“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into” – Jonathan Swift, writer of “Gulliver’s Travels”
If I was a leader and could choose to tell only one kind of story to motivate others to action, it’s obvious what that story would be. It would be a springboard story. Why? On one hand, a springboard story performs the most useful thing a leader can do – namely communicate a complex new idea and ignite action to implement it. That’s what leadership is centrally about – inspiring people to implement new ideas in the future. And not just grudgingly but enthusiastically, because they believe in it.
The Challenge of Igniting Action and Implementing New Ideas
The conventional management approach to this challenge is to give people reasons for changing in the hope that people will see reason and do the right thing. Sadly, this faith in reason isn’t borne out in practice Asking people to stop doing the things they know and love doing and start doing things that they don’t know or like much amounts to asking them to adopt new identities. The usual result? Skepticism. Hostility. Sitting on the fence. Anything but enthusiastic implementation.
Then what happens? Leaders in their desperation may start sliding toward directive methods: “You’ve to do it or you get a fine”. This generates an adversarial relationship – the exact opposite of what you need to achieve as a leader.
Fortunately, there’s a solution at hand in a particular form of story. Better yet, it is one of the easiest kinds of stories to tell. It’s a story about the past that is told without a great deal of embellishment. It has the advantage of getting the listener to do the hard work of inventing the future. Even better, as the future evolves, the listener keeps updating the story as the future changes. The story doesn’t grow dated because the listeners keep seeing new meaning in it – which they themselves provide.
I call this type of story a springboard story because it springs the listeners enthusiastically into a new future. Let’s get over the ingredients that make a springboard story work and why.
The Main Elements of the Springboard Story
The springboard narrative pattern has the following main elements:
- The change idea behind the story is crystal clear.
- The story is based on an actual example where the change was successfully implemented – that is, it is a true story
- The story is told from the point of view of a single protagonist
- The protagonist is typical of the audience
- The story gives the date and place where it happened
- The story makes it clear what would have happened without the change idea
- The story is told with little detail – it is told in a minimalist fashion
- The story has a positive tone – it has an authentically happy ending
- The story is linked to the purpose to be achieved in telling it.
Of all the elements, the three most important are that the story be true, that it is positive and that it be told in a minimalist fashion. However, the following sections focus on the elements in the order in which they generally occur in crafting a springboard story.
A Clear Purpose
The first step in crafting a springboard story is getting clear on the change idea that you are trying to get across. What are you trying to change in the world? What is the specific idea that you attempting to get people to understand and implement? What are they not doing now that you want them to do in future?
It must be a good idea. An idea that merely imitates what others have achieved won’t inspire anyone. Instead you need a genuinely new and superior idea.
Having a clear purpose is one of the principles differences between a leader’s storytelling and entertainment storytelling