Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Man is a Story-telling Animal

Man, according to Swift (1983, p. 53) “is a story-telling animal”. Schank and Abelson (1995, p. 2) state that that “all [human] knowledge is encoded as stories”. Green (2004) cites an Indian proverb “Tell me a fact and I'll learn. Tell me the truth and I'll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever” (p. 1).

Paul Brown of Sewell tells a story about adopting feedback from when he was writing a book in the late 1980s with Carl Sewell on customer service as a business strategy. Carl asked when they would focus-group the concept. Paul says "Book publishers don’t like to run focus groups. The editors and salespeople think they know exactly what their readers are looking for.  Writers (like me) are guilty of this egotism, too". Carl persisted, asking "how will we ever know what people want if we don’t ask them?

Paul related that they set up a focus group with a moderator, and watched via a two-way mirror. The group panned Paul's proposed title almost unanimously. He says "I knew we had to call it the book The $332,000 Customer (the number is what average customers spent with Sewell at one his car dealerships over their lifetimes). My title, I argued humbly, was: intriguing, thought-provoking, and would make the book jump off the shelves (I cannot begin to tell you how clever I thought I was with that title)".

The focus group loved the concept, but thought it disorganised and not customer-focused, not action-oriented enough. The focus group wanted more brevity, more application, a more modular approach so you could go straight to the parts that related most to you. Paul said "What kept resonating was the focus group thought—correctly—that the entire book was about capturing and then keeping a customer forever. Since the fundamental idea was so important to them, we ended up using it twice: Customers for Life: Turning That One-Time Buyer Into a Lifetime Customer".

Paul relates that although it was painful "to hear the focus group tell me all the mistakes I made in the initial draft of Customers, it ended up being hugely beneficial.  I have kept those lessons learned at the very forefront of my mind in everything I have written ever since.
I don’t like making mistakes. No one does.  But when I do, like the most successful people I know, I work really hard to learn from them".

Hopefully that story will resonate with you as it resonated with me. Remember to tell stories, and remember to ask others what they think of your stories. What you learn may surprise you :-D 



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