When my daughter, Abby, was in pre-school she used to carry on about my “pointy nose” and draw pictures of me with a “Pinocchio-like” stick nose. I admit: I have ski-jump shaped nose, but it’s never bothered me. In fact, I sort of like my nose! As parents, my husband and I would laugh at her antics. Sometimes, we’d challenge her, but she’d insist that my nose was pointy and keep drawing her pictures.
Now 24, Abby lives on her own in Atlanta. She visited this weekend and the “Pointy Nose” story came up. Abby asked, “Did I draw those pictures a lot?” I nodded and soon her memories came tumbling out.
Abby described how she didn’t like taking naps in pre-school. After struggling with her teachers over this daily routine, eventually Abby negotiated a compromise. If she could sit quietly on her nap mat and draw, it was OK if she didn’t sleep. So every day, a teacher would deliver her a set of markers and stack of drawing paper. She’d color a strip of blue sky at the top of the paper. Then she’d draw a rainbow and place a stick figure of me beneath it. Sometimes she’d add clouds, other times just print “mom” off to the side. Drawing these pictures calmed and distracted her. Nap-time struggles subsided.
After hearing her version of the story, I found some markers and paper for her to recreate this childhood picture. As she drew, she asked, “Why do kids always draw the sky with just a stripe of blue?” We speculated that maybe it’s because kids process the world in a literal way. Since the sky is above us, that’s how they draw it. Then, Abby reminisced about how she really liked drawing the rainbows—getting the order of the colors right and seeing how they blended. She didn’t offer any new insight about why I was in the picture and why I had a pointy nose. My guess is that drawing me gave her comfort and my nose was a distinctive facial feature that her little-girl mind exaggerated.
The weekend flew past—Abby is now back in Atlanta. Missing her, I wish I could sit on “my nap mat” and conjure her back home by drawing a sky and rainbow with her beneath it. But this story and picture brings me a little closer to my mother-daughter memories. It also reminds me about how kids reflect the world around them … about how people witness the same experience in different ways … about how the passage of time reshapes our views of what happened.
Perspective in Business Storytelling
Yesterday, I was chatting via Skype with my story buddy, Claire Taylor, and shared my “Pointy Nose” story. We explored how it might relate to business storytelling. Abby’s compromise with her teachers offers lessons in negotiation and how a leader might flex cultural norms to fit different work styles. Then Claire pointed out that this story offers rich insights about perspective, which is the essential power of business storytelling—stories create empathy for divergent and opposing points of view.
The sky, the rainbow, a mom with a distinctive, pointy nose helped little-girl Abby navigate and make sense of the world. If my perspective had been that my daughter saw me as a witch or ugly person, this story would have had a different meaning for our family. Instead, it’s just a funny episode in our family history. Revisiting our shared memory 20 years later and exploring it from different perspectives brought Abby and me closer together.
Similarly, business storytelling can unify different points of view about business situations, reducing misunderstanding and conflict. So let’s explore the role of perspective in storytelling.
- Which Side of the Story to Tell—Business storytelling guru, Karen Dietz, writes in her book Business Storytelling for Dummies: “When it comes to stories, there are as many sides [to the story] as the number of people who’ve been touched by the situation.” The version of a story that gets captured, told, and promoted has the ability to influence decisions and an organization’s culture. Karen asserts that determing which perspective is not a trivial decision. She advises that in complicated situations, it may be useful to listen to several perspectives before shaping the story.
- Voice of the Story—Unlike fiction, business stories are best when grounded in truth and authenticity. If you are sharing a personal story, draw the audience into your experience by using pronouns like I and me. Telling someone else’s story as your own is unethical and likely to come off as phony. When telling a story that is not your own, get permission and give credit or use a fictional or generic third person voice (he, she, them).
- Perspective as a Dramatic Tool—Tension is created when a character knows more or less than another character or the audience. In my “Pointy Nose” story, Abby knew more about why she drew the same picture every day than I did. This revelation 20 years later inserted a new twist into an old tale.
- Shifting Perspectives—The moment of truth often reveals a new perspective, causing a character to change their position and path forward: “I started out thinking… Now I think …” Explore how characters’ perspectives may change as a result of struggle and how shifting perspectives reveal a story’s deeper meaning.
- Kaleidoscope of Meaning—Different perspectives illuminate both subtle and distinct views of the same situation. Sometimes different perspectives contribute new color commentary to the same story; other times they reveal an entirely new meaning. I use this technique in an intentional way when gathering stakeholder input on strategic planning, visioning, and innovation processes.