Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, you have signed up to deliver the improbable, your project is tracking better than you expected and against improbably odds you might even pull it off – if only you can figure out what to do next. This is a blog post about stories and the noesis that results from stories applied to daily challenges.
If you have heard a lot of about stories recently, you can thank Dan and Chip Heath. Their accessible books, Made to Stick and Switch, combined research and written accounts to demystify how certain concepts take root where others are forgotten. The storytelling concepts are simple, easy to follow and can be applied to simple business problems; though I recommend both books the concept of applying stories to problem solving is not new.
The Case Method
Harvard Business Review’s Ben & Jerry’s case opens:
“As Chuck Lacy composed his thoughts before the September 1990 Ben & Jerry’s board meeting, he knew that the central decision of the day would set the tone of the company for years to come”
Like other HBR case studies, the Ben & Jerry case tells the story of a fractious business situation. At the world’s most renown business school, to be Harvard educated is to learn through narratives.
Turning the Pen Inward
The same methodology used to lasso complex business issues can be used to wrangle your own life. The power of story is the ability to articulate in organized thought the issues at hand as well as surrounding context. If we can apply our best thinking and identify coherent solutions to external issues by placing ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes, what happens when the protagonist is you?
When I face tough projects, I like to write myself out of the problem. I begin with a safe and familiar opening, just to get my brain going:
“The protagonist Mikal Lewis finds himself in a familiar situation…”
Next, I begin in free form to articulate the issues at hand:
“Management has approved his request, sanctioning his project, and with it come the expectations of success”
I then develop the surrounding context:
“The problem is with three weeks before the conference, Mikal has to find a way to reach shared understanding of the issue at hand, and recruit project team members, without setting off a political hailstorm”
Two quick notes, this is not based on a real situation and Mikal does not I do not typically refer to myself in the third person; but you get the point. Write out the background context, be sure to document the facts, it’s best to keep how you ‘feel’ off of the page, it clouds the action driven narrative. Pay close attention to background context and intertwined conflicts that exist but are convenient to overlook. When writing be very candid about your strengths and weaknesses.
Congratulations, you now have your own case study for your unique situation. Now turn it into a story, and write the next chapter; how does the protagonist get him or herself out of this complex situation? How do other characters react to the main character’s actions; what alliances does the protagonist form? What is in it for the other characters in your story?
You are well on your way to writing yourself out of this situation.
No deus ex machina.