1: Yesterday, we looked at why we must tell a positive story with a happy ending to spark change.

But what if things are difficult right now? What if times are tough?

“Sometimes people tell me that there are no happy endings in their organization,” writes Stephen Denning in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling. “Everything is terrible. It’s as if they work for the Doom Channel.”

So be it, he says. “If we are in a situation where things are genuinely bad, then there is a way to deal with the bad news and still have an authentically positive ending. The secret is to get all of the bad news up front and then go on to our positive story.”

2: Starting with the bad news gets people’s attention. Which is a good thing. “Social scientists have also shown that negative messages are more attention getting than positive messages,” Stephen writes. “Stories about the audience’s problems or stories about how the author dealt with adversity similar to the audience’s problems are well adapted to get the audience’s attention.”

What do we do? We use the negative reality to communicate that the situation is indeed grim. But then we tell a positive story to show how we will solve this problem.  

“The action comes from a positive story that shows the way forward,” Stephen writes.

Just imagine we are telling the story of the Titanic. “I’m going to tell you about something that happened when the ocean liner Titanic sank, way back in 1915,” we say.

“It was a horrible thing. The ship sank. Fifteen hundred people drowned. It was a massive engineering disaster for a ship that was supposed to be unsinkable. Gross incompetence and stupidity on the part of the captain of the ship. Criminal negligence in not supplying the ship with enough lifeboats. This was a catastrophe—one of the worst naval disasters of the twentieth century. It continues to reverberate even today.”

3: But we don’t stop there.

“But within that tragic scene,” we say, “something rather wonderful happened to a young man on that ship. Let me tell you about it.” Then, we tell the “wonderful, positive story of what the young man did on board the Titanic,” Stephen suggests. We “continue with that soaring positive arc of the young man’s story with an uplifting end.”

We start with the bad news. We address the negative reality. Then, we follow it up with our positive story. We tell the harsh truth about the disaster. “But within that disaster, there was something positive, something wonderful,” Stephen writes.  

“This isn’t hype or spin. It combines the triumph with the tragedy.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Think about a current challenge. Can I capture my audience’s attention with bad news and then follow up with a positive story to spark action?

Action: Experiment with the approach above.

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