Shivani’s brother and sister-in-law made the trip from San Francisco to Chicago to visit. Her sister-in-law Susan was pregnant, but she wasn’t due for another ten weeks. The expectant parents figured they had plenty of time for a final family visit.

They were wrong. Susan was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section.

“The baby girl was born and taken immediately to the NICU,” Esther Choi writes in her book Let the Story Do the Work.

“She’ll need to be in the hospital for at least three months,” the doctors said of the newborn baby.

A quick trip to see family had turned into a profoundly stressful situation for all involved.

Shivani decided to develop a StoryPicture as a way to think through and talk about the challenging circumstances.

STEP 1: List and Select the Most Important Elements.  

We “start by listing all important elements related to [our] story or concept,” Esther writes. We write them down as they come to [us], and don’t try to refine or order them just yet.” Next, after we have a complete list, we prioritize.

“Shivani decided mindset and control were the two most important [elements] given her family members’ personalities and the specifics of their situation,” Esther shares. “She wanted to help her family members develop a mindset that would make them feel that they had some control over the situation.”

STEP 2: Understand What Binds Key Elements.  

Once we prioritize the elements, we need to figure out “the primary binding agent” which ties the pieces together. The binding agent determines which StoryPicture will be most effective.

Esther suggests we ask: “Is it about a system, a relationship, or a process? Is it weight and proportion? Governing principle? Or something else that [we]’re trying to illustrate?”

Ultimately, Shivani decided a virtuous cycle would be the best option because it would “help her share a roadmap to positive change with her family, rather than just emphasizing the challenging state of affairs,” writes Esther.

STEP 3: Develop a Story for the StoryPicture

“Shivani decided to tell her family a work story both to take their minds off the baby’s health and to help them understand and deal with the situation,” Esther writes.

Shivani began with a story about when she was put in charge of a project at a company with declining revenue. The sales team had over-promised. The development team didn’t believe the project would work. The other project managers were upset when members of their teams were assigned to the new project.  

After two years of hard work, the client was happy with the results. But the sales team was unable to sell software to other potential clients. The company was sold for “pennies on the dollar.”

What did Shivani learn? “Many people didn’t believe in the product, and that directly impacted their mindset. . . That influenced colleagues’ actions and ultimately helped lead to the poor outcome for the company.”

She contrasted this story with a very different one.

“Many years ago, I was brought in as a consultant for a large consumer-goods company to help them implement a sales-and-marketing software solution. When I got there, people were very skeptical. My colleagues didn’t believe in this project. They had done a software integration before and knew it often took longer than expected, cost more than originally thought, and didn’t necessarily deliver the expected results.

“Fortunately, the client VP overseeing the project took a strategic approach: he brought in project champions from within and outside the organization and threw a huge kickoff party at a fun restaurant with music, food, and drink, presenting the inspiring vision for what sales and marketing would look like after the integration.

“People were really excited, and on top of that, we all felt privileged that we were part of the team that was going to make this change happen. Sure the project itself wasn’t always smooth sailing, but everyone came together to address all the challenges with creative solutions. Throughout, we had fun together, pulling pranks on each other and holding a Secret Santa exchange over the holidays . . . We delivered even before expected, and we had the highest adoption rates from the sales and marketing team that the company had ever seen.

“This just goes to show you that truly believing in the product and the cause that you’re working on directly impacts the mindset of the team, with clear influence on people’s actions, and eventually, the outcome.”

The message to her family: our beliefs impact our mindset, which impacts the outcome.  

STEP 4: Try, Test, Gather Feedback.  

STEP 5: Deliver it!

Susan’s brow furrowed in concentration during Shivani’s presentation. Afterward, she said: “Shivani, I see how what you’re saying relates to what we’re going through.”

“She understood that what they believed about the baby’s health and situation would influence their ongoing mindset and the actions they took, likely influencing the outcome,” writes Esther.

“For Shivani’s brother and sister-in-law, the StoryPicture and story ultimately helped them focus on maintaining positive beliefs as part of a proactive, optimistic mindset that enabled them to take healthy actions (working carefully with doctors without overburdening them, taking time for themselves despite the ongoing stress, and others) that allowed them to navigate a very stressful situation.

“Their baby girl came home a whole month earlier than the doctors predicted. At the time of this writing, she’s a very active, happy, healthy two-year-old!”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How often do I use drawings to help influence and persuade others?

Action: Experiment with Esther’s five-step StoryPicture process.

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