Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to discover a story

There's a human in the data.
Everywhere you turn these days someone is telling you to tell a story. That includes me, sorry.

Let's say you wake up one morning and decide this is the day: you're going to tell the world a story about your company. Your conviction builds as you enter the building. Then your 9 o'clock cancels, so you lock the door, sit at your desk, declare to yourself that this is story time, and you ... sit there.

Ok, here's a way to think about it. I'm indebted to Scott Anthony, managing partner of the consulting firm Innosight, for this, well, insight:
I was working with a team that had been tasked by the company’s CEO to develop a new venture in a promising market space. Its three members had been working for about six weeks. They’d conducted detailed research, talking both to prospective customers and numerous industry experts. And then they used Microsoft’s most popular products to produce what they thought was a business plan. But it actually was a kind of fiction built in three chapters: an Excel spreadsheet with sophisticated analyses showing breathtaking financial potential, a PowerPoint document blending facts and figures with compelling videos and pictures, and a Word document summarizing all of it in prose so lucid Malcolm Gladwell would shed a tear.
So Anthony simply asked: “Who is your first customer?”

They fumbled through their stacks of papers and came up some numbers on a demographic. Nope, he replied.
I asked the question again. Instead of summary facts and figures, I wanted the team to be very precise. What is the customer’s name? Where does he live? What does he look like? What are his hopes, dreams, and aspirations? What does he love? What drives him crazy? How would the team’s idea fit into his life?
Ah. There you go. Statistics aren't a story. A protagonist with a name is moved forward by some aspiration. He encounters mountain peaks: things that drive him crazy. That's a story.

Your cue to look for story is any business plan, customer research, page of numbers, list of bullet points. Look in the abstract generalities of business life for a specific human story.

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