The Story Factor:
Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing ©2001
Hiding in plain sight on the dust jacket of Annette Simmons' The Story Factor is this telling tale: "A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, What are you doing? and the man answered, I am laying bricks. He asked the second, What are you doing? and the man answered, I am building a wall. He walked up to the third man, who was humming a tune as he worked and asked, What are you doing? and the man stood up and smiled and said, I am building a cathedral."
Stories like this are hiding in plain sight everywhere we look. They are so much a part of everyday exchanges between people, we forget that's how the real learning and the real business of our business gets done. The grapevine and company intranet are filled with stories, sometimes to the detriment of the organization's health. But Simmons wants us to capture those stories, mine them for meaning, create new ones — positive and trustworthy ones — and turn their essence into powerful opportunities for supporting both the places where we work and ourselves. What are you doing?
With a collection of stories that range from one-liners to no more than two or three paragraphs deftly woven throughout the text, Simmons shows how storytelling combats information overload by helping people grab the essence of a concept or situation. That "a-ha" is the catalyst for growth. She reminds us that learning and change cannot be forced, but they can be encouraged: people can be influenced, inspired, persuaded. Telling people what to do is a "push" strategy — trying to direct people where you want them to go. Telling a story that influences, inspires, or persuades is a "pull" strategy, one that results in people deciding for themselves to do things differently. As Simmons notes, "If your story is good enough, people — of their own free will — come to the conclusion that they can trust you and the message you bring." Guess which is more effective.
"Whether your story is told through your lifestyle or in words," says Simmons, "the first criterion people require before they allow themselves to be influenced by your story is, Can they trust you?" Until they do, nothing changes. Simmons also shows that the "authentically persuasive story," the one "available to anyone with experience as a human being," beats manipulation hands down. As business people, we may be reluctant to tell stories because they may seem too "emotional." But when we leave emotions out of our work, we miss the contribution that whole people bring. "Awakening the 'good' in people," states Simmons, "is better done with stories, music, and fresh-baked cookies than flow charts and power point [sic] shows." Try it!
To foster the story revolution, Simmons identifies and demonstrates six influential story types: 'Who Am I' Stories, 'Why Am I Here' Stories, 'The Vision' Story, 'Teaching' Stories, 'Values-in-Action' Stories, and 'I Know What You Are Thinking' Stories. The construction site story told above is a 'vision' story. Simmons also shows us "what story can do that facts can't," how to tell a good story, and, given that we're not all born storytellers, she also provides some useful dos and don'ts.