Category Archives for Business narrative

Your job search just got easier


In spite of the long hiatus since the last post, StoryRoute keeps welcoming visitors from around the world. Recently one of those visitors contacted me about a storytelling service unlike any I had ever come across.

Andrea Martins is the founder of Story Resumes, a company that promises to “transform ordinary resumes into extraordinary ones.” A quick look around the site convinced me the company can deliver the goods. I was on screening committees for new hires many times and can attest that nearly every resume is yawningly similar. If any of them had come through with the pizzazz of a Story Resume, I would have put it right on the top of the pile.

Obviously you still have to deliver the goods in an interview and at work, but a Story Resume just might be the difference between being overlooked and landing the right job.

In the interview below you will meet the creative woman behind this refreshing new approach to standing out from the crowd of job seekers.

Cathryn: Andrea, I really enjoyed your personal success story (shown here in comic form). Can you tell us more about how your job search experience inspired Story Resumes?

Andrea Martins

Andrea Martins, founder of Story Resumes

Andrea: Sure. Looking for work can be an incredibly frustrating experience. It starts with the thrill of possibility, but it often quickly sours into a deafening silence of no responses. Inexplicably, recruiters overlook your superpowers and before you know it, you’ve fallen into a self-doubting pit that’s hard to climb out of. My experience was no different.

In late 2012, after months of getting nowhere, I tried a different approach. I turned my resume into a story (one sentence for each of my ten PowerPoint slides) and had my story illustrated to add flavor and feeling.

At the time, my approach was a little experimental, and I wasn’t sure how it would go. But thankfully it turned out to be the tipping point that I had needed all along because recruiters and company founders (on the other side of the world) started writing responses to my job applications and phoning me within hours of receiving my creative resume — offering me interviews, and later, offering me jobs.

I accepted a few of the jobs/projects, but on the side I started developing Story Resumes to help fellow frustrated job seekers shoot to the top of a recruiter’s job applications pile.

Cathryn: Can you share more examples like yours of how storytelling is being used successfully in job search?

Andrea: Absolutely. Jens Lennartsson is one of my favorites. He created and mailed out 400 GI-Joe-type action figures of himself (with a brochure showcasing a sample portfolio of his work), to relay his story and value in a very visual, touchable and tangible way.

Pharmaceutical copywriter Jon Ryder is another favorite. He made a fake medicine box that incorporated his resume on (and in) the box. Such creative genius to spin your resume into a story like that!

We’ve also interviewed some wonderful success stories on our site. For example: James Corne created an Alcoholics Anonymous parody video to tell his story; Miruna Macri designed a fake passport and conveniently lost it in the ad agencies she wanted to work in so that the right kind of people would pick it up and be curious about her story; Joshua Drummond shared his resume story as a comic book; and Jack DeManche turned his resume story into a subway map!

Cathryn: Do you see these examples as a passing fad, or as an indication of what’s in store for the future?

Andrea: I see storytelling being used more, not less, in job search. Very few people stand out on a traditional black-and-white paper resume, and judging by the number of creative resume stories now being promoted in mainstream media, I believe that job seekers are starting to realize this. In the years to come (in some industries), I see more creative/storytelling resumes being submitted than traditional resumes. Because if you’re not doing it, your competitors will be. And it’s no surprise which candidate would grab my attention more if I were a recruiter!

Cathryn: Thank you very much, Andrea, for sharing these inspiring examples and insights. I wish you and Story Resumes every success.

Qualcomm’s clever bus-stop campaign

Storytelling is the buzzword for ad writers these days. Occasionally one of them is so good at it their campaign not only works as a marketing tool, it also goes viral.

Qualcomm’s Born Mobile is one of those. The company posted signs on a New York bus stop, with a URL for the ad campaign. Those who tried it might be picked up by a sports car, a circus bus or a husky-pulled sled.

Another transportation option was a puppy-filled bus, spreading smiles and licks and cuddles. Watch these two, and then check out the Lamborghini Surprise, the Dog Sled Surprise, and the Horse and Carriage Surprise.

On an ordinary day, your mobile will not connect with puppies, sled dogs or a horse-drawn carriage, but Qualcomm is not just selling the convenience of its mobiles with this stunt. It’s selling fantasies.

I have no idea what the marketing stunt did for mobile sales, but as storytelling I’m sure it worked well. The compilation ad below, “Best Bus Stop Ever”, has had over 1.5 million hits as of February 24, 2013.

The power of a good story

This Gives Me Hope has been keeping me so busy that posts to Story Route and Catching Courage have become sporadic. That is likely to continue until I reach my goal of 1001 reasons for hope.

But this ad, sent by a friend in Brisbane, was too funny and story-related to wait. The ad was created by CANAL+, a Pay-TV provider in the Nordic region.

The original, French version ends with a statement that the company creates extraordinary stories for its audience. However, it was the English “translation” that made me laugh: “Never underestimate the power of a good story.”

See for yourself the sly humour of this story.

No Story, No Fans – a review

No Story, No Fans is available on Amazon as an e-book

If I don’t have a story, I won’t have fans. I believe Raf Stevens when he delivers this message in dozens of ways, through dozens of captivating stories and through concrete steps to find and deliver that story. I believe him because I know what he says is true. I know it in the only way one can truly know anything, through direct experience.

I wish I had had a copy of No Story, No Fans when I was floundering to reinvent myself as an organizational narrative consultant (aka community developer, though that’s not how I thought of myself). Annette Simmons held my hand, with her Story Factor. David Armstrong led me too, with his Managing By Storying Around.

Mostly I felt like a lonely charlatan, waving the flag of storytelling without really knowing how to make the leap from performing storyteller to organizational narrative consultant. I managed, and even succeeded, but it was a scary journey.

Earning trust by demonstrating it

Things are different now. A lot of books and Web sites explore what storytelling means within the context of defining a vision, conveying it, and trying to turn it into sales. And sales are obviously important. A company with fabulous stories that operates in the red is going to sink.

Raf talks a lot about trust. That’s what his subtitle refers to: “Build Your Business through Stories that Resonate. Using the power of corporate storytelling to create loyal customers, fans, and friends.”

He earned my trust right off the bat. In an era of smartphones, I don’t even carry a cell phone. When I’m away from my right arm, er, computer, I don’t want a leash. So when I clicked on the PDF of Raf’s book and saw all the QR codes, I bristled. “Oh, yeah. He’s going to make me feel like an outsider.”

I was wrong. If I’d had a smartphone, I could have pointed it at those squiggly squares and called up fascinating Web sites. Instead, I accidentally moved the cursor over the first one and was startled by a dialog box asking me if I trusted the link or wanted to block it.

That Raf Stevens! So smart. He wanted even semi-Luddites like me to enter the realm of wonder. I ended up clicking on every link. Darn you, Raf Stevens! I’m busy. I don’t have time for all this Web wandering, but your links were so good I was afraid I’d regret not clicking on any one of them.

So here I am, weeks after accepting Raf’s invitation to download his book in exchange for a review, just starting to formulate a response to a book that makes me want to rewind the clock and re-start my consulting career with No Story, No Fans in hand.

A generous book

One thing that leaps out for me, in reading the book, is generosity. Raf gives a lot away. Stories, links, ideas, tips, resources. He just keeps dishing them out, some within the text itself and others a click away. By the time I start Part I: Trading Stories, I’m already feeling as if I’ve stumbled onto a gift exchange. He has already demonstrated his advice to first give something away, to engage emotionally, and to promote trust by promoting other people’s stories.

Partway through Chapter 2, “Flipping Your Script!”, two sentences stop me in my tracks:

Most communication nowadays fails to connect and is not trustworthy because it is too descriptive of situations and facts instead of sharing actual stories about what occurred. That is the script that needs flipping.

I think maybe Raf got hold of the first reports I did for clients when I started my community development career. I was so afraid they would find out I was really a storyteller in consultant’s clothing they wouldn’t trust my work. I overwhelmed them with numbers and facts and insider language so they could see I knew what I was doing.

Only thing was, it was never the heavyweight data that worked. It was always the stories. I could have spared a lot of trees if I’d had Raf’s book to hold my hand while I was learning the ropes.

So I feel like cheering when he writes:

It is tempting to continue to use terms like internal branding, positioning, brand voice, brand identity and so on, while explaining the power of story and storytelling in relation to brand and organizations. Many business leaders are more familiar with these terms than they are with storytelling. Storytelling is for wimps, right? But I am not giving in. We need to flip the script!

Make room for this book

Raf doesn’t try to impose one good model of storytelling. Instead, through dozens of examples, some solid advice, and some well-formulated tips, he encourages readers to find their own storytelling voices. That makes the book useful to a wide range of audiences in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. The book will hold an important place alongside books by Annette Simmons, Stephen Denning, Peter Guber, and Lori Silverman, but it will occupy its own niche.

The field of storytelling books has a lot of entries these days, but No Story, No Fans proves not only was there room for one more. There was a need for this book.

[Note: You can read the first part free on the Web site.]

Selling experience

Marketing is an interesting field. I’m thinking about that a lot these days, in relationship to storytelling, because I’m reading Raf Stevens’s new book, No Story, No Fans (which I’ll review here soon). He writes,

We live in an experience economy. The experience economy is about people looking for thrills and experiences, and companies selling those as if they were an economic product.

That’s what Sharp is selling in this ad for its Touch Wood SH-08C handsets. The video is a three-minute experience that is absolutely captivating. Right up to the end, there is not a hint of what they are selling. It sells an experience you will not soon forget. And not only is it a small story in itself, you will probably be telling the story of the ad to friends.

In case you haven’t yet seen the video, I won’t give away anything except a promise if you watch the video, you will feel as it it was three minutes well spent.

Telling a new story

Lips on face stone sculpture

Lips on face stone sculpture, photo by

David Korten’s writings often move me. They always make me think. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, a publication that always poses solutions instead of just pointing out problems.

In the August 8, 2011, online edition, he throws out a challenge to culture workers. He calls on those in media, education, religion and the arts to use their influence to tell a new story. He writes, “For better or worse, you are engaged in crafting and propagating the cultural stories that serve either to legitimate the devastation the old economy causes or shine a light on the possibilities of the new economy.”

Whether we stand in front of an audience or work in the broad field of organizational narrative, storytellers bear a responsibility that is, at the same time, an exciting opportunity. Our stories can shore up a status quo that keeps the world teetering on the brink of global disaster. Or they can engender a sense of possibility that will lead us to something sane and life-affirming.

I’m reminded of the four levels folklorist Barre Toelken once told me characterized Navajo storytelling. That was many years ago, and my memory has likely shifted the explanations to fit my own sense of the impact of storytelling. But roughly, these are the four levels:

  • Entertainment: The first task of the storyteller is to capture the audience’s imagination.
  • Education: Once imagination is focused, learning can begin.
  • Spirituality: Here the possibility of transformation begins.
  • Witchcraft: Only a shaman can safely tell stories at this level because they unleash forces that cannot be contained in less skilled hands.

From many directions we hear stories that seem to have skipped right over the third level and are wreaking havoc on our environment, economies, and family lives. They are told by culture workers who have sold their talents for pieces of silver, skilled liars whose arguments play out in election campaigns and corporate marketing.

Korten’s charge to artists is one storytellers can answer:

“Talented artists can help us see beauty, meaning, and possibility where it may otherwise escape our attention. They can take us on an imaginary journey to a future no one has yet visited to experience possibilities we may not have imagined. Our movement needs the contribution of millions of artists devoted to liberating human consciousness.”

The YES! essay is based on the 2nd edition of David Korten’s important and encouraging book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.

And what are they selling?

Back in the days when I was completely focused on storytelling—back before my own story took some unexpected turns—I frequently became embroiled in conversations over “What is storytelling?” and “What is a story?”

My discussion partners often found me a bit too wishy washy in my responses, at least those who had very fixed ideas about what belonged in those categories. I’ve never felt much of a need to put storytelling in one box or another. I see stories everywhere.

When I listen to a symphony, a story plays out in my head. The same thing happens when I watch dance, contemplate a painting, gaze at a photograph or eavesdrop in a café.

I’m not alone in my hunger for stories, and clever marketers know that. The ones who created this video wove together a lot of story strands, with eerie foreshadowing and a satisfying conclusion.

Clever storytelling alone can backfire, when people remember the ad but not what it was selling. For me, the ad in this video works on both counts. It’s a satisfying story, with spooky buildup and a twist at the end. And I’m likely to remember what it’s selling.

Not your usual banking story

Ads for Canadian banks focus on things they figure their customers care about – credit cards, investments, loans, banking services, consumer goods. The stories they tell are bland, cautious, predictable. They want us to see them as responsible and fiscally conservative.

Those are good qualities for banks. Given the economic chaos of the last few years, we want to believe our money is safe. So a marketing story that makes us feel safe is probably a good business decision. Somehow I can’t imagine a Canadian bank making a social justice statement with its advertising.

That’s what Argentina’s Banco Provincia does with this ad, and it’s a fascinating cultural reflection. We see a vehicle stop. An older man gets out and walks up to an attractive hairdresser, who is standing outside her shop. He apologizes for mistreating her and tells her he asked the bank for a car loan because that same bank granted her—a transgendered woman—a loan to start her hairdressing business.

Argentina is ahead of tolerant Canada in creating an atmosphere of acceptance for transgendered people. It’s encouraging to know that in 2009 Marcela Romero, an activist who fought successfully for the right to have a sex change, was chosen Argentina’s Woman of the Year.

I don’t think we’ll see an ad like this one on Canadian television this year, but the time is coming nearer when we will.

[Keep reading below the video to see one of the reasons I think such ads in Canada are a long way off.]

A postscript to this story, from a Canadian perspective:

No one will be surprised to note that Royal Bank’s ads don’t mention the compensation it gives its CEO. In 2010 Gordon Nixon received $11 million in direct compensation and a pension top-up of $810,000. Another four RBC officers divided up a pie worth $28.08 million.

That same year Toronto Dominion CEO Ed Clark scooped $11.3 million. Scotia Bank’s Richard Waugh came in third, at $10.7 million. Bank of Montreal’s Bill Downe earned $9.5 million. Scotia Bank’s CEO, Gerry McCaughey made a mere $9.34 million.

The heads of Canada’s Big Five banks earned a total of $51.84 million. Statistics Canada figures always lag behind the current year so the closest I can report is that in 2008 the average income after tax of all families of two or more was $74,600. Singles averaged $31,000.

To put that in context, let’s assume those CEO’s didn’t hire smart accountants, lawyers and financial advisors to shelter most of their income. Instead, let’s assume they paid the full 29% owed by anyone making over $128,800. Ludicrous, I know, but it’s a starting point.

Discounting additional income from those CEO’s wives and any investment income they might have, they had an average after-tax pay of $8.4 million. Divide that by the average family income, and each of them made about 113 times as much as the average Canadian family and more than 270 times the average single.

They can afford to buy the things their marketing tells us are important – houses, cars, vacations. Do they really deserve to make that much more than ordinary folk?

Time for a new story.

The distance between success and failure: a story

With Tell to Win, Peter Guber throws his hat into the growing ring of people who understand that sometimes the distance between success and failure is a story. From the first page, Guber demonstrates both his mastery and his awareness of what makes a story work. Tell to Win focuses on “purposeful” stories. These are stories with a mission, not just entertaining anecdotes. Guber writes, “They cleverly contain information, ideas, emotional prompts, and value propositions that the teller wants to sneak inside the listener’s heart and mind.”

Having stumbled into the field of organizational narrative many years ago, I jumped at the chance to review the book. Developing my own practice, I’ve learned from a string of intelligent, articulate practitioners. So I’m happy to report this new entry in the cannon lives up to expectations. For one thing, it’s fun.

That’s high praise. A book that doesn’t capture my interest quickly joins the pile of books I sample and pass on. This one kept me reading to the last page. I laughed, shuddered, and nodded my head as Guber spun tales of Michael Jackson’s mouse-devouring snake, Michael Milken’s “Keep dad in the game” campaign, and the New Guinean tribesmen’s plan to protect their tourists from the 9/11 terrorists.

Anyone with Peter Guber’s breadth of life experience has fascinating stories to tell, but not everyone knows how to relay them. Guber does. If the book were only a collection of his memories, it would win a place on my shelf. But Tell to Win is more than that because the author has stopped to analyze why the stories he tells, and the best he hears, are so powerfully effective.

He did not just rely on his own considerable powers of observation. He questioned people whose training and experience he could trust, people like Robert Rosen, Dan Siegel, Steven Denning, and many more. He hosted conversations at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, where he is a full professor. And then he reflected, synthesized, and wrote.

The result of this thorough examination will lead even the most tentative storyteller to become more adept at engaging an audience. Tell to Win starts with the “why” and leads readers through the “how”, illustrating every point and every technique with compelling stories – the kind of purposeful stories Guber believes are game changers.

These stories are game changers because they have a purpose. They are not just entertainment, though that is a pre-requisite. They are stories that climb into the hearts and minds of listeners, planting a seed that can grow into action. When asked if people who aren’t natural storytellers can learn the skill, Guber replied:

Every single person who has watched television, gone to a movie, read a book, listened to a speech, read a newspaper, talked to their family is a story listener. You just turn it on its head and recognize that the same tools for listening done the other way are for telling.

Tell to Win demonstrates this premise from the first story to the last. Along the way Guber reveals what goes into a good story, how to tell it compellingly, how to connect with an audience, and how to motivate action. Whatever sector you work in, the book will help you learn how to do what the subtitle promises: “Connect, persuade, and triumph with the hidden power of story.”

Peter Guber, Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, has been a force in the entertainment industry for over thirty years. He has told memorable stories in the films he personally produced or executive produced, including Rain Man, Batman, The Color Purple, Gorillas In The Mist, and Flashdance which have resonated with audiences all over the world, earning over three billion dollars worldwide and garnering more than 50 Academy Award nominations. Guber oversees one of the largest combinations of professional baseball teams and venues nationwide and is the owner and co-executive chairman of the Golden State Warriors. Peter Guber and Dalai Lama

Buying the Apple story

For years friends teased me about my unwavering loyalty to Macs. They’d brag about the prowess of PCs, their market dominance, their cheaper and more plentiful software.

They were right on all counts, and I didn’t give a fig. Not when the PC world copied Apple’s more user-friendly style. Not if my bank account was flat when it was time to buy a new computer. Not when Apple’s sales appeared to be on a terminal, downhill slide.

And I was right to hang on. The little company that could is such a power house it keeps raising the bar in the consumer electronics world. I think storytelling has played a major role.

Check out the 1984 ad that introduced the Apple Macintosh computer. Gives me the willies even today, but it became a topic of conversation and a launching pad for sales. People who saw themselves as iconoclastic, rules-breaking creatives had a new toy that set them apart from ordinary geeks.

Years and many computer versions later, the Mac vs. PC ads played on the story all faithful Mac users believe: that PCs are a sorry excuse for a computer by comparison with our beloved Macs. Here are two that tell the Mac story with humour. The first focuses on the security issues that plague PCs, the second on the long history of buggy Windows operating systems.

Mac enthusiasts have their own stories to tell. Here’s a short video comparing a 2007 PC with a 1984 Mac.

And if imitation really is a form of flattery, all the Mac ad parodies are ample indication of the power of Apple’s storytelling. A Google search on YouTube turns up dozens. You’re on your own here. I sampled quite a few of them but didn’t find any worth sharing.

While PC users were crowing about all the games and cheap software they could use on their machines, Apple’s innovators were dreaming up new ways to persuade consumers to part with their cash. The iPod was followed by the iPod Touch, the iPhone by the iPad. The company’s stories became upbeat, modern, fun. One narrative remained, and it’s been an underlying story from the start: Apple/Mac products are for the in-crowd, for those more savvy, more insistent on quality.

Never mind that the graphics argument (superiority of Macs) no longer holds as much weight, that Microsoft Office is the heavyweight champion next to Apple’s iWork (which I use and prefer), that PCs still rein supreme in the personal computer world (in spite of their susceptibility to viruses), or that other companies are coming out with competitive products (such as the Blackberry and Kindle).

My only stake in the company is as a consumer, but, I confess, I’m one of those smug Apple users. I bought the Apple story years ago and never stopped believing it, even when the company was on shaky grounds. I believe it still.

That’s a successful story.