Epic Organizations® BLOG


Are You a Hunter or a Trapper?

By Steve Donahue
Category: Expert Narrative
When it comes to solving a problem most of us are hunters.  We go out looking for the answer.  We try to hunt down the solution.  We stalk the people that can help us whether they are colleagues, contractors or customers.  If we are a leader in our organization we send out a search party to chase down success.  Sound familiar?

But what if you became a trapper?  What if rather than chasing success or solutions you lured what you wanted into your waiting hands?  If you’ve attended one of my speeches or seminars you probably know where I’m going with this.  It’s one of my favorite Narrative Intelligence techniques - role change.  By seeing the role that you play in a new way you can change your story on the spot.  Switching from hunter to trapper can pay massive dividends immediately.  I even used this role change a few years ago when I was internet dating and it worked.

But first, here’s a really simple example of how to be a trapper.  Let’s say you’ve got a big problem at work.  You can’t figure it out.  You’ve tried everything.  You’ve talked to co-workers, your spouse, your boss, even the UPS delivery guy.  You’ve been hunting hard and have come up empty handed.  Time is running out.  What should you do?  Go for a walk.

That’s right.  Go for a walk.  Enjoy the scenery.  But do NOT think about your problem.  You are setting a trap.  An idea trap.   A solution snare.  By turning your attention away from the pursuit you are changing your brain chemistry to invite an idea to arrive.  It’s simple.  You’ve probably done this before.  Great ideas often come when you least expect them.  So create the environment that encourages that Eureka moment.  Stop hunting and start trapping.

So, back to the dating thing.  I went online and filled out all the forms, answered all the questions, uploaded a reasonably recent photo of myself and started hunting.  I scanned and searched through dozens, perhaps hundreds of listings and when I was interested in someone I sent a message.  My results were pretty lame.  I realized this chasing mentality wasn’t working so I decided to change my profile dramatically, uploaded an edgier photo and then I sat back and waited.

The woman who is now my wife began our relationship by contacting me on this dating site.  In fact, I could never have found her by hunting because she was hiding.  As a lawyer with a professional reputation to maintain she could not post any real information about herself on a dating site including a photo.  I would never have found her by looking.  But she found me because I changed my role.

I admit that hunting and trapping might not be the best words to use when describing your methods for meeting someone.  But remember that this is a metaphor.  It’s a mental trick to shake you out of your rigid role as the pursuer whether it’s an idea, a spouse, a customer or a lifestyle that you are chasing.

Start by noticing how often you hunt.  Whether it’s a reply to an email or an answer to a question, you’re probably chasing things all day long.  Ask yourself what it would be like to start trapping.  Imagine yourself as some crusty old guy with a long beard and a coonskin cap working a trapline along a river somewhere in Canada.  OK, maybe that’s the wrong image.  Just reframe your role and work on building networks, systems and situations that draw or attract the solutions and success you are seeking.

You have a story.  But your story also has you.  It holds you tightly in place with rigid roles that maintain the status quo.  Try moving in a new narrative direction by switching roles from the hunter to the trapper.  This is how you catch success at work and maybe even the love of your life!

Tags: success narrative intelligence role change internet dating

THE NARRATIVE SCIENCE BEHIND CRYING AT THE MOVIES - Brain chemical associated with childbirth and breastfeeding helps you be more successful

By Steve Donahue
Category: Expert Narrative

Have you ever wondered why you cry at the movies?  After all it’s just a “story”.  Why is it that we become emotionally involved in something that never pretends to be anything but fiction?  We now know why this happens thanks to a brain researcher who went to pieces at 40,000 feet after watching a Clint Eastwood movie.

Following a 5 day trip to Washington, DC, Paul Zak decided to watch Million Dollar Baby to pass the time on the long flight home to California.  He was so bereft by the end of this tear jerker that the neuroscientist in him began to wonder what was going on in his brain.  What Dr. Zak discovered can help leaders use narrative as a powerful tool for engaging others (as well as yourself) and improving results.

Paul had spent many years studying the neuropeptide oxytocin.  It’s most commonly associated with childbirth and breast feeding but he knew that it was often released in social interactions which he describes in his fascinating book The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity.  Oxytocin induces what Paul Zak calls “prosocial” behaviours.  He’s demonstrated that you can elicit positive actions and emotions in people (and for that matter rats) by giving them a dose of oxytocin.  

Dr. Zak conducted studies that involved showing short videos to a number of people recruited for the research.  He discovered that high impact narratives cause oxytocin to be released in the brain.   When people identify with the characters in a story it elicits an empathic reaction and affects their behaviour.  Based on the amount of oxytocin released in participants’ brains, and other measurements of their peripheral nervous systems while they watched a heart-touching video, the researchers could predict with 82 per cent accuracy whether or not someone would donate to a charity after viewing the video.

His research attracted a lot of attention.  The United States Department of Defense actually began funding his work, and others in the field, to find out why narratives are so persuasive.  If the largest military in the world is interested in narrative I think we all should tune in to the topic.

Zak’s team noticed however that all stories are not created equal.  Only stories with a dramatic narrative arc elicited the neurochemical response and associated empathic behaviour.  This could be explained by the brain’s attention deficit.  Our brains consume tremendous amounts of energy and conserving precious energy is one of the brain's most important functions, hence the tendency for attention to wane.  A story that holds the brain’s attention is a good story and has the potential to create change.

The term “narrative transportation” is used to describe what happens when you lose yourself in a story such as Dr. Zak did on his flight home.  We actually put ourselves into the story, we are transported into the narrative, not because we’re asked or told to but because the quality of narrative makes it happen.  In fact it’s nearly impossible to stop when it’s the right story.  This is why it’s hard to put that book down as you’re reading the final chapter.  You’re hooked on the story because you’ve been transported into it.

Here’s an example. An experiment by the Wharton management professor, Adam Grant, involved a team of university students who telephoned alumni to ask for donations to the school.  Grant contacted a recent graduate who had received a scholarship from the donations generated by the telemarketers. The graduate told them a story about how the scholarship had made an immeasurable difference in his life and how grateful he was for their work.  The amount of money that the students raised through donations increased 171 percent after hearing the graduate’s story.  That’s oxytocin at work.

I’ve written before about a pharmaceutical company that brings patients whose lives were saved by their cancer fighting drugs to every corporate conference.  Whether it’s an HR symposium or a sales event, a leadership retreat or marketing meeting, they always have a real life story from a patient who is grateful to be alive.  After hearing the universally touching stories staff are able to link what they do to the positive results their efforts achieve.  The neuropeptide brain bath bonds employees to those who benefit from their work.

Look for ways to capture stories from you customers, clients, patients, students and endusers.  These are not just facts and stats that help you to make service improvements.  What you want is a narrative with the kind of dramatic arc that elicits the release of oxytocin.  Sob stories are actually success stories when they touch your heart and change your brain.

Tags: brain science oxytocin motivation narrative transportation

Leading Change requires a New Story

By Steve Donahue
Category: Expert Narrative

My cat is hiding in the closet so it must be Wednesday.  Every hump day afternoon our complex buzzes with the sound of lawnmowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers.  The cacophony frightens McGill so she hides in the closet on Wednesday morning.  That’s right, she knows it’s Wednesday even before the maintenance crew starts to work.

Ten years ago I was on a particularly busy speaking tour.  Every day was a different hotel in a different city and a different time zone.  For several consecutive mornings I woke up and looked at the alarm clock only to hear it go off just a few seconds later.  It didn’t matter where I was or what time the alarm had been set for.  Some part deep inside me knew exactly what time it was.

We have systems that operate inside us below the radar screen of consciousness.  We expect our hearts to keep beating without having to make that essential function occur.  It’s not necessary to tell your stomach how to digest those fish tacos you shouldn’t have eaten.  And sometimes you know exactly what day or time it is, even if you’re a cat.

When organizational change efforts fail you can often link that failure to systems that function below the radar screen.  None of those systems is more powerful than what I call the “deep narrative”.  This is the unwritten, unspoken and usually unconscious story that defines a group.  This narrative describes who you are, what you do and why you do it.

I’ve been speaking about this cultural story for years and now brain research has shown that the deep narrative exists.  Actually it’s not that deep after all.  Researchers at the University of Toronto used MRI scans to identify a brain activity called the “Narrative Function”.  This brain process organizes everything that has happened to you, whatever you expect to happen, your beliefs, your assumptions, your relationships into a cohesive “story”.  This function is actually the default state of human consciousness.  Within that brain activity is the story that you have about your job, your company and your career and it is operating 24/7.

James Hillman, the founder of Archetypal Psychology, once said that the only way a person can change is if they change the story they tell themselves about themselves.  The same thing applies to organizations.  If you have a major transition effort then you must address the deep narrative.  You need to change the story inside your brain’s Narrative Function.  If not, you might as well just hide in the closet.

Steve Donahue

I am a motivational speaker, bestselling author, coach and consultant.  I help leaders and companies leverage the one thing their competition can't copy - their story.

Tags: leading change organizational change narrative function

Sculpting Your Story

By Steve Donahue
Category: Expert Narrative

Yesterday I read an article in the Globe and Mail about Margrethe Vestager.  She is the competition czar for the European Union.  Some of the companies she is investigating include Apple, Amazon.com, Google and Starbucks.

What struck me most about the article is that it mentioned a sculpture that Ms. Vestager keeps on her desk.  The nearly perfect rendition of a human hand is frozen in the pose of a one fingered salute.  It was given to her by a Danish trade union that didn't like her.

She's been called the "Iron Lady of Denmark" and "the goblin under Google's bed" for her staunch defense of European values and European law.  She keeps the sculpture in her office to remind her that she won't be making tons of friends by provoking disagreements with some of the most powerful companies in the world.

Ms. Vestager and the sculpture that gives her the finger is a great example of "Narrative Fidelity", a fancy way of saying "keeping your story true".  Here's why that is vital to succeeding in your career.

Most of us don't like conflict and try to avoid anything unpleasant about our work.  But there are parts of almost every job that just, quite frankly, suck.  Telling yourself a story about how amazing things could be if you only had a better boss, nicer clients, more money and whiter teeth doesn't help you achieve excellence.  It's simply a coping technique.  You feel better in the fantasy.

Narrative Fidelity is about keeping it real even if there's no changing what you don't like.  If your story is really true then you accept what you can't change and transform what you have power or influence over.  And, paradoxically, the things that really irritate us are often the opportunities to make the biggest difference in our work.

One of my mentors, Michael Meade, says that you can't avoid trouble.  You're always going to be in some kind of trouble.  The secret is to be in the "right kind of trouble".  If your troubles are the right kind then you've got your story straight.  All you need to do is find the perfect sculpture for your story and put it on your work station to remind you of the crucial yet unavoidable role you play each and every day.

Steve Donahue

I help individuals and organizations achieve epic results by creating an epic story.  I am a coach, consultant and keynote speaker with an expertise in the emerging field of Narrative Intelligence.  Click here to contact me or here to sign up for my regular updates on these powerful concepts.

Tags: Narrative Intelligence story success conflict

What Stories Will You Leave?

By Steve Donahue
Category: Expert Narrative

A recent survey by the insurance behemoth, Allianz, found that 86% of Baby Boomers believe that “family stories” are a more important part of their legacy than possessions and inheritance.  

I’m a Baby Boomer myself and I’ve spent most of my life as a motivational speaker creating and telling stories.  Such that my adult kids mocked my signature story about crossing the Sahara Desert in a hilarious speech at my wedding a couple of years ago.  They already know my stories so I’ll try to leave them several thousand shares of stock in Apple, if I’m lucky enough to acquire them.

One of my favorite sayings is that “Everything is a story or on its way to becoming one.”  An effective way to frame your day, week or even year is from a story perspective.  Because, when you are “gone”, your stories will be all that remain.

“Gone” doesn’t necessarily mean dead.  It just means departed.  When you walk away from that meeting, phone call, project, job, career, marriage - what’s the story that lingers in the hearts and minds of others?  Thinking in terms of the narrative vapor trail you leave behind in your life, in every interaction, can help you increase the impact you make in the world.  If nothing else it’s just good manners.  Because when you die or get married at least you’ve given someone half decent material when they stand up to speak about you.

Tags: Expert narrative Motivation Speaker

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