1: What are the two most important words in the brief story below?

“In 2019 in Paris, the head partner of a law firm noticed that the staff of the IT department became markedly more productive when they arranged the work in self-organizing teams that worked in short cycles and delivered value to their clients at the end of each cycle.

“He then introduced the approach to the paralegal staff and got a similar result: the work got done much more quickly and the people doing the work were much happier. So then he began exploring with the other partners: Why wasn’t all the work in the firm done in this matter? Just think what the impact would be if everyone in the firm was working in an agile fashion?”

The answer: “Just think.” 

Why? Because as Stephen Denning writes in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, the words “Just think” link the change idea to the story: “The narrator invites the audience to make a leap in their imaginations: if software developers and paralegals could become more agile in this way, why not the rest of the firm?”

The story above is an example of what Stephen calls a “springboard story,” which communicates a complex new idea and inspires action to implement it. In past RiseWithDrew posts, we’ve looked at key elements of this specific type of story: it must be purposeful, be told in a minimalist fashion, be authentically true, and spell out what would happen without the change idea.

2: Today, we look at the power of what Stephen calls “magic phrases” to bring our story to life and motivate our audience to internalize our story and take action. These phrases include “Just think…,” along with “Just imagine…,” and “What if…” 

All three of these phrases spark our audience to make the connection to “what it would be like if this incident was happening here, not just in this instance, but all across our division. All across the region. All across the company. All across the world,” Stephen writes.

If we don’t link our story to the desired outcome, listeners will likely miss the point. “So what,” they ask. Or, “Why bother me with the goings-on in the technology department.” Or, “We don’t work in legal. How is that relevant to me?” 

So, we need to provide a hint, a suggestion, and some guardrails as to our primary point and where we go next.  

Being too directive is also a turn-off. As in: “This is what that story means for you. This is what it means for you tomorrow morning when you go into the office. You need to do the following sixteen things…,” Stephen writes.  

When we do this, it’s not the listener’s story. It’s our idea. Our decision. Our instructions. We are in command-and-control mode.  

3: The magic phrases “What if…” and “Just think…” and “Just imagine…” strike a balance between not saying enough and saying too much. “They’re like Goldilocks’s porridge: just right,” notes Stephen. 

When we ask “What if?” we invite our audience to dream. We invite them to imagine. “The listeners have to make the decision as to whether to dream and whether to decide to live that dream,” Stephen writes. “We point them in the direction. And with luck, some or even most of the audience will dream the dream and start planning their own implementation of it.”

Stephen shares an old Brazilian proverb that when we dream alone, it’s just a dream, but when we dream together, it’s already the beginning of a new reality. These “magic phrases” inspire us to dream together and create a new reality.  

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What is a change I would like my team, my department, or my company to make?

Action: Experiment with using Stephen’s magic phrases, “Just think,” “Just imagine,” or “What if?”

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