Designing For Time




                                          Editors’ Note: Arts-based brand consultancy On Your Feet ...
FEATURE




                                                                               IMPROVISED STORIES
            ...
Designing For Time




                                                                           STORY PLOTTER

         ...
FEATURE




is. They are much further ahead       actions from all over the organi-     brand more effectively. It can
and...
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Interactions Magazine Oyf Article July, 2009

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Arts-based brand consultancy On Your Feet explores a structure—“Story Plotter”—for organizational sto-
ries that help businesses and brands differentiate themselves from their competition and develop a culture of action.

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Interactions Magazine Oyf Article July, 2009

  1. 1. Designing For Time Editors’ Note: Arts-based brand consultancy On Your Feet explores a structure—“Story Plotter”—for organizational sto- ries that help businesses and brands differentiate themselves from their competition and develop a culture of action. Stories That Inspire Action Gary Hirsch On Your Feet | gary@oyf.com Brad Robertson On Your Feet | brad@oyf.com We hear stories all the time. what the stories are about and then asked if the author had any skis. We tell stories. We are stories. how the stories can help catalyze He squeezed his size-9.5 feet into the Think about your own name, for action. This article explains how author’s downhill skis and skied the example. Why did your parents we created the “Story Plotter” and package down the hill to the road. It give you that name? Does your how you might use it to organize was delivered on time the next day.” surname have special meaning? your stories and inspire action This story was news to most Do you have a nickname, and if within your organization. of the people in the audience, so, how did you get it? We have and someone on the other side asked hundreds of people these A Snow Story of the auditorium even stood up questions and have been capti- About three years ago we were and said, “We did that? That’s vated by moving, funny, obscene, working with a large group of fantastic!” sometimes unforgettable stories. managers at a global overnight The snow story got us think- Here is one of our own: shipping and delivery company. ing: How many other stories “When I was on the freshman They were talking about excel- were embedded in the company? basketball team at Lincoln high lent personal customer service. How many other stories would school, my teammates Rawlin Indeed, one of their stated brand generate a similar inspired Nolte and Eddie Peterson gave me attributes is being personal. response? How could we help the nickname ‘Doof.’ Mostly it was When asked what that meant, a get these stories told? And, once because I walked around with my few people recited the tagline on told, how could they inspire mouth open and a blank expression. the printed internal literature. similar action? I somehow managed to turn this But when asked to tell a story name into a huge compliment. For about this language in action, a The Use of “Fat Words” four years people called me ‘Doof’ or woman in the back of the room Instead of utilizing stories, orga- ‘The Doofer.’ Somehow, though, I dif- grabbed the microphone: nizations often try to drive action ferentiated those two names from the “I work in the Rocky Mountain by developing phrases or words more pejorative ‘doofus.’ If anyone region. One of our carriers responded they hope will inspire and moti- ever called me that, I would immedi- to a pickup call halfway up a moun- vate. The global overnight ship- ately correct them and say, ‘Hey, it’s tain in a remote area. There was an ping and delivery company had Doof.’”—Brad Robertson author who was working in one of developed a values-based lan- Stories are told in business, the cabins who needed his manu- guage they hoped would inspire July + August 2009 too: by managers, by co-workers script to get to New York the next good customer service. They used around the water cooler, by day. The driver arrived just as a typi- words like “connecting, simplic- consumers upon leaving a store. cal Rocky Mountain snowstorm was ity, and certainty.” Our friend Stories are told pretty much assaulting the cabin. Indeed, when he Brian Lanahan (who was once a everywhere except in those tried to start his truck in the cabin brand manager at Coke and now silent elevators. driveway after picking up the pack- collaborates with us through a But unorganized stories may age from the author, he discovered consultancy called Character) not be enough to inspire either that his truck was quite stuck. The describes such language as “fat interactions internal or external organization- driver calmly looked at the author words;” words that are so uni- al action. They need a structure, and asked, ‘What is your shoe size?’ versal that they can mean some- so that people better understand The author replied, ‘9.’ The driver thing different to anyone using 44
  2. 2. FEATURE IMPROVISED STORIES Our take on stories comes from the world of improvised theater, where stories are made with no script, plan, rehearsal, budget, or, on occasion, talent. The job of the improviser is to instantly create stories them. These words don’t arrive in zation that wanted to bring its and scenes that engage and enthrall the audience. a vacuum; they can be based on brand values to life by finding One of the many skills that help an improv actor real beliefs, founder visions, and distinctive actions to exemplify survive under these seemingly impossible conditions organizational philosophy. But the these values throughout every is an ability to create vivid and authentic characters. It words alone fall short for several level of the organization. A few is vital that the audience knows as much as possible reasons: years ago we helped a global about these instant characters so they can become Often this language is aspi- advertising agency that was inter- immersed in the story. rational, describing what the ested in finding other ways for its When I was first studying to be an improviser, I was organization wants to be rather clients to communicate who they convinced the best way to tell a story was to tell the than who they currently are. are to their consumers, looking audience all about my character; what was important From company to company, beyond brand communication to him, what he wanted, and so on. I might start a the language all sounds alike (for and focusing on internal actions. scene with another performer by proclaiming: “Hello, I example, most advertising agen- We worked with our friend and am the honest baker,” speaking more to audience than cies say they value creativity). collaborator Arnie Jacobson and to the other actor. “Welcome to the Honest Bakery. So the language does not help his research firm, QRC (they Do you like our new uniforms with ‘HONEST’ written differentiate the organization or bring to life a whole other set of across the chest?” I figured if I simply told people who brand from any other. stories, that of the consumer), to I was, then I could get on to the funny stuff. One of my This language doesn’t seem help a Hollywood studio find new acting coaches pulled me aside and said: to help the people internally actions for its character-based “It’s not like your characters are an ad for floor make decisions, respond, and act. consumer products division. cleaner or running shoes. It’s not convincing or very Last, the customer knows To assist these clients, we engaging to say you are honest, or reliable, or nimble, the difference between talk and asked them to tell stories of or inspiring. Your characters need to communicate action. Consumers in the infor- things that happen in the com- who they are through what they do. If you are an mation age are more knowledge- pany. We heard stories of gritty honest baker, then behave honestly, tell people what’s able and savvy, and they have reality, stories illustrating failure, in the muffins, return the wallet that was left on the access to more information than communicating learning, and counter. Let the customer know that she has a piece of ever before. The wall between acting as a warning. As these spinach in her teeth. You don’t have to tell the audience consumers and the brand has stories emerged, we asked our- anything. They are smart. Simply be it.” —G.H. become much more transparent. selves a question: Could there be Consumers do not experience the a simple, sensible way of organiz- intention of the brand no matter how honorable; they experience ing and classifying stories that could be useful in helping orga- STORIES OF ACTION what the brand does. So if a com- nizations live their brand, find While waiting for luggage at the Phoenix airport, a pany says they are caring but alignment, discover new actions, friend of mine had an encounter that inspired our then underpay their employees, and look beyond language? The quest to find more stories of alignment. Here is what the public will find out. Today a Story Plotter, a taxonomy for he told us: brand is as strong as its relation- organizing stories, emerged from “At baggage claim I patiently watched the empty ship with its customers. To cre- this inquiry. We identified four carousel go around when I suddenly heard a ‘clunk’ ate a strong relationship, there kinds of stories and designed the behind me. I turned around to see a large surfboard must be alignment between what Plotter to help organizations and being unloaded at the oversize-baggage area. A an individual, brand, or organiza- brands do the following: surfboard in a landlocked desert state? A gray-haired tion says and what it does, In the Talk about who they are by older gentleman in a suit walked up to claim the end (as the saying goes), actions telling stories of what they do. oblong baggage, and I asked him what he was doing speak louder than words. Learn to be more of a listen- with the surfboard. He smiled at me and answered in ing organization, by incorporat- a thick Australian accent, ‘Oh mate, not sure where Story Plotter ing consumer stories and input I’ll surf but I’ll find someplace. I have to… it’s in my We developed Story Plotter to into company communication. contract.’ He went on to explain that he was the CFO help the handful of our clients Share knowledge internally of an Australian surfboard company and it is written who had realized fat words are and externally. into every senior executive’s contract that they must not enough. We worked with a Find meaningful new actions surf at least once a month. This gentleman was on a professional basketball organi- for exemplifying values. three-week business trip, so he took his board.
  3. 3. Designing For Time STORY PLOTTER FACT POSSIBILITY what really happens things we could do positive But how honest was this? That transmit culture idea generation meant that people were charged gather new examples strategic insight one minute for a five-second call. By making this visible, the com- pany had a choice: continue the FEAR AND ANXIETY practice and be out of alignment, CONTRADICTION undesired futures or change the policy. inconsistencies and failings negative make fear visible Stories of contradiction point gather feedback actively work to make sure out areas of inconsistency and make blind spots visible these don’t come true make them visible. They do not always lead to reversible action. what is what could be The NBA team we worked with wanted to live the value of being more open. However, they had Develop aligned ideas, prod- stories capture actions that flesh no desire to reveal their draft ucts, positioning, and commu- out and make real whatever considerations. They knew this nication. language the company uses to contradicted their stated values Discover new touch points describe itself. One company but decided that this was fine with the audience. we worked with valued integ- and made good business sense. Make conscious deliberate rity. A story of fact they told us Stories of Possibility and choices instead of knee-jerk ones. described how they realized they Revolution. This is where brands Follow through on promises. had made an error in a shipment. explore and play with the future. Demonstrate authenticity. In this case the train had left the We ask a lot of “what if” ques- Understand how internal station, literally, with thousands tions. Using a host of improv- and external audiences see and of mislabeled packages. They had based exercises, ideas for new understand the brand. a choice: ignore the mistake and actions and possible futures Transmit their culture, espe- hope their retailers didn’t notice, spring to the fore. Stories of pos- cially to new hires. or call the train back, unload it, sibility are “quick wins”; they Identify areas of strength be a week behind in fulfillment, capture actions that really ought and weakness. and fix the error. They also told to be happening and for some Story Plotter emerged as a us that their retailers often made reason, possibly a trivial one, structure for organizing stories similar labeling errors when aren’t. By asking people to cre- and action. The left-hand column sending shipments back. Our ate new stories of possibility, captures stories of the current client never complained. But of you can find the cheap and easy reality, what is happening now. course, this is a factual story things that are obvious to some- The stories in the right-hand about integrity. They turned the body in the organization but that column capture what we would train around, relabeled the boxes, no one has yet put into action. call future stories—stories of and apologized for the shipment Here is an example: new possibility, new ideas, new being late without revealing the The baggage handlers at action, and future fears and extra effort they put in to get the American Airlines knew some- July + August 2009 anxiety. The top row describes shipment there correctly. thing no one else had realized: stories and action worth keep- Stories of Contradiction. By The bags that go into the plane ing and cultivating. The bottom contrast, these stories capture first are the last to come out of row captures stories and actions actions that contradict or work the hold. The handlers suggested that might be most constructive against what the organization that the first-class bags be put in if stopped or discouraged from says it is. A manager at a large last so the first-class passengers coming into fruition. U.K. mobile phone company could get their bags first upon Stories of Fact. These are sto- recently told us a story of con- arrival. The company imple- interactions ries of things that have actually tradiction. The stated value mented the idea immediately. happened (even if they have been was honesty. He noted that his Stories of revolution are sto- embellished in the telling). These company charged by the minute. ries of what could be, not what 46
  4. 4. FEATURE is. They are much further ahead actions from all over the organi- brand more effectively. It can and more of a stretch than sto- zation. With one organization it be used to help people in dif- ries of possibility. For example, became important to find a home ferent places, departments, and British Petroleum asked, “What for these stories and others. They roles understand what the brand if we were no longer in the oil created an evolving book, one means and how it affects them. business?” By asking people to that is constantly growing as By hearing and telling stories, tell stories, you free them up to new stories are discovered. This they can translate whatever think more laterally and cre- book can be used as a reference language is used to describe the atively about the kind of things for being-the-brand behaviors brand into action and behavior, that would really embody the without management being pre- including their own. Stories are organization’s identity. scriptive and dictating, and it can not prescriptive or patronizing; Stories of Fear and Anxiety. be a resource for new employees individuals can interpret them These are stories of things that to help them understand the his- in their own context. And by you do not want to happen (at tory, norms, and actions of the using a grid we give structure least at the present moment). company. to the stories. This structure They uncover possible or impos- 2. Change Behaviors. Stories gives guidance and form to what sible futures and let the teller of contradiction can help you would otherwise just be seen as play out the details and nuances discover places where behavior anecdotes of incidental impor- of their own fear and anxiety. should change. These are often tance. It thus helps both the These can flow from stories of easy “wins;” you can decide to individuals and the organization possibility and revolution. We use simply stop doing something you to learn, improve, and communi- these within our own organiza- were previously accustomed to cate through action. tion. We often author future sto- doing. Correcting your behavior ries that capture a particular fear can lead to new stories of fact. ABOUT THE AUTHORS Gary Hirsch is a rabid we might have, such as one of 3. Generate New Action. You illustrator, improviser, and our partners being courted by a can generate stories of possi- cofounder of On Your Feet. large megabrand consultancy. We bility and revolution. This is a He has designed and led use the practice of sharing stories simple and direct way of explor- programs for Nike, FedEx, Disney, Warner Bros, Intel, and others. with our partners. We find it is a ing what could be done, either Hirsch has been teaching and performing helpful tool to bring concerns to near or far in the future, and of professional improv for 15 years. He is the the surface and helps us commu- seeing how the company’s iden- founder of Super Project Lab improv (www. superprojeclab.com), and has served as nicate around difficult issues. tity would play out in different a visiting faculty member at Templeton So those are the types of sto- scenarios. This gives you a tool College at Oxford University, Portland ries, but what do you do with to generate new ideas that could State University, Oregon Graduate them? even grow into new products, Institute, and at “12,” the graduate school at Wieden + Kennedy advertising. Visit 1. Transmit the Culture. You can processes, or services. him at www.oyf.com identify potent stories of fact and 4. Reveal the Anxiety. Finally, tell them. In doing so you are by asking people to make stories Before joining OYF in 1999, transmitting the culture and val- of what they are afraid of, you Brad Robertson was first the snow-cone king of ues in a much more immediate can allow them to release a ton Portland (really, it’s true) July + August 2009 and powerful way than through of tension. They can open up in and then the director of the a manual or presentation. And ways that enable them to express business outreach pro- as you tell these stories, you can and explore without fear of judg- gram at Portland State University, where he taught courses in small business consult- appeal for more. The stories you ment. At On Your Feet we regu- ing, organizational behavior, improv and get back will clarify whether peo- larly ask each other for future business, and dialogue. Recent clients ple have properly understood the stories of things we worry about include Starbucks, Nike, Intel, Wieden + Kennedy, Lucent Technologies, and stories. If they have, their exam- in order to open up dialogue. Saatchi & Saatchi. ples will furnish you with new Story Plotter provides a interactions stories, so that you aren’t just framework within which sto- transmitting in one direction, ries can be told and gathered DOI: 10.1145/1551986.1551995 but interconnecting stories and to help an organization live its © 2009 ACM 1072-5220/09/0700 $10.00 47

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