People think in stories not in bullet points


Once upon a time…

People working in organisations had to speak to each other, trying to tell each other things or persuade people to make important decisions.

Every day…

They showed each other the same stale PowerPoint slides, intoning the words along with each bullet pointed slide, boring each other silly. Or worse, spat statistics at each other like bullets.

One day…

Somebody noticed that Pixar, the film studio that made Toy Story and other hit films, used the same story structure in every film, Pixar had a winning formula for story-telling and anybody could use it!

Because of that…

They decided to use the same structure in their presentations.

Because of that

The boring stuff they read off of bullet point riddled slides turned into stories they could tell each other.

Until finally…

There was no need for the stupid bullet points. People told stories, which everyone can remember and understand. And everybody lived happily ever after.

Well, it IS a fairy tale , but that story structure isn’t made-up, it’s real, and I’ve just used it to tell the story of what hasn’t happened yet. Below is the basics.

Once upon a time…[something]
Every day…[something]
One day…[something]
Because of that…[something]
Because of that…[something]
Until finally…[something]

Pixar use this, as Homer and George Lucas use the “heroes journey”. You can use it too, all you need is a story to tell, it’s not just for lightsabres or Greek Gods, it could be as mundane as having to persuade someone why a new Procurement strategy is needed, anything really.

Once upon a time…there was a Housing Benefits service that wasn’t working.

Every day…they went through the same motions of trying to improve, they followed Audit Commission advice and everything.

One day…they decided to stop chasing their tail and do something different instead, so they tried systems thinking

Because of that...they learned to focus on purpose from the customers perspective, used data to understand what was happening and not best practice or opinions. They asked different questions, got different answers and learned that the whole way they thought about work was the root cause of their problems.

Because of that… they learned a different way of managing work and experimented with it, seeing what worked and what didn’t

Until finally…instead of taking months, people got their claims sorted while they waited!

It’s better to use stories as people already think in stories, whether this is good or bad this is the case and can’t be ignored. Except people do ignore it, which is why most communication in organisations is dreadful. If you want a message to stick you need to get people to listen and everybody likes stories and easily remember them.

When was the last time you heard the story Goldilocks and the three bears? Decades  ago probably.
When was the last business presentation or powerpoint you sat through? This month probably.
Now, what can you remember best?



This entry was posted in communication, psychology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to People think in stories not in bullet points

  1. Tobias says:

    Good post. I know this as the “story spine”. I learned it in improv classes, and have used it in corporations since 2007, often to tell the story of “our future”, when it is done starting with the “Until finally…” part, and working backwards to today. Other uses have been to explore possibilities for products, or to resolve disputes. Always it is very interactive, as much physical as it is vocal.

    I’m not sure how to use it as a tool of persuasion though. I use it when I don’t know something. If I want to persuade, it is usually because I have a particular idea or even solution in mind, so presentation of that solution seems more appropriate—and powerpoint is a good tool for that, if kept very visual, persuading through images and spoken word, rather than bullet points.


  2. Tobias says:

    Dan Pink is an expert at wrapping other people’s ideas up in neat packages—and I say that without irony, as it’s a real skill. His Ted Talk on Motivation is one of the best ever. I show it to HR people whenever I get the opportunity. The impact is so profound and belief-shattering, it is almost cruel.


  3. sturob23 says:

    Doesn’t this go against systems thinking because stories simplify what actually happens rather than looking at and embracing the complexity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s