’m going to invest time and money to learn a new app, I want to see value.

Elisabeth Swan: Right.

Tracy O’Rourke: But I think what’s really great about this app is that kind of what you had mentioned is it’s virtual. It’s a virtual space that people can co-collaborate from all over the – wherever they are. And PowerPoint doesn’t necessarily do that. PowerPoint is really more you have to use like GoToMeeting to do some collaboration and you still have limitations on having to send the doc to somebody to make adjustments if you will.

So, this really creates more tools for virtual teams to use to be more creative so I really like that. And it just seems simple and it’s really easy on the eyes. That’s the other thing about apps is sometimes things seem complicated and not intuitive and this was very intuitive tool. So absolutely, I think this would be a great tool for teams to embrace especially if they’re using a lot of Google Docs, Google Shapes because from our experience, Elisabeth, we know that PowerPoint doesn’t work so great with Google Docs in doing collaboration.

Elisabeth Swan: No. It doesn’t. I also like to your point how visual it is like you can throw YouTube clips in here. You can throw graphics. Like it’s really easy to use the visual aspects, so that’s both fun and useful.

Next up is the Bulletin Board.

Bulletin Board

Tracy O’Rourke: So Elisabeth, it sounds like we’ve lost a lion in the quality legacy recently, didn’t we?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, we did, Tracy. Mikel Harry passed away, April 25th so it would be good to reflect on what he added to the Lean Six Sigma catalogue of knowledge. And he is famous for his collaboration with Bill Smith. He was the Motorola engineer who came up with the method and title Six Sigma, a way to count defects, a new way to count defects and a new method. And Mikel Harry worked with him. Mikel Harry gave it up to him.

People would often call Mikel Harry the Father of Six Sigma. He’d say, “No, Bill Smith was the Father of Six Sigma. I was the Godfather.” So I kind of like that because there’s a little bit of danger there too. So he was the Godfather. He helped document the method and helped build Six Sigma training. This was before Lean was added in. And he made it accessible to Motorola employees and then of course, you and I know that spread to GE and other places that impacted our lives.

And they worked on DMAIC which was originally MAIC, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. And then Define got added later when they realize, “Hey, we got to really be clear on what the heck the problem is that we’re solving and who we’re solving it for.”

But what I like is that he added belt levels, that four martial arts piece that some people have an issue with but what’s helpful about it is indicates the level of knowledge and ability. So people have learned more and they’ve passed exams, things like that. And that’s just helpful for organizations trying to figure out where to slot people, how many people of what knowledge and what level they need.

And I think what was also nice about his approach is he saw Six Sigma early on as flexible, that you provide the tools needed for the effort, and that made DMAIC a great structure to be an umbrella for other tools, other methods from the world of quality not just lean. But there are a lot of fathers of quality out there. I wish there more mothers of quality. But …

And I think what was also nice about his approach is he saw Six Sigma early on as flexible, that you provide the tools needed for the effort, and that made DMAIC a great structure to be an umbrella for other tools, other methods from the world of quality not just lean. But there are a lot of fathers of quality out there.

Tracy O’Rourke: Me too!

Elisabeth Swan: I know. We’re working on it. But anyway, we are indebted to him. So we want to just thank him.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Thank you, Mikel Harry for all of your contributions for putting a path forward for many people in continuous improvement. We appreciate all of your contributions. And we’re going to miss him.

Elisabeth Swan: We are. We are going to miss him.

So Tracy, what happens when you let sailors out of the box?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, it’s – a lot can happen as a matter of fact. And in this particular situation, we had some Navy officers and sailors go through Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training. And these officers were specifically working on the aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, and they are using Lean Six Sigma practices to improve work flow, do the changes that have occurred during the years, and also looking to improve processes to reduce inventory loss and become more efficient with offloading equipment. So, awesome job, Navy.

And I will say that in my experience in working at San Diego State and UCSD, we actually do have quite a few Navy people coming through the programs and it’s really exciting to see some of the projects that they’re working on. I had a Navy Seal dive instructor in my class recently who wanted to reduce variation on how the dive instructors were passing of failing Navy Seals. And so, that was just a really interesting process and project to see. And so many others.

I also had another Navy officer come through who needed to reduce the cycle time or lead time on deployments for missions. And of course, me just asking questions because that’s what we do. So what kinds of missions? And he said to me, “Well, if I tell you, I’d have to kill you.”

Elisabeth Swan: Again, a little bit danger makes it interesting.

Tracy O’Rourke: A little bit of danger. So I didn’t ask those kinds of questions anymore.

Elisabeth Swan: You’re a wise woman. You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. I’m Elisabeth Swan speaking here with Tracy O’Rourke. Up next, it’s Tools of the Trade.

Tools of the Trade: Storytelling at Work by Mitch Ditkoff

Tracy O’Rourke: So what makes you think stories aren’t just for bedtime anymore, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Swan: Well, it’s because I read this month’s book which is called Storytelling at Work. And that’s by Mitch Ditkoff. He is an author, a public speaker, innovation consultant, and he realized through the writing of his book that stories play a huge role in his work and his life.

And first off, I would say it’s 265 pages but I read it in two sittings, or lyings, since you know I do my reading at 3AM. Yes. And the structure – I know. No, actually it’s interesting to me. The structure makes it easy to pick up anywhere. It’s individual stories. And at the end of each, he talks about what he took away.

So, each incident either moved him or shifted his thinking in some way. And he has worked with big time Fortune 100 companies. He has worked with AT&T, Pfizer, Pricewaterhouse, which he mentions throughout of where he has brought storytelling in. But it’s a reminder that we live in this world of facts and data, process improvement. He has brought in sort of the improvement and design and innovation side of it. But it’s even more critical to bring our right side of our brains, our stories into the work. That’s what people hear. That’s what they remember. It’s what makes a difference for them.

But it’s even more critical to bring our right side of our brains, our stories into the work. That’s what people hear. That’s what they remember. It’s what makes a difference for them.

So I love that after each story, he asks us, the reader, kind of provocative questions like what are you not doing? What questions should you be answering with no instead of yes? Really makes you sit in and think a bit about it. So I love that about it.

How about you, Tracy? What did you get out of it?

Tracy O’Rourke: I really enjoyed the book immensely and I love the stories. I love the format of his stories too. I think sometimes – well, for me anyways, I have lots of stories but I don’t have them written down and I haven’t fine-tuned them and I haven’t really thought through many of the stories that I have over my life both personally and professionally.

So what really struck me is he has roughly what, 38 stories in here that he shares, and I love the format of the so-what and now-what. At the end of every story, he basically says, “Well, so what? That’s my story. But so what?” What does that mean? And he goes into what that meant for him and then what next. And that’s when he had that provocative question as you mentioned, Elisabeth.

And it really – they’re great questions. And every time I read one of those questions, I had this surge of many stories that I probably could articulate to answer that question. And so, after the end of this book, I sat there thinking that I have so many untold stories that could help others learn Lean Six Sigma, that could help others apply things when things got challenging where I’ve seen projects, project teams fail and then overcome failure and be successful that I’m not telling.

And so, it was a true inspiration to really think about what are the stories that I’m not telling that could help others learn based on what I do for a living. So I really, really enjoyed it immensely.

And the other thing is, how many other people feel exactly like me? They have thousands of stories that are being untold and listening to stories is so much more inspirational than listening to facts and data for many. They say that that is one way humans have communicated since the dawn of time, which is telling stories. And now in this age, it’s almost forgotten a little bit because we’re so focused on data and facts and that this art is being lost even.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Tracy O’Rourke: So I really enjoyed the book and it really made me have a paradigm shift in how I’m communicating with people not just in my personal life but professionally with students and with learners and with our audience.

Elisabeth Swan: And I think you probably have the same experience that I do at the end of a workshop or when you look at comments after a webinar. What you hear are people saying, “I really like the stories. I really appreciate the examples,” which are mini stories. So we’re getting that feedback all the time.

Tracy O’Rourke: We do, yes. And you’re absolutely right. So they are just proof that yes, this is a wonderful way to communicate and for people to understand and learn.

So you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. I’m Tracy O’Rourke. In just a short while, we’re going to hear Elisabeth’s interview with Mitch Ditkoff about storytelling. But first, it’s a Special Request, the Q&A from one of our subscribers.

Special Request

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, here is a question from one of our subscribers. How do you fire a project sponsor?

Tracy O’Rourke: How do you fire a project sponsor? That is a great question. And unfortunately, I really hope nobody has to have that situation because you would hope that a sponsor would do what they should be doing for a project leader or a project team. And I really empathize with the person that is actually even pondering this question because it’s not a great place to be.

So, there are lots of ways that you could fire a project sponsor. I would even say, are you sure? That’s the first question. Are you sure this isn’t working out? Is it really just because they don’t know what to do or is it because they are just not – they know what to do but they are not doing it. You’re just not getting the support that you need.

So, I really just start to think through some of those things and making sure that you have a conversation with the sponsor first to make sure that there is an understanding there. But if it’s multiple iterations that the sponsor has failed in terms of support then yeah, I think that finding another sponsor that might be more well-suited for the project is a good approach.

Elisabeth, what do you think?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. This one is tough because once again, you always want to ask, what’s the situation here? I can’t just give blind advice. But if as you say there are multiple efforts and they’ve really failed, one method I’ve seen worked is approach the sponsor with the idea of offloading this time-consuming work of sponsoring a project to someone with more bandwidth. I love that corporate term. What’s your bandwidth? Everyone doesn’t – everyone has limited bandwidth.

So appeal to the idea that they’re probably overloaded and could use a break. And that might just be a good way to lay open the opportunity for that person to opt out and let somebody else step in. So it might be just a graceful way to bring that about. I don’t know. What do you think?

So appeal to the idea that they’re probably overloaded and could use a break. And that might just be a good way to lay open the opportunity for that person to opt out and let somebody else step in. So it might be just a graceful way to bring that about. I don’t know. What do you think?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, I think that’s a good approach is just to say, “I’m actually discovering that this person might be a better sponsor and here are some of the reasons why.” And hopefully, it’s related to the project as well. I mean they are in a better position or they have more time just as you say. I think that’s a great way to switch out a sponsor.

Up next, it’s Todays’ Special, which is Elisabeth’s interview with Mitch Ditkoff, CEO of Idea Champions who once asked, “What would Santa do?” Elisabeth, do you know the answer to that?

Elisabeth Swan: Yes. That is one of Mitch’s great stories of how he managed to drum up work by visiting past clients in the guise of Santa Claus. I felt like it was Santa-bombing. He Santa bombed his clients, which was ultimately successful. So, Mitch has won Innovation Blogger of the Year two years running. In this interview, we delved into his favorite stories and more. So coming next.

Tracy O’Rourke: I am all ears for this interview.

Today’s Special: Interview with Mitch Ditkoff, President of Idea Champions

Elisabeth Swan: Welcome everybody to Today’s Special. Today, I am speaking with Mitch Ditkoff. Mitch is co-founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company that was founded in 1987. He is the author of the two award-winning books, Awake at the Wheel and Storytelling at Work.

He is creator of Conducting Genius, one of the few brainstorm facilitation trainings in the world, Innovation Blogger of the Year, two years running. He is co-founder of Face the Music, the first interactive corporate blues band, creator of Free the Genie, a deck of innovative sparkling cards, creator of Wisdom Circles, small group storytelling sessions.

He lives half the year in Woodstock, New York and half the year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. And I like that he has asked more than 10,000 people where and when they get their best ideas.

So, in the interest of total transparency, I had to say that I worked for Mitch at Idea Champions for about a year, about two decades ago. And recently, I was searching for some good creativity quotes and I found what seemed like the best collection that I had ever seen and when I looked to see what website I had stumbled on, it was Idea Champions. So I saw that Mitch had written a book about storytelling at work. I bought immediately and here we are.

So, Mitch, Storytelling at Work, which I told you I love is a series of short stories where you were moved or resulted in a shift in your thinking which is a really nice model. You can pick that book up anywhere and it’s a – and happen upon a teaching moment.

Do you have a favorite of those stories or is there a new one that took place after the book came out that you wish you had included or been able to?

Mitch Ditkoff: Great question. I do have some favorites in the book and I’m in the process of writing a follow-up book. So another wave of stories are being written and articulated. In that book, it depends on my mood. But one that really stands out was the story of the Afghani cab driver and the $250 million salty snack food. Is this a time to tell it or should I …

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, yeah. No, go ahead so our listeners can hear.

Mitch Ditkoff: OK. I’ll keep it real simple. I was working as an outside consultant for General Mills trying to help them come up with an idea for a $250 million salty snack food that was not a potato chip. And I get into cab in the morning to go to their headquarters to set up the room and begin the day and meet with their product development people.

On the ride over, I noticed that my cab driver has a very long name on the dashboard with lots of consonants and no syllables. It dawned on me that he was probably from another country. So I casually asked him where he was from and he paused and then he said, “Afghanistan.” That was a time when we were deeply immersed in the Afghanistan war and I had a moment in the backseat where I was like, “Oh my God! I’ve got a cab driver who probably hates Americans and I’m a businessman riding in the backseat being taken to a fancy headquarters. This is not going to go well.

And I had to choose whether to continue talking with him or just kind of invert and look my notes. And I decided to engage him. And I asked him a very simple question. How is it that he came to live in America? And he told me the story of how he was walking in the mountains with his daughter. She was ten. She stepped on a landmine and there was a big explosion.

There was obviously a big injury and he went – he ripped his shirt off. He tied it around her bleeding leg as a tourniquet and went looking for medical help. There was no medical help because everybody had bailed out of the area. It was such a bombed out area. And he spent basically three days wandering the countryside being taken care of by villagers tending to her, her sleeping in and out of consciousness.

Finally, he stumbles across an outpost of male clinic nurses who take her in, save her life, fly her to Minnesota, to the clinic there where they then fly him and his wife the following day to be with his daughter for the surgery. She spends a year in rehabilitation. She is fitted for a prosthetic leg, etc. He decides to stay in America.

And at that moment, we arrived at the headquarters of General Mills. And I am in an authored state listening to this man’s story. He has totally taken me out of my normal mindset as I prep for a brainstorming session and I had been transported to another world with this man and we bonded big time as he really revealed everything about that moment in great detail. I get out of the car to pay him. We hugged. We bowed to each other.

I had been transported to another world with this man and we bonded big time as he really revealed everything about that moment in great detail.

I go into the building with its marbled desk and its tiles floors and its fancy décor and go up to the room where I’m going to lead a session. And I had to decide, am I going to tell the story to everyone to begin the day or do I just dismiss it as a curious surreal beginning of my day that it has no effect on anyone else? So that was my moment of truth like do I stuff it or do I change gears and tell the story of how I got to this room this morning?

And I decided to go for it. I told the story. The room was filled with a bunch of millennials, hyper-caffeinated, texting, distracted people. And it was a risk for me to tell that story because it’s not something they were expecting to hear and it’s certainly not one that was conventional.

And why I’m telling you this now, Elisabeth, and why I included it in my book is I saw a monumental change in that room. That story moved them from their head to their heart, from thinking to feeling, from being scattered to being completely present. And it dawned on me at that moment how powerful it is for any of us to come out of the closet and tell our stories to each other that they make a real difference. We did the work that day. We did the work of ideating salty snack food products, which was kind of a funny addition to how the day began.

But what I noticed was the change of mindset, the change of receptivity, the change of vulnerability, the feeling of community and connection in that room. And all of it was bared or sparked by the story that I told.

But what I noticed was the change of mindset, the change of receptivity, the change of vulnerability, the feeling of community and connection in that room. And all of it was bared or sparked by the story that I told.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Mitch Ditkoff: That’s just one of the reasons why I’m so into the storytelling thing these days especially in organizations.

Elisabeth Swan: So that’s huge. And for someone that also works in front of groups, that shift you just talked about is huge and that we all are dealing with very distracted, inattentive people based on the way people live now. It has nothing to do with us personally. And I know you know that too. So that is a great teach point for me too, this feeling like what is that story? How do we bring presence into the room? Because without it, even if it’s just salty snack foods, you can’t get to the real work. And I like that a lot. That was great.

Another thing that struck me reading your stories was something you called tacit knowledge that companies have a treasured trove of information that is constantly walking out the door when employees leave. So can you say more about how storytelling can help stem that tide of knowledge loss?

Mitch Ditkoff: Absolutely. I’ll begin with the phrase “tacit knowledge” which is really a mean for the most difficult to communicate essence of what a person knows called wisdom, even beyond knowledge. And that is something that years ago when people work with a master tradesmen let’s say, in a gill and they wanted to learn the craft of being a jeweler or silversmith or a carpenter or a builder of any kind. You work side by side with that master tradesman and learn by a kind of osmosis process.

You weren’t given a YouTube video to watch. You weren’t given an instruction manual. Often, you weren’t even told what to do. It’s like just work alongside the master and get it in your bones, in yourselves in a way that communicate some great level of skill and ability that is not easily communicable in language or certainly in the classic ways in which training happens these days in the world.

So tacit knowledge often goes out the door when people leave an organization, they’ve been there for years. They take with them all of this buried wisdom of how things get done, how things work, the heart to communicate essence of that organization, the culture, the real mastery and mystery of making miracles, stories although they are codified. And one thing about tacit knowledge is that it’s not codefiable. So you can’t turn it into a book per se or a manual.

They take with them all of this buried wisdom of how things get done, how things work, the heart to communicate essence of that organization, the culture, the real mastery and mystery of making miracles, stories although they are codified.

But stories at least in the oral tradition have a way of delivering essence, have a way of delivering a deeply held knowing or knowledge that is not easily communicated but the story becomes the conveyor of that wisdom or that knowledge.

So while technically speaking, storytelling is not tacit knowledge because tacit knowledge cannot be put into words, if you’re going to put something into word, I do believe based on the last 25 years of working with organizations that the form in which the words take, a story is the most powerful way to transfer knowledge.

Elisabeth Swan: And do you work with groups to try to get at those essential stories?

Mitch Ditkoff: I do. I do. And that’s the hokey pokey. Because at the higher octave of what I’m on to, you might call it eternal wisdom and there are very few companies who are calling me and saying, “Oh, I heard you were the eternal wisdom guy.” Usually, it’s like, “Oh, you’re the creative thinking guy or you’re the innovation guy.” OK. I can start there. But when it’s time to deliver results and how you get people out of their mind and out of their habits and out of their routines and into a space of fresh thinking, that’s where the stories come in.

And I try to find ways to weave the storytelling into sessions I do even if the session is not called a storytelling session. And they are often not.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Mitch Ditkoff: It would be called applied innovation or culture of innovation or breakthrough thinking. That’s fine. That’s the what. But the how where the real bang for the buck often is above and beyond the techniques that I teach and the facilitation skills that I have is in the telling of the story and then the unpacking or the deconstructing of the stories so that the listeners get the essence of what’s hiding in the story and then apply it to their own life.

But the how where the real bang for the buck often is above and beyond the techniques that I teach and the facilitation skills that I have is in the telling of the story and then the unpacking or the deconstructing of the stories so that the listeners get the essence of what’s hiding in the story and then apply it to their own life.

Elisabeth Swan: I know people in the knowledge management field and I feel like this is a little more of the magic dust that is not part of creating a manual, trying to just log information straight because the stories are so much more compelling. So, you’re on to something here. I think this is great. And I feel like it really could help that whole field. We’ll come back to that.

You’ve got – you have a lot of great quotes as I initially discovered having rediscovered you through quotes. You talked about listening and you observe what you call conversational endurance, which is such an apt phrase. And I have another colleague who called it – his phrase was, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening, it’s waiting to talk.” Isn’t that great?

So, this is all too true. So, one of your stories that also shifted my thinking which is to treat stories like fine pieces of music, which is such a great way of framing it, that we should listen to them over and over. Can you say more about that?

Mitch Ditkoff: Absolutely. Well, this goes way back to my father who was a great storyteller and it’s really how he communicated working new to me. But as an adolescent or even as a young adult, I would often respond to his telling of a story with the eye roll and the, “Dad, you told me that story 20 times. Here we go again.” It’s like enough already with the story.

But it took until my early 50s to wise up and realize that there was something in his stories that were amazingly deep and amazingly memorable and amazingly meaningful. If I could just pull away from that father-son kind of reactive mode and really get the fact that in those stories were nuggets very gold, pieces of wisdom that were communicated via story that I would have a treasure trove of insight and wisdom to get.

So at that point, once I finally understood that, I began to listen to his stories in the same way that I listen to Mozart or Beethoven. You don’t just listen to Beethoven’s Night once or a sonata once or a favorite Beatles song once. They don’t – it’s like, “I already heard it yesterday. I’ve already heard Sgt. Peppers. Please get over it.” Those songs or Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, you could listen to them forever because every time you hear them, it puts you in a kind of a mode or a mindset, it shifts you, you feel something, it reminds you of something. And that’s what stories can do especially when stories are told well.

Elisabeth Swan: That helped me in – I didn’t even realize I was using stories in my work when I was training and running workshops until evals would come back and I’d see again and again, “Oh, such a good story. The stories really helped.”

Mitch Ditkoff: Yeah.

Elisabeth Swan: And there were moments where I thought, “Oh, I’ve used that story so many times. I need to retire it.” But then I’d think but it was great. It really told that point. It made that – so I said, “Well, maybe what I need to do is refine it. Work on it. Treat it like you’re saying, the piece of music and give it its due. Don’t make it wrought. Don’t let it be wrought.”

Mitch Ditkoff: Exactly. And Elisabeth, your discovery and mine are very, very similar because five years ago, somebody asked me what I did for a living. And I opened my mouth and I said kind of my can wrap, it sounded like a can wrap. Maybe to them it sounded good but to me it was like, “Oh please, that’s my vaguest act.” I’ve said that so many times. And they kept looking at me and I kept thinking like, “What do I do?” And after they left, I got really curious to think about what do I really do? I know what I say I did but what do I really do if you left the curtain a little bit? And what about what I do works?

And I started to kind of pull it apart, almost like the periodic table of elements. Think about all the pieces of the pie when I lead a workshop or run a training or do a keynote, what actually is that composed of that gets people into a space where they go, “That was great. Everyone should go through this.” And I realized, of all the things I know how to do and all the things I like to do, the biggest, most powerful memorable response was when I told a story.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Mitch Ditkoff: And then it was like the white arrow and the FedEx logo.

Elisabeth Swan: Which I just found. I just found based on you.

Mitch Ditkoff: Isn’t that great?

Elisabeth Swan: Yes.

Mitch Ditkoff: So that’s a perfect example. That’s a background and foreground shift. That arrow has been in the logo ever since it was created. Most people never see it. It’s the white space. It’s the negative space. Their mind goes to what’s obvious, the colors, the shapes, and so forth. They missed the arrow which was built in by the designer to represent forward movement because that’s what FedEx does.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Mitch Ditkoff: And in our communications, certainly yours as you just acknowledged it and mind as well, that hidden arrow, one way of defining that hidden arrow can be the stories that we tell to make the point or reinforce the message or to set things up. And many years later, Elisabeth, when people seek you out or they find you, they may say, “Oh, I remember the story you told about whatever.”

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Mitch Ditkoff: But they don’t, “I remember your PowerPoint show or I remember your handouts or whatever.”

Elisabeth Swan: Right. Sadly no. Yeah, there’s phrase you actually used for yourself that I think is very apt. You could yourself an Innovation Provocateur, and I think that sums you up, Mitch. So tell me what’s next for you. What are your latest interests?

Mitch Ditkoff: Well, my latest interest is this topic and finding a way to get this power storytelling out into the world. And I’m certainly not the only one doing it. There’s a long history going all the way back to the Stone Age. And there are some really great people that are on to this topic. I’m adding my flavor to it.

But to find a way to get companies that are interested in innovation and change and creative thinking to understand the power of storytelling towards that end. So I’m looking for ways to translate what I know into ways that clients or companies see the value and are willing to devote some time and some money to make it real. So that’s one thing.

But to find a way to get companies that are interested in innovation and change and creative thinking to understand the power of storytelling towards that end.

And the second thing, the flip side of the coin because that’s the group thing, that’s the organizational, the flipside of the coin is my work with individuals in a service which I’m calling Follow Your Muse, which is on-on-one usually over the phone and it’s for anybody with a powerful idea, a powerful vision, a powerful creative impulse who feels that they need a coach, a mentor, some way to get it out of their head and into the world, then I’m playing that role for people. I’ve done that with clients.

I’m doing it for people that are not organizational people. And that includes what you might call the cultural creatives or people that are entrepreneurs without a big budget behind them, powerful idea they want to see manifest but they keep spinning their wheels. That’s the other piece of it as well.

Elisabeth Swan: Nice. Great. Great guidance. And then just as a wrap-up, aside from stumbling upon your site while looking for good quotes, how can people find you online?

Mitch Ditkoff: Well, there are two ways. There is MitchDitkoff.com, which is my own personal website. And then there is IdeaChampions.com, and that’s the company I started and you worked with for a while. Those are probably the two best places and my blogs and other related social media platforms will all be accessible via either one of those sites.

Elisabeth Swan: Awesome. And thank you, Mitch. It has been such a pleasure reconnecting and I look forward to more connections.

Mitch Ditkoff: Thank you, Elisabeth. I appreciate you inviting me into this.

Elisabeth Swan: Goodbye everybody. Thank you for tuning in today to the Just-In-Time Café. Please tune again next month when we have a whole new slew of apps and books and great folks to talk to. Take care everybody.


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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.