What I learned at The Story

I went to The Story a few days ago. Here, Meg Rossoff talked about what makes a good story and it’s something that really resonated with me. This isn’t a particularly well written blog post but I wanted to document the concept.

80395377_c52cb50d2d_bPhoto courtesy of bozo_z_clown

Meg told us a story about horse riding and in particular, dressage, which is a relatively new hobby for Meg.

In this story, Meg was beginning to feel frustrated because people kept advising her that she needed more ‘throughness’ – but she had no idea what this meant.

It is, in fact, a term in equestrianism which, according to wikipedia:

“is often compared to a circuit of energy between horse and rider: the rider’s leg aids encourage energetic movement in the hindquarters, which push the back upward, which in turn allows for connection with the front end and the bit, and the connection felt in the bit transmits a feeling of energetic movement back to the rider’s hands.”

One day, as Meg was riding through the countryside with her friend, her horse got spooked and threw her onto the ground. Meg turned to her friend and commented on the dog which had jumped out of the bushes and spooked the horse. But “there was no dog” replied her friend.

Perhaps, Meg thought, she had just achieved ‘throughness’ with her horse and seen the dog because the horse had seen the dog in his mind.

It’s probably worth talking a little bit about horses here. My friend and NM associate, Karen Gartside, works with horses and business leaders in America. According to Karen, horses have a particular sense. The way she explains it is similar to that feeling you get when you’re in a crowded room and you know someone in the crowd is there too but you can also sort of ‘feel’ their presence. For horses, this sensation can be felt over a couple of miles. This explains why horses get spooked a lot of the time and that standing next to a horse, for them, can actually feel like you’re right in their face. This is why you have to hold yourself properly and have a certain level of self-confidence when being near a horse. It is for this reason that Karen says you can tell a lot about a person by the way a horse behaves around them. And this is (my very simplified understanding of) what Karen does with teams and leaders.

Meg concludes that it is this ‘throughness’ which is the difference between a good rider and a bad one. And the same goes for stories and their writers.

It is this which makes a good story really powerful because it will appeal to a deeper part of us and our emotions. And, as two more speakers from The Story, Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard says, “the only truth is emotional truth”.


The paradox of structure in business

Several decades ago, there was a wide belief that school playgrounds should not have fences because they would inhibit children’s creative play and sense of freedom.

Someone conducted an experiment to prove this*. But surprisingly, the opposite was true.

In this experiment, there were two playgrounds – one of these had a fence around it and the other one did not.

When a group of children were let into the fenceless playground, the children used a limited space and stuck together right in the center of the playground. Yet, when they were let into the fenced playground, the children used the entire space.

In this example, the physical structure paradoxically created a sense of freedom.

Photo by zendt66

Photo by Zendt66

This is the same in business too.

I recently took part in a systems thinking workshop.

As part of this workshop, we were given a role. We were either ‘tops’, ‘middles’, ‘bottoms’ or ‘customers’ – representing different stakeholders of an organisation.

In teams (tops, middles, bottoms) we were given a brief, a day (represented by 12 minutes) and an area of the room.

What was really interesting was, as the ‘day’ played out, most of the ‘bottoms’ were becoming frustrated because of the lack of direction from the ‘middles’ and ‘tops’. They hadn’t been given enough boundaries and this translated into a lack of understanding and knowledge to get on with the task in hand.

What was interesting was that not all of the ‘bottoms’ felt like this and some of them had thrived from the freedom they felt to get on with things in their own way and style.

This is because people have different creative styles.

The key, for any leader, is to create ‘gates’ in structures, to allow people to choose the structure that is right for them.

This can mean making the physical and emotional structures more flexible. It’s no coincidence that most creative agencies have open offices, lots of big whiteboards and encourage flexible working hours.

But there’s also something a bit deeper at stake here. It’s about giving people a purpose to work towards and a set of values to work by, and letting them do the rest, in their way.

*Source: Coursera – Creativity, Innovation and Change

The Ikea Effect and Democracy

When people use their own labor to construct a particular product, they value it more than if they didn’t put any effort into its creation, even if it is done poorly.

This is known as the ‘Ikea Effect’.


Photo of flat packed furniture from IKEA (courtesy of Kawanet)

The ‘Ikea Effect’ was an experiment published by Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely in 2011.

“The Ikea Effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when consumers place a disproportionally high value on products they partially created. The name derives Swedish manufacturer retailer, IKEA, which sells many funiture products that require assembly” — Wikipedia

This reminds me of what it’s like to work in a democratic company.

I’ve been working in a democratic company, NixonMcInnes (NM), for over three years now. It means I get to voice my opinion and make decisions about how the business runs.

Ultimately, as an employee at NM, I get to help construct the business and add value to the development of it.

As a result, I feel a deeper connection to the company than a traditionally run company. And in turn, I place a higher value on it – I believe in the success, I believe in the decisions made and I am extremely engaged in what I do.

The opportunity for business owners is to think about how they can leverage the Ikea Effect, to deepen the connection with the company for customers and employees.

As the experiment suggest, customers will not only pay more for your products, but they will also become more loyal. And I reckon its the same for employees to.