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Presentation: Storytelling Isn’t Just for Bedtime Anymore -

Do you think you’re a bad storyteller? You’re wrong! You’ve got great stories to tell and you need to get them out there. Facts and data can only get you so far – stories are what people truly listen to. Check out our Storytelling Breakout Session from the 2017 Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference, which helped over 400 people tell their stories in just an hour. Learn the elements of a good story and spread the good word!

Storytelling Presentation Recording

Storytelling Presentation Slides

Storytelling Presentation Transcript

Tracy: OK. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and thank you for joining us today for Storytelling Isn’t Just for Bedtime Anymore. How many of you know a really good storyteller? Do they inspire? How many of you like the stories Brian Elms told this morning? He was talking about change and innovation, the risk in innovation and that story about it with his daughter, right? How many of you really connected to that? Because how many of us – a lot of us have teenagers, right? And does it make you realize, we take risks every day with our teenagers? If you have one.

And so, that’s really what we’re trying to come here is we’re really trying to share ideas through telling and that many of you are natural storytellers. We have lots of stories to share and we really want to help you share those stories. So we’re hoping that you really learn from our presentation and the output is that you’re sharing more stories to inspire each other and help innovation out.

About Our Presenters

So on that note, I’m going to introduce my fellow colleagues who, actually, I will let them introduce themselves. But I will say that Mitch, because he’s so humble, is participating and collaborating with us today. He has a book, Storytelling at Work.

Mitch: An interesting personal fact about me is that when people ask me where I live, I live in two places. I live in Woodstock, New York. Yes, that famous Woodstock, New York. Raise your hand if you went to that festival. Nobody? One woman up here. Focus. Focus. Are things starting to swirl to you? OK.

And secondly, I live in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende, right in the heart of Mexico. So I’m more than bi-cultural, I’m bi-country. And in my emails to friends, I told them that I’m living on the other side of Donald Trump’s imaginary wall. So nice to see you all and hope you enjoy the session.

Tracy: OK. And again, I’m Tracy O’Rourke. I’m with as Elisabeth is. We’ve been doing this over 20 years. I started at GE when Jack Welch was there. We both teach at UC San Diego. We teach the Lean Transformation and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.

An interesting personal fact about me, so I’m going to go ahead and have courage and share that I’m going to date myself a little bit right now with my interesting personal fact. So this month, we’re celebrating my 30-year of high reunion. Yeah, don’t I look good?

I found that I still hold the high school long jump record. And I’m going, “These people don’t know how to jump? I mean it has been 30 years.”

Elisabeth: OK. Let’s see if I can at least match Tracy’s accomplishment. My name is Elisabeth Swan. Anyone here who have seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? Keira Knightley played me.

Well, aside from my background in piracy, I’ve also been doing Lean Six Sigma for over 20 years. Tracy and I – let’s see. Tracy is in San Diego, based in San Diego. I’m based in Cape Cod. Little known fact about me is that – I’ll give you two little known facts. One, I can ride a unicycle. And two, I used to perform improv on stage in Boston, at ImprovBoston for many years.

Unicycle, kind of novelty now. Not really come out of closet much but improv I use every day.

Who Is

OK. So first step, who is All right. We have a mission. We want to make it easy for everyone everywhere to build their problem-solving muscles, and that drives everything we do. So, making it easy and we’ll show you all the ways to make it easy. So we’ve got online training, which is used in every single county in Washington State.

So everyone is using some variation of an online training to supplement their Lean efforts and it’s fun. We said when we started out, this doesn’t have to be dry. Yeah, there are numbers involved. But it can also be enjoyable. So that’s what’s behind all of our efforts now.

We’ve Helped People From…

These are some of the folks we work with. And we’ve got bricks and mortar. We’ve got online customers. And what is similar about all of these groups is that in our words, if you have a company, you have problems. It just goes with the territory. And we’re here to help.

The Shingo House

Tracy: OK. So now, we’re going to talk a little bit about how storytelling fits into our Lean organization. And rather than tell you, I’m going to tell you a little bit about a framework that you may have seen already during this conference.

So this is what we call the Shingo House. And you’ve probably heard that successful Lean transformation isn’t just about training people on tools. There are lots of other things that can happen as well to make a Lean organization successful. And this is a very simplified version of what we call the Shingo House. This is from Shigeo Shingo. And this is basically the structure and framework for a healthy organization or a healthy culture, and we equate that to a Lean organization.

So customers is a focus, strategic alignment, Lean tools, and culture. So the idea behind this Shingo House is don’t just train people and expect Lean to transform your organization. You really need to have activities or effort in every single one of these floors, if you will.

Don’t just train people and expect Lean to transform your organization. You really need to have activities or effort in every single one of these floors – Customers, Strategic Alignment, Lean Tools, Culture.

So based on that, where do you think storytelling fits? Which floor? Yes, they do fit in all of them. How? Yeah, can you tell stories about customers? Can you tell stories about struggles with maybe misalignment or success with some of the strategic alignment or employees not feeling like they have a sense of purpose? They say a lot of organizations, we know what we do but we don’t know where we’re going. So that’s around strategic alignment.

And then there are tools, right? Some people have struggle with tools. Some people have had real success with tools. We just did a presentation yesterday with Finance & Business Operations Division at King County about process walks. Process walks have been working great for them. And so, they told their story about how that works for them and some of their learnings from that.

And finally, culture, treating people with respect. Culture is about building community. And building community happens with stories, telling stories. As a matter of fact, aren’t we all part of the Lean community here in Washington? We’re our own tribe itself and we’re here to hear about all of these stories of trials and tribulation as well as successes.

Are you getting something out of the conference? Yes. Have they been valuable? Are you going to tell more stories about what you found and what you discovered? Absolutely.

So, I just want to make sure people felt like they had an understanding of how storytelling fits into building a Lean community and a culture of continuous improvement.

Share Your Name and Job Title

OK. So, we have a little activity that we want to do, a brief exercise. We’re going to make Elisabeth run around. And oh by the way, if you participate, you get a free Lean Training & Certification. OK. Ready?

OK. Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: Go ahead.

Tracy: Pick somebody that looks fancy.

Elisabeth: OK. This is difficult but I think we can do it. Ready, Tracy?

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: Share your name and job title.

Participant: Patricia Olsen, Complaints Investigator with Residential Care Services.

Elisabeth: Very good. Thank you.

Elisabeth: Let’s have another one.

Tracy: Anyone who wants to volunteer, raise your hand.

Participant: My name is Carissa Sullivan and I’m the eLibrary Manager at Timberland Regional Library System.

Elisabeth: Beautiful.

Elisabeth: Can we do one more?

Tracy: How about two?

Elisabeth: Two more.

Tracy: Pick a dude now.

Elisabeth: Pick a dude.

Participant: I’m Clark Blackburn and I’m a Compliance Coordinator.

Elisabeth: Beautiful.

Elisabeth: OK. One more politically correct dude. Here we go!

Participant: Steven Wells. I’m a Physical Technician at Airway Heights Country Club, I mean Correction Center in Spokane, Washington.

Elisabeth: Excellent.

Tracy: So, OK. Thank you for all of those participating. So let me ask you a question, did you feel a deep personal connection with that sharing?

Participants: No.

Tracy: No. How many of you actually really connect with your title? Anybody? I mean maybe there are some of you out there, right? I remember when I had a Black Belt position at GE. I’m like, “What does that mean?” Like people are going to think like start moving in karate chops or something.

So, that really wasn’t enough to connect with somebody, right? So now, what we want you to do is we want you to try something different.

What’s an Interesting Personal Fact About You?

We want you think about an interesting personal fact about you. You’re actually going to share it with one person, probably the person next to you. You’re going to pair up. So here are a couple of ground rules. Think about something you’re going to share that you’re OK with sharing and other people are OK with hearing first of all. It has got to meet those standards first of all.

But think about a hobby or an achievement or brush with fame or something bizarre if you want to go there. So just think about that. And I want you to turn to the person next to you and spend 5 minutes if you want to share or you want to both, one person talk and then the other person. So share that interesting personal fact. Ready? Go.

Tracy: Elisabeth is going to go ahead and go around and give away some more free stuff. For volunteers that might want to share their interesting personal fact, and we have a girl right over here who already has her hand up, go to her!

Participant: I am a champion swing dancer.

Tracy: Way better than being a champion swinger. [audience laughter] I like swing dancing part. Give her something free! Give her two.

Tracy: OK we need another volunteer!

Participant: Hello?

Tracy: Yes.

Participant: I’m going to give you a list of all the things.

Participant: Hobby, I like to make deodorants. I’m like an inner hippie. I tend to do that a lot. Brush with fame, someone wanted me to take a picture in front of the band Garbage poster, I was at Hard Rock Cafe and I had red hair at the time, somebody was like, “Oh my God, you look exactly like Shirley Manson!” So that was kind of my brush with fame. And something bizarre, so I was about to go to Barcelona, and I was at the airport and I dropped a canteen filled with water on my toe and broke it, but refused to miss my flight. So I was in the airport slash on the plane with a broken toe.

Tracy: Whoa! Thank you. Well, she is an overachiever. But thank you. Those were all interesting, right? Did you learn a lot about that lady right now?

Participants: Yes.

Tracy: OK. We got a few more over here, right over here. I’m looking for dudes, OK? Because we have two girls. Here we go. Here’s a dude over here.

Elisabeth: Dude! Here we go. What do you got?

Participant: When I was in high school, I worked in a Christmas store in Carmel, California and I sold a nutcracker to Doris Day.

Tracy: Very nice. And one more. Come on. Right over here. Because he’s close. See what happens when you sit in the front?

Elisabeth: We love the front row!

Participant: I used to run at an animal rescue and my cat has a cat.

Tracy: Your cat has a cat. OK. Good. So, we are going to save – we want you to remember your interesting personal fact that you share because we’re actually going to save it for later. We’re going to build on it after Mitch tells us some of the elements of storytelling so just hold on to that because you’re going to leverage something you already know very well and you’re going to build on that.

So now, I’m going to have Mitch dazzle us with why he become a storytelling, how did he become a storyteller.

Why Did I Go Into Storytelling?

Mitch: OK. Well, thank you, ladies. Happy to be here. Six years ago in a conference very much like this, not Washington but in Illinois, I was approached by a person who later became a client of mine. And they asked me a very simple question, what do you do and how is it that you’ve been successful?

My work is about innovation. I work with companies as different as homeland security is from MTV, both of whom are claiming to want to innovate more. So I look at their name and I saw that they have a big company title. I’m thinking, ka-ching, ka-ching. This is good. And I gave my standard response of what I do and why I think I’m successful.

As the words came out, it felt kind of like blah, blah, blah. It was my rap. It was my canned elevator speech. But I didn’t even believe it. They were polite. They nodded. They took my card. After it was over, I felt like that for real. That was more authentic.

But I ask myself, what do I really do? Not just my job title. I have two cards, one says President, the other one says Archduke. If I ask people which card they want, they always ask for the Archduke card. So I started thinking, what do I do?

So sort of in the spirit of Lean, I started to deconstruct my role and I took out a legal pad. I started writing all the things that I do, all the tools, all the processes, all the techniques, all the needs assessment, all the marketing, all the sales trying to find out what really makes me – has made me successful. And I saw something on that list that surprised me.

Storytelling. I never thought of myself as a storyteller. When I promote my work on the various websites, it has never extraordinarily said storytelling. It that said other things that I think people wanted to hear so they would buy my services. But storytelling never made to the homepage.

I started to think about this. Every time I tell a story in a session where there’s a keynote or a small workshop, anytime the people in the workshop or training tell a story, I see a palpable change in the audience. People’s eyes open up. They start to smile. They lean forward. I see head nods. And I get that the story somehow is making a difference. But I have always until six years ago, not even noticed it.

Every time I tell a story in a session where there’s a keynote or a small workshop, anytime the people in the workshop or training tell a story, I see a palpable change in the audience. People’s eyes open up. They start to smile. They lean forward. I see head nods. And I get that the story somehow is making a difference.

Storytelling Is Your Hidden Tool

Kind of like this. You know the classic FedEx logo? Some of you know this little story and some of you don’t. I’ll cut to the chase. Inside of this logo between the second E and the X, you’ll see what? An arrow. When the graphic designer hired by FedEx to make this logo embed that into white space, sometimes called native space, because it is the universal symbol for forward movement, that’s what FedEx does. They take things from A to B. They move things forward.

Storytelling in my life and I’m going to make a big fat assumption, in your life as well, is very much like that white arrow. It is hidden. You are telling stories. You are getting value from listening to stories. But like that negative space, the white space, you’re probably not seeing it and you’re probably not acknowledging it for how powerful it can be.

My task in the next 20 minutes that I have, or 25, is to increase the odds that you, your team, your department, and indeed your entire organization will notice the white arrow and begin to honor this ancient, iconic, universal ever since the Stone Age technique of communicate and you already – by the way, the good news is you all really know how to do it even if you think, “I’m no Garrison Keillor.”

Stories Communicate Tacit Knowledge

So here’s an example. And I know some of you have heard this story before. But storytelling, much like music, can be told again and again. If you hear a Beattles song, “Michelle,” let’s just call it “Michelle,” and it comes on the radio. Again, you don’t go, “Change that. I’ve already heard it.” You want to hear it again. So there’s a power in a story being told multiple times.

This is a 5 Whys story, going back to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC when the park’s workers, the maintenance workers whose job it was to keep the iconic memorial in that nation’s capital as clean as possible. And they spray water. They spray detergents. They do different things to keep things clean.

One day they noticed that the Jefferson Memorial was particularly dirty. So they crank up the volume. Their spray increased. They went back the next day. They cleaned it. They went back the next day, it looked dirty again. So they crank up the volume. They added more detergent. And again and again until they noticed that the detergent is starting to erode this iconic monument which was not good news.

One of the workers, one of the park’s workers got curious. Why in DC is this monument and this monument alone so difficult to clean and so always dirty? So he got curious, which by the way is one of the elements of innovation and certainly, Lean Six Sigma, and he got close. He got closer to the monument and he noticed that what it was that was on the monument wasn’t just ambient dust from the atmosphere.

Let me see if I can think of the scientific name for what it was. I don’t know in Latin but in English, it’s bird poop. OK?

Remember we had a flying bird in the first day of the keynote? That bird lives in the park scenario over here. Birds in great numbers were attracted to the Jefferson Memorial and of course, they spend some time there and so they left their business behind which made it very, very dirty and hard to clean.

This one particularly curious park worker asked himself the first why of the 5 Whys technique. I don’t think he had been through a Lean training. But he was a human being. And he was curious, why this monument and not the others? And he soon found out that the birds were attracted to the spiders that were all over the monument. They came to eat the spiders. While they were eating the spiders, they left their business behind all over the monument. Here comes the park’s workers having to clean it up.

OK. Problem solved. Now, why were there so many spiders? Well, the spiders were attracted to these very small insects called midges crawling all over the monument. They just crawl all over the monument. The spiders came to eat the midges. The birds came to eat the spiders. The birds leave their business behind. The workers had to do this number and basically almost ruin the monument with their detergents.

OK. Problem solved. No. Why, he asked, were there so many of these little, teeny bugs called midges? Well, he found out, midges were very attracted to the lighting effect of the Jefferson Memorial. For midges, it was kind of mood light, a kind of an aphrodisiac like you might put candle light and it will make a moment with your significant other, the midges found the lighting of the Jefferson Memorial completely sexy. So in great numbers, they co-created the problem with midges, here come the spiders, here comes the birds, here comes the bird poop, here comes the park workers and so on and so forth.

At that point, having gotten down to the root cause if you will, this team of park workers realized that they could change the game. They could eliminate the attraction of the midges which led to the spiders, which led to the birds, which led to the bird poop, if they change the lighting of the Jefferson Memorial. So they decided to turn the lights on half an hour later at sunset. The mix of sunset and the artificial lighting changed the mood. The midges were no longer in aphrodisiac land. They didn’t come, nor did the spiders, nor did the birds, nor did the bird poop.

That’s a short story. It took me two minutes to say that. But I have now given shape, flesh on the bones to a principal and maybe a technique that you even teach and use but it’s way different in the mind of someone hearing that story which creates a mental picture of the need and the progression. And you can see it in your mind a good storyteller is getting images and details and creates a movie in your mind. It’s way different to reflect back on that story than me telling you do the 5 Whys. Just ask why and it’s like it has no mojo to it. It’s just a thing to do when it’s attached with the story, the story is memorable and the story transfers what’s called tacit knowledge.

It’s way different to reflect back on that story than me telling you do the 5 Whys. Just ask why and it’s like it has no mojo to it. It’s just a thing to do when it’s attached with the story, the story is memorable and the story transfers what’s called tacit knowledge.

That’s a word that was – a phrase that was invented in the early ‘50s by a man named Michael Polanyi and later became a Japanese technique which is basically how do you transfer insight and wisdom to other people? OK. You can’t do it with an instructional video necessarily. You can’t do it with a list of instructions. You can’t wave your finger to people and tell them they should become wise and more insightful.

In Europe decades ago, there was a guild system and apprentices would attach themselves to the master and the master had been doing it for 30 and 40 years. The master goldsmith, silversmith carpenter or whatever, tile maker, and here, the young buck, the young recruit, the new apprentice will work alongside that master and something would happen and it has nothing to do with being instructed. It had to do with osmosis and seeing what the master is doing and then that person imbibed that quality and became masterful themselves. That’s the guild system. That guild system is kind of god. It closes approximation to the transfer of tacit knowledge. It’s hard to communicate insight and wisdom that is in your head to another person.

The modern day correlative to that is guess what? Storytelling. Because storytelling is the container, the narrative. It is the shape that gives meaning to the listener.

Storytelling Reduces Resistance to Change

It also, I shall say, as Tracy was talking about storytelling as building community, storytelling reduces resistance. When you hear somebody tells a story, assuming that they’re telling it relatively well and we’ll get to that a little bit later on how to tell a good story, you start to feel some affinity with that person. The boundaries between the two of you dissolve. That person is letting you into their life. You start to know them, not just their job title as was how the session began but a revelation of who they are and what they’ve done, a feeling that we are not that dissimilar. We’re like, “You’re interested. Well, thank you for actually being vulnerable and sharing something about yourself.”

When you hear somebody tells a story… you start to feel some affinity with that person. The boundaries between the two of you dissolve. That person is letting you into their life.

So one thing it does is it reduces resistance. It engages. It connects. It’s memorable and it creates a feeling of safety and relaxation. Those stories are called what? What were those early childhood stories called?

Participant: Fairytales.

Mitch: Fairytales. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, the Three Little Pigs. In those stories, each of those stories has a key value or principle or message or meaning that the parents want to convey to their child. And they don’t do it with a PowerPoint of show. “OK honey, sit up in bed. Daddy is going to take you to a PowerPoint show. Let me give you a spreadsheet of Cinderella or let me show you the Fishbone Diagram of Cinderella’s life.”

They don’t do that because that is guess what? That’s left brain stuff, and there is a time for that. Indeed, there is a time because Lean and storytelling are like two sides of the coin. They go together. They’re not in opposition. But that child got their first message, their first meaning, their first teaching. And don’t you remember Cinderella? Don’t your remember the big bad wolf? Have we forgotten those stories? Disney has leveraged those stories into multibillion dollar empires because they know that that stuff has been asked and we care about it.

Lean and storytelling are like two sides of the coin. They go together. They’re not in opposition.

So grow up a little bit later and you’ve become religious or on a spiritual quest and you read the Bible. If you’re from India, you read Bhagavad-Gita. If you’re from Islamic culture, you’re reading the Koran.

Guess what those books are made of, folks?

Participants: Stories.

Mitch: Stories. They’re all basically stories because the teachers of those traditions, your priest, your rabbi, your minister, your pastor, when he’s up on stage or she is up on stage, they populate your communications with stories because they know that stories stick and they can get the guardians of the gate and into your heart and your mind at the same time because storytelling evokes emotions. And that is one of the things that you can consider as a value-added aspect of storytelling because it goes past the mind straight to the heart.

Now, when you want to communicate the message that’s memorable, storytelling is the one that does that. I’m remembering on the first day, the story of the fly in the urinal. I kind of can’t even get it out of my head. I tried, but it’s not leaving! Like big bad wolf because even that was a story. It was a minute story. Guess what? A joke is a story. It’s a short story. So there’s power in stories and power in storytelling.

Why Do Lean Six Sigma Practitioners Struggle Telling Their Stories?

Now, you all at some level of detail are Lean Six Sigma practitioners and sometimes I am just guessing, a little known fact about myself is that I’m an amateur psychic. I’m not sure what that means. You know what I do, when I get to a restaurant and the waitress comes down and I go, “November 17th. Your birthday, right?” And she goes, “No!” But I’ve done it enough times where I actually got it once. Like if you do it 365 times you’ll get it once. My friends look at me cringing, “Here he goes again with the birthday guessing thing.” My story of my restaurant experience.

So why do you struggle or why do you resist or why do you imagine that it’s not possible for you? So here are a few possibilities.

First one which is true for just about anything is those of you who do struggle, I’m not saying you all do, but those of you who do, may have a self-image of yourself as, “I am not a storyteller. I know storytellers. My dad was a good storyteller. My grandpa was a good storyteller. My grandma was a good storyteller but not me.”

Now, I’m going to challenge that because I know from experience, having talked with thousands of people, have been in multiple workshops and sessions on storytelling in very buttoned down organizations I will add, not just fairy dust stuff but real – right – cut-to-the-chase organizations that people who think they are not good storytellers are basically – it’s a self-fulfilling process. So I ask you for now to suspend that thought.

Sociologist and anthropologist and psychologist that have deconstructed human beings conversations, they record them, they have transcripts of them, and they look to see what percentage of a conversation, a normal, everyday conversation in story, 65% of all of our conversations are what we share with each other are made of stories. We’re not aware of it like the white arrow. I wasn’t aware that storytelling is so powerful. But it is and you’re a natural.

Number two is you don’t know what your core message is. You tell a story but it’s like whatever. And it’s sort of like somebody and you see them, those that they get on a TED Talk, not the good ones, or a keynote speaker might tell a story as an ice breaker because they’re nervous and they know how to tell a story. So that story that they tell relaxes them. But there’s no real meaning or message in the story. It’s just a throw-away. So if you know what the purpose is like the midge story, the Jefferson Memorial story is about the power of asking 5 Whys. When I tell that story or you tell that story, there is meaning behind the stories, not just an ice breaker or a random moment.

The third reason why you resist or why you’re not telling more stories better is because you don’t know who your audience is. So you have to tune in. I know I was coming to this Lean conference. This is a different mindset, a different set of experiences than when I’m at MTV. And the stories that I would tell on MTV are probably not going to be Lean Six [Sigma] stories but will be something else. So you have to be aware of who you’re talking to and identify the story that’s appropriate for that audience.

You can choose the wrong story. You have many but if I told you the Three Little Pigs right now, you’re like, “And your point, Mitch? Yeah, I know the story with the bricks and the whole thing, and the big bad wolf.” OK. So choosing the right story and a little bit down the road in this session, you’re going to have a chance to identify your own story to consider practicing and telling on the job so you can go with the Lean Six [Sigma] thing forward.

Becoming too preachy. Some people just use a story as a way to be a professorial and tell people stuff. It’s like a setup to actually get up there and raise a finger at you. People pick that up. Storytelling is meant to engage, not to be didactic so you got to get in and get out. That’s the fifth.

The big one is not practicing. Like anybody who is good at anything, music, art, you pick your genre, practice makes perfect. So if you have a story, you need to think about, “How am I going to practice?” Sometimes I walk and practice my stories. Sometimes in the car, I’m talking to myself. Sometimes I tell the story to my kids or my wife and ask for feedback. I don’t just show up at a place and tell the story. So practice is part of it.

Like anybody who is good at anything, music, art, you pick your genre, practice makes perfect. So if you have a story, you need to think about, “How am I going to practice?”

The seventh is to tell the story in a boring way. OK. Flat line, monotone, “Once upon a time, I was a Six Sigma practitioner and my house burned down. The Fire Department came in and then they left.” Remember Steven Wright, the comedian? He gets away with that but we would not. OK?

And eighth, not understanding story structure, which is where I’m headed. Because this is a Lean Six [Sigma] audience and because I know you like lists, this is a list-centric audience, I love lists by the way. Astrologically speaking, I’m a Virgo. People make fun of Virgos because we like to have things tidy and organized. And one way I do that is make lists. It makes me feel good. It gives me the appearance of control even though it’s irrelevant.

So here is your list of the 5 elements of a story that we got. We’ll get to that in a second. What is character? That could be – that’s the hero. That can be you. It can be a customer or a client. It can be somebody else like in a fairytale zone, there’s a character. The character has to be likable and you have to have a sense that that character has some personality.

So make sure you express some details that gives the character a life, not just once a upon there was a salesman but he was a salesman with a small scar on his left cheek and a big top hat chewing bubble gum. That’s more interesting. It took me an extra 15 seconds. But as you saw that image, you’re going to remember that more than just a generic salesman. So make the character believable and specific.

Two is the setting. All stories happen somewhere. Star Wars happens in space. Other movies happen in other places. So if you’re telling a story, give the listener a sense of the place, where you were. Paint a picture, so it’s based in time and space.

Three is the plot. That’s the narrative. First A, it happened then B and C. It’s a sequence to things. And if it’s a longer story, there are sub-plots. That’s how movies are made. In your stories because you may only have 2 minutes to deliver the goods, you don’t want to get overly over amp about the plot. So one, two, and three key points.

Four is the one that most people forget. There is no story without an obstacle. What is the big bad wolf in your story? What is in the way? And paint the picture. What is the conflict you’re trying to overcome? If you’re trying to tell a story to reinforce the methods or the value of Lean Six Sigma, what is it you’re trying to overcome or lessen? You have to make that point very clear otherwise you don’t have a story. You have just – you’re telling something to somebody but it’s not really a story and it’s unlikely to stick.

There is no story without an obstacle. What is the big bad wolf in your story? What is in the way?

And the fifth thing is resolution. That means there is a happy outcome. Something good happens, a best practice, sales go up, cycle time decreases, teamwork increases, something of value happens, that’s the outcome. That’s the punchline. if you’re listening to a symphony and it’s like, “Da, da, da…,” you kind of want it to go, “Da!” If there’s no “Da!” you’d go home and you’d feel bad. You can’t really eat lunch very well. You want somebody to come up and just go, “Tell me – would somebody just say, ‘Da’? I want this thing to be completed.”

So your story needs to have a resolution. Here’s to happy ending. Here’s what we learn. Here’s what the insight was. Here’s what I learned. OK. So you can do that but you need to think through these 5 elements in order to know that you really have a story. OK. Do you understand that?

So just before I turn the clicker over to my two compatriots, one more thing. Raise your hand if have you ever heard of Joseph Campbell? He wrote The Power of Myth, a man who is no longer with us, who studied stories in every culture in the world, in every hemisphere, every country, every place. And he discovered after thousands of thousands of stories that he has read and studied the rules of that all stories basically were made up of these 5 elements. This is the DNA if you will. It’s the essence of it.

And that every story, the hero went on what he called, the Hero’s Journey, which is as simple as saying, the character, that’s you with the person you’re telling your story about, on a noble quest, whatever that quest, let’s get to the moon, let’s reduce cycle time, let’s end world hunger, let’s end hunger in Tacoma and collect more food, whatever it is. There’s a hero on a quest with obstacles, there’s a plot and there’s a resolution. Those are the 5 elements.

If you decide to tell your stories and apply them in the workplace one-on-one, small groups, or at some point, standing up on the stage, your story must have these 5. If you want to get better at telling stories, oh my god! Look! I wrote a book.

And that by the way is silhouette of me. Taken in a café without me knowing by a very creative friend of mine who sent me this saying, “I got the cover of your book.” And didn’t charge me a penny. God bless him. And so, we’re going to give away 10 of these at the end. That was my little commercial.

With that being said, I’m going to hand the proverbial clicker over to my colleague, Mrs. Tracy O’Rourke. Thank you.

Pair Up With a Partner!

Tracy: OK. So we’re all here to learn, right? So here is what we thought would be easy yet challenging just enough to be confident. And that is, to think about the interesting personal fact that you shared with your sidekick and think about how would you expand on that interesting personal fact and include the 5 elements of a good story. Maybe you’ve already covered some of that.

For example, when Doris Day came to your store, you have a setting in there, you have the character in there. And so, there are a few elements already in there. So recognize that you already had some of those elements in there and then try to expand on them a little. It’s an exercise. You’re safe. It’s OK. You can be vulnerable and courageous in this exercise. Are you game? For a free book?

All right. So, go ahead and try it. Just practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try it – if you want to pick a different personal fact, go ahead. We’re flexible. And then just hear the other ones. We’re going to give you 10 minutes and then maybe some of you brave souls want to share it. Let’s make sure you get a book. Go.

So tell us. Let’s do a thumbs up, thumbs down. Was that easy or hard? Thumbs up, thumbs down, what do you think? OK. So was that just enough of a challenge to take a familiar a little bit and maybe go into new territory of trying something? Yes? Good. OK. Did you learn something about the person that you paired up with? Maybe have connection, go for drinks later?

Elements of a Good Story

All right. So, any brave souls out there for a free book from our fabulous, Elisabeth Swan in the middle? She is in the back because if we don’t want to discriminate by geography of the room. She’s going to go to some poor souls sitting in the back right now and how about just share your personal fact and story. We’re not going to necessarily say you missed these. We just want to hear what you came up with. Would you be OK with sharing?

Participant: My name is Kory and my story is about me being trapped in a building. My husband and I and our son were on our way to Seattle where he was going to be officiating a wedding and afterwards we were supposed to go to Spuds on Alki for fish and chips. Except after the wedding he officiated we were all in the car, I didn’t take the exit. Kept on going, over the West Seattle Bridge, I was like, “Okay I’ll get off at Royal Brougham.” And it was a Yankees game and the Mariners were playing them. So I turn to my husband and said, “Hey, let’s go to a Mariners’ game.” He’s like, “Sure.”

So I plan to jump out and gets the tickets, head back to the garage with my 3-year old and I start looking for parking. I can’t find anything. So I circled the block one more time, I’m in the back of all these buildings, to the left of me it looks like the Coast Guard Station, one house to the right of me I don’t know what is this building. I pulled in. $40 for parking, I cough it up. I know I got a little 3-year old with little tiny legs. Get out of my car. Lock it. And then make my way up to the stairwell. I can’t get out. Every door I tried was locked.

So, I get out to a door that’s unlocked and I’m standing there for a second just kind of looking at around and go, “What am I supposed to do now?” And out comes literally the King 5 News Team, sports gentlemen and weekend crew. And I’m looking at them going, “I don’t think I’m in the right spot. I’m trying to get out.” And they helped me out. They walked me all the way through the studios and made me a pass, and got me out past to security guard. And in the meantime, I got an impromptu tour of it all, and got me in the game. I’m thinking, “The King 5 News Team saved my day.”

Mitch: So that is a story. If you double click on that story, it’s a story about unexpected grace. It’s about surprise in our lives that showed up that you didn’t anticipate. Serendipity. And if you’re going to tell that story in your organization and to your team, you might want to emphasize those takeaways that are embedded in that very beautiful and real-time story. So thanks for sharing that.

Tracy: Great job, you get a free book.

Tracy: OK. You got to get Elisabeth’s attention in the back. Who’s next?

Participant: All right. As a young, immature and inexperienced 18-year-old kid, I spent most of my first year in college in England. I took a side trip to Greece. The first night in Greece, I got my airplane ticket and half of my money stolen. And so, I was at the US Embassy with a phone in my hand ready to call home to be rescued. I hung the phone up. I never called home. I survived for two weeks in Athens, Greece. And part of that survival, as I ended up back in London in a busy train station I discovered that I didn’t have enough money to buy my train ticket to where I was living.

So after a few minutes of problem-solving, I decided I had some t-shirts in my suitcase and I pull what I thought was my best American t-shirt out and started walking around the train station to station saying, “T-shirt for sale.” The t-shirt had a huge picture of a hamburger on it and the t-shirt said, “Eat me at this particular restaurant.” And while embarrassing, it got me a fare to get back home. I was able to survive as an 18-year-old kid. It was a really valuable lesson on how to be creative and solve problems.

Mitch: Beautiful.

Mitch: If you were tasked with the opportunity to talk with your team about the qualities of adaptability, flexibility, spontaneous creativity in the moment, that story would be a good one to tell. And after you tell that story then you get to ask the people on your team, “Who else has a story about adaptability at work or spontaneity at work?” and you’ll find that there are other people with their versions of that story and it actually emphasizes and sparks those qualities, brings them from latent and inert to active and on the table. So that’s a great story. More than once, not just here, we get back to work as well.

…ask the people on your team, “Who else has a story about adaptability at work or spontaneity at work?” and you’ll find that there are other people with their versions of that story and it actually emphasizes and sparks those qualities, brings them from latent and inert to active and on the table.

Tracy: Thank you. All right. Another – this is great. Look at these hands.

Elisabeth: We got hands. I’m looking around. OK. What you do got?

Participant: Hello. My name is Kelly Grace and I am a scrapbooker. And scrapbooking started for me when I was in college because I like to party and we would take lots and really fun pictures and I wanted those pictures to be displayed for everyone to see that they are silly and fun. So I would spend my days scrapbooking and my friends would make fun of me because they would be out partying some days and then I would be in scrapbooking and cutting paper and putting stickers on and it didn’t stop me. I kept scrapbooking.

And those friends that made fun of me, I just recently made them an album of their wedding and it brought tears to their eyes because it was so beautiful. So I’m making memories for people and myself.

Mitch: The power of making something visible and visual to express appreciation and the art of going beyond the obvious and call of duty. You went beyond the call of duty. You made a difference in those people’s lives. Thank you for that.

Tracy: OK. Let’s do one more. We got a hand up right over here in this first row. We go to give her some credit for that.

Participant: I’m a singer in a choir for my church. One day, we had to go and perform at a revival, coming to Everett going to Tacoma. We’re riding in the car with the pastor and the first lady in their fancy Cadillac. We get a blowout. We’re already running late. No one in the car, including the pastor, knows how to change tire, so they want us to wait for Triple A. If you know Triple A, they can take a long time. We don’t have that kind of time to wait. My grandpa who is a mechanic taught me how to be independent and do things for myself.

So the alto in chair number two was able to change the tire in front of the pastor and the first lady and the other sopranos who couldn’t do anything.

We made it on time and I was able to do my solo.

Mitch: One way that she can use that story in the workplace is a prompt or a provocation to get people and their team to share their little known talents and gifts because on you team, we don’t know what each other’s skills are. We know what we do in the workplace but there’s this whole other bunch of stuff that we’re really good at that no one knows. And if you’re trying to build a community, build a team, give the people an opportunity to express those particular skills and gifts that they have as you just did with us is one way for the team to bond even deeper. So thank you for that.

We know what we do in the workplace but there’s this whole other bunch of stuff that we’re really good at that no one knows. And if you’re trying to build a community, build a team, give the people an opportunity to express those particular skills and gifts that they have as you just did with us is one way for the team to bond even deeper.

Tracy: Thank you all for sharing those stories. So I think what’s another hopefully step we can take is sometimes people say, “Well, what story do I have that would show flexibility and adaptability and courage?” And you draw a blank. You can’t think of anything. Sometimes the easier way is to identify you already have really good stories and do as Mitch said, which is what does that story actually tell? What are the key things that are coming out of that story?

And that’s the connection. It might be easier to go that route than to think of it as, “Well, what story do I have that create responsibility?” So try that. Think about the stories that you hear, that you husband repeats over and over. And say, “What kind of key takeaways are you trying to tell me?” And that might be an easier job for all of us to tell more stories at work.

Storytelling Is Tribal – It Builds Community!

We’re going to hand it over to Mitch to talk a little bit more about community. But don’t worry, if you want to go, you’re going to be given another chance.

Mitch: OK. A round of applause for Mrs. Tracy O’Rourke.

Raise your hand if you have never attended a team building training, workshop, or session. OK that’s like about a 94.3%. I teach team building and team development sessions. I go around the country and sometimes out of this country as part of my work in the innovation world to do that because there’s no innovation without a team. What I’ve discovered is that the simplest, least expensive, cut-to-the-chase way to build a team is guess what, it starts with the letter S. Storytelling.

When you get your group of people, your peers, your tribe together, and give people an opportunity as we just did in this room, to share real world stories, their own experiences or maybe someone else’s that the team bonds at a very rapid rate. People feel like they know you now. Feel for you. I’ve had the same experience so we have a sense of affinity for each other and appreciation for each other. We’re no longer just a box on the organizational chart but there’s vulnerability. There’s fun. There’s engagement.

All the way back to the beginning of recorded history, that’s how wisdom, information and insight were shared. Before there was writing, there was the oral tradition, cave painting as a form of storytelling. Our way back ancestors, the Cro-magnon, the Neanderthals gather around the fire at the end of the day and guess what they did to survive? They share the stories of the day with each other so that they have a better chance of succeeding tomorrow and not being eaten by the leopard, the lion, or the whatever.

So if you’re interested in building a community and building teamwork, storytelling is one simple, quick, effective and elegant way to do that. So know that.

If you’re interested in building a community and building teamwork, storytelling is one simple, quick, effective and elegant way to do that.

Stories Travel

Now, one thing about viral videos, cats on the piano, cute little cat viral videos, before they were viral videos, there was viral storytelling. And a good story travels. So I’m going to tell you a 2-minute story from the Mideast that you have my permission to adapt, borrow, steal, use, apply. So this is like – no extra charge for this.

I tell this story when I go places that have engaged my services to raise the bar for innovation or creative thinking or out-of-the-box thinking every company has their own native phrase for this. But when I walk into a room full of people and they may have been sent there by their boss. They may not have signed up. Maybe they felt like, “Oh my god! I got to listen to this guy all day long.” And I know that I have to establish a rapport quickly and I need to set the context for the day. So I could have this line that goes, “The 5 deliverables for today are…” Or I can tell them a story. So I’m going to tell you this story that I tell them.

So once upon a time, maybe 50, 55 years ago, I think it was in Egypt, there was a very wealthy merchant who suddenly died and he had four children. And when he died, at the funeral, everyone was weeping and crying, “I love this man. He was so benevolent and so kind and such a brilliant businessman.” He left his fortune behind to his three sons: the eldest son, the middle son, and the youngest son. And after the funeral, the grand vizier, his comptroller, the man who was in charge of the money and the legacy gathered the three young lads together and read the father’s will.

And in the will, among other things, the rich, now dead merchant, left his 17 amazing, beautiful, healthy, studly camels to his three sons with the instruction being that half of the camel would go to the eldest son, one third of the camels would go to the middle son, and one ninth of the camels would go to the youngest son. Very simple except you really can’t divide 17 into half or thirds or ninths.

So the three young sons started arguing, fighting, and yelling and screaming and coming up with all these hairbrained scheme about what to do. But nothing worked. So they got to the wall. They got to the edge of like holy— whatever the Egyptian word is, you fill in the blank for that. We don’t know what to do. We need to call the resident wise man, the wise man of the province. He will know.

So they sent word for the wise man. The wise man hears that the three young lads were in trouble and the wise man loved the merchant. He was one of his good friends and a respected part of the whole scene in the area.

So he comes to the three young lads’ home riding a camel. And he says to the three boys, “I love your father so much and I know this is a real challenge for you to figure out how to divide up the 17 camels. So because of my great love for your father, what I’m going to do is I’m going to donate my camel to the three of you. You now have 18 camels. So one half of 18 is what, boys? Nine. Good. Nine go to the eldest son. One third of the camels is what? Six. That’s right. Six goes to the middle son. 9 plus 6 is 15. We have one ninth to the youngest son. You get 2. 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17. There’s 17 camels. Oh, we have one camel left open. I guess I’ll get back on it and ride home.”

Exactly. So you got it without me telling you the 6 or 5 deliverables and the whatever. That is what’s called an elegant solution. It is not a non-obvious solution. An out-of-the-box solution. Everybody wins. And he even gets to keep his camel.

So if I’m going to start a brainstorming session, a pre-thinking workshop, a culture of innovation day, whatever, with people, I might choose this story to start the day. It took me 90 seconds to tell it. And then I say, “Today, ladies and gentlemen is all about you with me being at your service as you’re handy dandy facilitator of the process, finding that 18th camel. Are you with me?” And they go high-fiving each other.

And then it becomes a meeting. The 18th camel becomes a language that they have a shorthand that they can use with each other to talk about this mysterious thing called elegant solutions. OK? So let’s understand the power of the story. You now have that story that you can tell on your own. So the last part for me before I hand this – I don’t have time. I’m handing this mic over now. Watch how I get out of my mic. Not a mic. This is a mic. This is a clicker. OK.


Elisabeth: So, just to wrap up. You already now have a technique to encourage storytelling, a little know or a personal fact. It is so simple and so powerful.

It works remotely too. Tracy and I as we mentioned teach at UC San Diego. I live on Cape Cod. I am not in San Diego teaching. We have not met our students and they have not met each other. But we ask them to share a little known fact. And when I went on to see if there was any questions, I saw all of my students had 30 new messages and I’m like, “What have we done? What have we not uploaded? How did we mess up?” And what I saw was they were all asking each other, “Have you been to every brewery in California.” What’s the other one?

Tracy: Prison.

Elisabeth: A lot of questions.

Tracy: They were the nutritionists at the prison.

Elisabeth: Good clarification. I think there were some questions. So it works remotely, they already have a community. They are now a network with each other to help problem-solve as they work through to get their Green Belt Certifications. Make it part of your daily activity. It builds community, networks, and problem-solving building.

Questions to Encourage Storytelling

Questions for you to use, we use personal fact. Here are some other great ones for you. I love the last one. What was your first car? There is a story there every time and it’s great.

Questions to Encourage Storytelling With Lean

Now, once you’re through with the effort, these are great ways to get stories from other people or to think about yourself. Once you’ve done some kind of a Lean effort and you’ve got a team, sit down and say: What would you have done differently? What was the best thing that happened? What was the unexpected benefit? What were some of your AHA moments? What did you connect with or who did you connect with as a result? And what did you learn that will change the way you approach things forever in the future?

These are great. These are all stories. And they’re not, “We reduced it to 22 days. We cut defects down to three a month.” These are the stories that people listen to and make the work you did relevant.

Storytelling at Work

Tracy: OK. And just a few other things. We’ve got Mitch’s book at Idea Champions, if you didn’t get one today, you can get one online as well. We’ve got a few extra for anybody that wants to come up. It will be first come, first serve. But not yet. Don’t hurt each other.

Podcast – Just-In-Time Cafe

We also have, just so you know, has lots of free resources. We actually have a podcast on the Just-In-Time Café. We actually did interview Brian Elms and he is at Denver’s Peak Academy. It’s hilarious. And lots of other people like Paul Akers, Mike Osterling, Karen Martin, lots of different authors. It’s free every month.

A State of Inspiration

And we also have lots of success stories that really tell the story of success in Washington. We’ve got a couple of stars here right now. Eunjoo and Kara right here, raise your hands. We’ve also done their success stories right over there. And if you have one that you want to share, we would be happy to be able to be the vehicle for you to share your story. So, also send us a note.

Lots of Free Resources!

And also, we’ve got free tools and templates, webinars, videos, and lots of success stories. So, any questions for Mitch, myself, or Elisabeth? And then we will let you go. You can leave if you have don’t question.


Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC 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.

Mitch Ditkoff

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. His newest book, Storytelling at Work, won an Axiom Business Book Awards Bronze Medal in 2016.
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