We're more interested in stories than studies. Case studies unconsciously mimic scientific papers - they are serious, factual and impersonal. But stories are powerful. They create meaning and give sense to otherwise unconnected events and things. A good story, well-told can cross all kinds of barriers, including cultural ones. When we describe work that we have done with a client we frame it as a story. Here are a few recent ones:

Listening For Sales

Once upon a time there was a national sales force that went out and sold to their customers.

Everyday they would go in and present their agenda to their customers. Sometimes they got the sale, sometimes they didn't, but the company did well and most of the customers were pretty happy.

Until one day the sales leadership realized that some of the customers felt like they weren't being listened to.

Because of that, the sales leadership focused on listening at a series of national sales events. Because of that, the sales people learned how to "aggressively listen" and to let go of their own agenda a bit more. Because of that some of those sales people made better connections with their customers and, instead of coming in with what they needed to say, spent the first part of the conversation actually listening to their customers.

And the moral of the story is: Listening is hard work, and nobody is ever "done" learning how to do it better.

Our learning: People know that listening is important, and they often think they do it well. But approaching this basic skill with humor and a unique set of tools can really provide an impactful experience for sales leaders. And doing it in 21 cities worldwide makes for a lot of frequent flyer miles!

Three Perfect Words

Once upon a time there was a sports franchise that wanted to change its image.

Every day they would go to meetings and try to think of the right slogan that would help create a more positive image. Then they would think about how to communicate that perfect slogan to the public.

Then one day they realized that action and stories of change were more important than words.

Because of that, they decided to find the existing stories in their organization that showed who they wanted to be. Because of that, they were able to think of more actions they could take to change their image and brand. Because of that, they both learned new things about themselves and thought of even more new actions that were inspirational to themselves and to the public. Because of that, they are in a much better place. And getting the number one draft pick doesn't hurt either.

And the moral of the story is: Stories are better communication tools than slogans.

Our learning: When you ask everyone in the organizations, from top management to the custodial staff for their stories, everyone has one, and, collectively, these stories are hugely inspirational and meaningful.

Wait, what are we doing here?

Once upon a time there was a big British energy company.

Everyday their marketing department of 200 people would work in silos to produce 45 slide PowerPoint presentations on new products, but they forget to find much insight into their consumers, let alone what their colleagues were up to.

Until one day when the marketing director said "Enough of this! We need a two-day innovative consumer marketing program to help us work together effectively, develop new insights, experience new interpersonal skills and behaviors with each other, and practice--and really sharpen--our marketing skills!"

Because of that, they learned about what one another did, new ways of behaving together, and what they were individually great at. And because of this new knowledge, they were able to really look at the consumer for what seemed like the first time, and they brainstormed new ideas that they presented to each other about what they could offer this consumer. It felt good. As they now knew how to frame things better, they were all much more engaging with each other and other areas of the business. And because of that, when a major re-organization of the department happened and they were split into divisions, they all knew some people and had some tools to deal with the change.

And the moral of the story is: More heads are better than one.

Our learning: a two-day program delivered 9 times over 6 weeks is fantastically productive and utterly exhausting!

Building a Better Idea

Once upon a time there was a super-sharp group of executives charged with coming up with better ideas.

Everyday they would sit around a big table and throw out brainstorming ideas and write them up on big charts, but over time the same things kept going up on the charts, Indeed,the problem was, their only tools for thinking of new ideas were old tools, so they kept coming up with the same old ideas in different ways. The harder they tried, the more frustrated they became. At last, desperate, they called in some people who wore strange t-shirts, jumped around, and wrote things on gigantic Post-It notes. Soon, all of the super-sharp executives were jumping around, too. And the crazy thing was, it wasn't frustrating. It was fun.

But, then, something even crazier happened. New ideas started coming to them. No, they weren't re-packaged versions of the old ideas. They were actual new ideas. Ideas about how they could get their message across for a big event in New York City without using techniques they always use, like signs. Ideas for other media that could communicate. Being up on their feet, in motion made them think of the people in the street. Because of that they decided to approach this event in a totally new way. Because of that they got all sorts of media coverage, including a great write-up in the Wall. St. Journal.

And the moral of the story is: Trying something different can be better than trying harder.

Our learning: When encouraged to play differently, people often surprise themselves. Also, we re-learned that constraints are helpful in thinking creatively. Also, standing up changes how you think.

It's Not Just About Improv

Once upon a time there was a company that used improv as its only teaching tool.

Everyday they would lead groups of people through teambuilding and creativity sessions and the participants would go wild with how much fun they were having.

But one day they realized that improv was not the only tool that they possessed.

Because of that, they started using other methodologies that complemented and in some cases supplanted the focus on improv. Because of that, the impact they had on organizations became stickier and more widely useful. Because of that, they got inspired to go further outside improv, and hired an academic to use his considerable skill to help create an assessment tool to help a large shoe and apparel company determine their needs. Because of that, their training was able to be more focused and applied, and in turn more effective for the client.

And the moral of the story is: It's not just about the improv.

Our learning: For ourselves as well as our clients, it's important to go beyond the limits you are currently experiencing.


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