Distorted-Face of Narcissistic Leadership– Quintessential Pro, Desperate Con: Jekyll-Hyde Behavior of Narcissism…

One of Steve Jobs’ great accomplishment; putting his– petulance, narcissism, rudeness, idiosyncrasies… in the service of perfection. ~Malcolm Gladwell

When you say; he/she is a ‘narcissist’- just what does that mean? People throw around the terms– narcissist, narcissism and many don’t have the vaguest idea of what the words really mean. So what is a narcissist and narcissism? According to one definition; people with narcissistic personality believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings… But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism…

Narcissistic leadership is a common form of leadership. To critics, narcissistic leaders are driven by unyielding arrogance, self-absorption, and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration. To proponents, all people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism…it’s the engine that drives leadership.

Narcissists have the need to uphold and maintain a false self – a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The false self is projected to the world in order to garner their– narcissistic supply, i.e., adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy.

Any kind of attention is usually deemed to be preferable to obscurity. For example, cooked books, corporate fraud, bending the (GAAP or other) rules, sweeping problems under the carpet, over-promising, making grandiose claims (the ‘vision thing’)– are hallmarks of a narcissist in action…

In the article The Narcissistic Leader by Michael Maccoby writes:  Narcissism gets a bad rap. Far from being the malignant personality disorder most people believe it to be, it’s actually an essential quality for visionary business leaders. The popular misconceptions is that narcissism is ‘synonymous with self-absorption, egocentricity or just bad manners’, instead ‘a true narcissist is the kind of person who (1) doesn’t listen to anyone else when he/she believes in doing something and (2) has a precise vision of how things should be.’

Of course, simply possessing these two qualities are hardly sufficient for business success without basic strategic intelligence, which is essential. Strategic intelligence is made up of five major elements: foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating and partnering.  Many personalities and styles work, and a wise leader will play to personal strengths, and balance weaknesses by effective partnerships with colleagues.

Narcissistic leaders are classic ‘good news, bad news’ for companies who have them. On one hand, narcissists  have the ability to envision new directions for a company, the courage and self-belief to make changes, and the navigational skills to chart the course; assuming that they possess the strategic intelligence that makes them productive. Bad news, of course, is that these same qualities of vision and self-belief make them difficult to work with, impervious to advice, and even deluded.

Narcissists aren’t more effective as business leaders than other personality types. Different leadership tasks, different industries, and different social and economic circumstances favor some types of personality over others; and, in these times, today, it suits the narcissistic personality better than ever before…

In the article Narcissist: Good Leader, Bad Teammate? by Adi Gaskell writes:  Narcissists typically have many of the qualities we associate with those of a strong leader. They have high self-esteem, confidence, and display authority. Research reveals that narcissists automatically take over the helm of a rudderless group of individuals. Research from Cornell University, for instance, reveals that more than one narcissist in a group damages performance of that group, as the two stags battle it out for top status. If they performed on their own, however, research showed that they were perceived to perform better by onlookers, due no doubt to their confidence and self belief. However, when their output was measured objectively, without knowing who had produced it, it was found to be of lesser quality than less narcissistic people in the team.

Further research supports these findings. A study published recently in Psychological Science looked at information flow within a team and the effect of this on decision-making. Interestingly, similar gap between perception and reality exist in regard to communication effectiveness as was observed in the previous study. In the second study, just as in the first, onlookers believed that more information was shared by the narcissistic leader.

Those in the group actually thought that the charismatic leaders were doing a great job. The reality, however, was that they were not. Information sharing was less than in groups led by non-narcissistic leaders, with end result being poor decision generated by the narcissist led group. So the message seems to be that narcissistic leaders are great at pulling the wool over our eyes, but not so great at delivering the results their bravado suggests…

In the article The Workplace Narcissist by James Adonis writes:  A narcissist, they say, is probably a narcissist for life.  It can be your boss, colleague, or employee. But since many narcissists use their charisma to fulfill their obsession for career success, they’re usually found in upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy.

Professor Keith Campbell, University of Georgia, author of ‘The Narcissism Epidemic’, says; main difference between narcissism in bosses compared with narcissism in colleagues is the issue of power. In both cases, I would suggest maintaining the best boundaries you can… Do not be overly trusting, keep records of interactions, temper your feedback so that the narcissist does not get overly reactive– and find better co-workers at the soonest opportunity.

However, this advice is especially relevant with the narcissistic boss. The three words; temper-your-feedback are important because giving a narcissist feedback can sometimes make the problem worse. In a study of over 100 CEOs conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that narcissistic bosses were more likely to engage in risky strategies. Why? Because of the need for visibility: After all, the more daring their vision and strategy, higher their chances for attention. They desperately want to be noticed– not necessarily adored, but noticed.

An analysis by Florida State University concluded, unsurprisingly, that workplaces with narcissistic people have lower levels of job satisfaction and productivity, and greater amounts of stress. Approximately one per cent of the population can be diagnosed with narcissism; the curious thing: it’s more prevalent in men than in women. But women are catching up.

Psychology professors Jean Twenge and Josh Foster have calculated that growth in narcissism since 2002 has been stronger among women than men. In study by psychologists, University of Michigan; they discovered that narcissists are more prone to health problems, particularly hypertension and heart disease, because they’re always so aggressive…

In the article Narcissists Look Like Good Leaders. But Are They? by Matthew Philip writes: Apparently, we’ve been duped. While narcissists may look like better leaders, according to a new study by a group of psychology researchers, University of Amsterdam, they’re actually really bad at leading. Here’s study abstract: Although generally perceived as arrogant, overly dominant, narcissistics are particularly skilled at radiating image of prototypically effective leader.

As a result, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was thus far unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the actual performance of those they lead. In the study we used a hidden profile paradigm to provide evidence for discord between positive image of narcissists as leaders and the reality in terms of group performance.

We proposed and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective due to their display of authority, leaders’ narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance. Findings indicate perception and reality can be at odds, which has important practical and theoretical implications…

In the article Nip Narcissism Before It Nips You by ExecuLeaders writes  Self-awareness can break destructive pattern of narcissism, one of the most common characteristics of high achievers, says a top gun on leadership. Narcissism is both creative and destructive force. It can drive corporate success when leaders blend their own search for self-improvement with improvement of their companies’ performance.

But it also can run amok and cause corporate meltdowns. A clinically recognized disorder, narcissism is a pathological reaction to problems with self-worth, says Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries. It shows up in the need to prove that you’re special and entitled to special treatment. Other traits: selfishness, lack of empathy, enviousness, exploitation and a need for constant attention.

Narcissists feel that rules apply only to others, which may be contagious and encourage an entire organization to take the low road. Narcissists may throw tantrums, which will drive away stable business partners and clients. Those who remain will tell narcissistic leaders what they want to hear. Quite a few leaders in the ancient world came to believe they were gods…

Narcissists bring plusses and minuses to their roles as leaders, says Michael Maccoby. On the plus side, they bring great vision, an ability to see the big picture and, as a result, the opportunity to change very rules of the game. They are also especially gifted in attracting followers, usually through skillful use of language and their charisma… On the minus side, narcissistic leaders can be poor listeners, sensitive to criticism, lacking in empathy and relentless and ruthless in the pursuit of victory.

According to Maccoby; to be productive leaders, narcissists must recognize their potential shortcomings and work to avoid traps of their own personalities… Narcissus was the very handsome fellow in Greek mythology who, because of his indifference and disdain toward others, was punished by the gods by falling in love with his own image. He was so enraptured by his beauty that he was unable to pull himself away from his own reflection; wasted away and died.

According to recent research, Narcissus has spawned many offspring in our current generation, and narcissism is alive and well. One study found that 30% of young people were classified as narcissistic, according to a widely used psychological test. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. Another study reported a 40% decline among young people with empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s.

According to Dr. Jim Taylor; these findings aren’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to ‘it’s all about me’ culture, in which we currently live.  Certainly, shift in societal values have contributed to the cultural messages of narcissism in which young people are presently immersed. It’s one thing to see that there is a growing number of narcissists, however, the real concern is not the individual narcissists among us; but, when our society embraces and accepts narcissism as the norm.

The indifference, egotism, disrespect and lack of consideration that are central to narcissism are also reflective of increasingly polarized and vitriolic tone of current body politic, unethical corporate behavior, rise in cheating among students, and gamut of bad behavior among professional athletes…

As Pogo noted: We have met enemy, and he is us. This is definitely not a rosy picture, and definitely not an optimistic view of future...  Narcissists want power; they are egotistical… usually charming, extraverted… but, they don’t necessarily make better leaders.

Spiral of Cynicism, Skepticism, Suspicion– Eroding Trust in Business: Cynicism Has Power to Demoralize Organizations…

Cynicism places cynics at the center seat of judgment with the self-appointed authority to criticize and condemn. ~Jayce O’Neal… Cynicism and foul language are the only vices I’m presently capable of… everything else takes energy or money. ~Mary Doria Russell

Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of just about everything, including; business, organizations, government, institutions, people… it’s a form of jaded negativity. The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) defines a cynic as ‘one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.’ This should not be confused with a ‘skeptic’, defined as ‘an attitude of doubt’.  

The term cynicism derives from ancient Greek philosophers called ‘cynics’ who rejected all conventions, such as; religion, manners, decency… advocating pursuit of virtue in a simple and non-materialistic lifestyle. By the 19th century, emphasis on negative aspects of ‘cynic philosophy’ led to modern understanding of cynicism to mean; a disposition of disbelief in sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. Research indicates that cynicism is on the rise especially in business, which increasingly hurts competitiveness and ability to accommodate today’s needed organizational changes.

Philip H. Mirvis, and Professor Donald L. Kanter found in their national survey that 43% of workers and 40% of managers are cynical. Mirvis and Kanter are careful throughout their work noting that cynicism is different from skepticism; they say, skepticism is a healthy response to work and life. Further, skeptics are open to change whereas, cynics are not.

According to Goldner, Ritti, and Ference; they suggest– as organizations become more complex, members become often more cynical. This does not bode well, considering organizations are indeed becoming more complex as they struggle to respond to increased competition, technologies, diverse work forces…

Mirvis and Kanter further explain that the recipe for cynicism is simply; hype up people’s hopes, disappoint them, then take advantage of them until they become disillusioned. In their later study Mirvis and Kanter state key ingredients for cynicism: 1) unrealistically high expectations of oneself and others, 2) experience of disappointment in oneself and others [i.e., resulting feelings of frustration and defeat!], 3) disillusionment from and being deceived by others.

In the article Beyond Cynicism by ‘psychologyforbusiness’ writes:  There are certainly no shortage of targets for the cynics in our current economy. The woes of Wall Street, the scandals from the corporate board rooms, and the posturing of politicians trying to get votes give us plenty of reason to be distrusting of the rhetoric we hear on a national level.

On a local level, we might wonder if our own organizations have fallen victim to the ‘infectious greed’ that Alan Greenspan warned us about. Whether it’s the leaders of the company complaining that the work ethic has changed for today’s employees or whether it’s the workers feeling used by an organization that does not seem to care about them, the attitudes toward our local situation can be as jaded as they are toward the nation as a whole…

Cynicism is really a reaction to loss. It is not a loss of something material, but of something that is lost within our soul. We are angry because this is not the way the world ‘should’ be. But our experience tells us that the world is not just. Our experience also warns us that we are not powerful enough to change it. And so we surrender to the cynical. In the short-term, cynicism keeps us alert to the potential dangers that lurk from the individuals and organizations that try to manipulate us into believing what they say while distracting us from what they do. It’s long-term effects of cynicism that pose the real danger.

Cynicism reminds us that the world is unjust and that we are powerless to change it. The first half of this sentence is indisputable: The experience of injustice in the world is the experience of virtually everyone. Cynicism assumes the second half of the sentence: It takes the form of a belief about our self. Psychological research has shown conclusively, that our beliefs about ourselves have a self-fulfilling quality about them. In other words, if I believe that I am powerless, then I will act as if that is true. The more cynical we become the more we surrender our own personal power. That is the true danger of the cynical attitude. It clogs the arteries of our soul...

In the article How to Combat Cynicism by American Management Association writes: If unchecked, cynicism has power to demoralize a workplace. Cynicism is not indifference or disengagement: In eyes of cynics– motions toward positive change and organization development are doomed from start. They have even lost faith in what organization has to offer.

It’s important to understand that the majority of workplace cynics are not cynics by nature, but instead either organizational or managerial let-downs have made them so. As a manager, what can you do? Many managers don’t realize that cynicism can actually benefit a company. Your cynics will provide a different perspective, question the status quo, and despite their brash attitude, may represent a number of people who do not wish to speak up.

They will never be short of criticism and problems to identify…but the key is moving them from criticism to action. Be up front: Listen to their grievances and figure out if their cynicism is justifiable or not. If the problem is legitimate then ask them how they would combat it. If the problem is minor explain to them that it’s just not priority right now, and show them why. If you highlight a bigger issue and then ask their opinion, this will let them know that their view is valued, and also give you some new insight…

In the article Managing Cynicism Toward Organizational Change by Ligaya M. Menguito writes:  Most, if not all, organizations will undergo change during its lifetime. This comes as response to changes in its markets, such as; technology advancement, globalization…, which pressure an organization to adapt and remain competitive. Given risks involved, it’s important that employees commit and contribute to transformational efforts. However, not all employees buy in to the idea of change. One reason for this is their cynicism toward the change effort.

Cynical employees usually consider a change program as useless due to a past experience of failed change initiative. Having leaders who fail to show transformation leadership behaviors is also believed to contribute to employee cynicism. Leaders who fail to have knowledge, abilities, and actions that demonstrate their worth as torch-bearer of the company’s change efforts makes employees think that they are incompetent and the change effort futile. Interestingly, having leaders who show transformational leadership behaviors don’t seem to curb cynicism among their employees, either.

These are behaviors demonstrated by leaders that are aimed to make their employees look beyond their self-interest and instead focus on the good of the organization. This may include; setting the vision for their employees or motivating and inspiring them with the desired change. One likely explanation for its failure to curb cynicism among the employees is the possibility that employees still give more importance to their own needs than that of the organization and don’t yet see how helping the organization can also be beneficial for them.

Another possible reason is that perhaps, cynicism is a trait inherent in the employee. Eradicating or even minimizing this might require more than the role modeling of their leader but would instead demand a more conscious, internal effort on the employee. Employee cynicism is not easy to eliminate or ignore but it can be managed…

It’s important to understand the cynic’s outlook on life, namely: They see selfishness and guile at the base of human nature… that people tell lies if they can gain by it… that people pretend to care more than they really do… Recent events with financial firms, mortgage brokers, banks… have contributed to an ever-growing cynicism and even a sense of futility about the values and ethics of global business institutions.

Research over the past 20 years shows that confidence in business has fallen from 70% to 15%, and ratings of management competence and trust have fallen almost as much for workers… According to Deirdre Wilson, increased disillusionment is hurting U.S. business’ competitive edge, as businesses struggle to remain competitive, and organizational change efforts are often blocked by cynical managers.

A good summary description of cynics comes from Mirvis and Kanter: Cynics agree that lying, putting on a false face, and taking advantage of others are fundamental to human character and conclude that, basically, people are just out for themselves, and that such cynical attitudes about life are paralleled in attitudes about work. Cynicism leads to generalized mistrust of authority, disparagement of management communications and directions, and ultimately to denigration of leadership and mission of the enterprise…

Leadership must address this increasing cynicism by managing more fairly, and operating in an open, honest, straightforward, realistic manner… Employees must be able to participate in governance, provide regular reality checks to management, have positive role models, and perceive an open and honest pay system. Most important, give employees something to believe in… So what are business leaders to do, particularly when it comes to values and ethics? How can leaders address and counter this sense of futility?

According to Neil Ducoff: If accountability is leadership watchword – cynicism is forever the nemesis. Once cynicism takes hold it burrows deep in leadership thinking and behavior… Purge-it, now. Recognize cynical thoughts, e.g.: This won’t work. We tried that before. They don’t care. They’re lazy. I can’t do that. They’ll never finish it on time. We won’t make it. This thinking leads to defeat, erodes confidence, and feeds resentment. The secret to banishing cynical thoughts are– go positive, inspire, innovate…

Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. ~Stephen Colbert


Strategic Intervention is Critical to Sustained Business Growth: Intervention is Commitment to Change– It Moves People…

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate it, passionately own it, relentlessly drive it to completion– with a little intervention along the way ~Jack Welch

Strategic intervention is planned, deliberate, and focused effort to improve business or organization growth, relevance, viability… This systematic implementation of change is intended to impact business basics; beliefs, attitudes, values, cultural challenge… in the current business structure. In addition, strategic intervention is often used to facilitate draconian change in organizational structure to more effectively compete within rapidly changing business environment; e.g., disruptive technology, global competitor, emerging-shrinking-expanding markets and ensuing challenges…

Intervention is the framework for implementation of change designed to create must-have outcomes, as well as, positive impact on sustainability of organization. Change interventions are unique for each business and organization. A strategy that delivers results for one business or organization environment, need not necessarily deliver same or similar results for another, even within same industry. Copy-cat approach seldom yield results. 

Business growth and sustainability hinges on continuously innovation and intervention; e.g., global initiatives, customer retention, resource management, technology adoption, employee incentive, work culture… Change through innovative intervention is the name of game. It’s worth noting that normally there are a number of interventions for any one situation.

The trick is to find the intervention that best suits the culture and available resources of the business. The aim of intervention is to improve business and organizational performance. Most successful innovative intervention strategies involve, typically, six steps:

Step 1: Identify the business driver(s) for which you’re going to develop an intervention strategy.

Step 2: Set a goal for the business driver(s), and the goal should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time constrained (deadline).

Step 3: Identify and list the factors that you know are causing the business driver(s) to be at the current unacceptable level.

Step 4: Identify the actions that you think will improve the business through an intervention. Think creatively, think ‘out-of-the-box’.

Step 5: Develop a plan to implement the action(s). The plan should include: start time, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, resources…

Step 6: Develop a process to monitor and evaluate results. When developing the process, consider the following: How to monitor, how often to monitor, how to decide whether to continue the intervention (criteria).

An intervention strategy is the only way to turn a business around or move it from good to fantastic. You can make a significant difference in your business by developing an effective intervention strategy. A typical formulation, consists of: Identify the critical business drivers, picked the one(s) that gives the best results, analyzed it, developed intervention strategy, assign responsibility for it, decide how frequently to monitor results and decide when to decide whether it was all worthwhile or not. This is a huge achievement…

In the article What Are Business Intervention Strategies? by Candace Webb writes: Business interventions can turn the red ink into black ink: Business intervention methods target the area of weakness in the company in question. Whether the company is in a downward spiral and needs to be saved, or moderately successful and trying to reach next level, understanding how to implement appropriate business intervention strategies can help make the effort successful. For example, two potential areas for intervention are:

  • Marketing Intervention: Determine who the company’s target customers and narrow the target market. Check competition to discover price, customer service and product differences. Once you have identified these, put a marketing plan together that illuminates your company’s strengths, especially in areas where competition is weak. Use unique techniques, including; social networking sites, giveaway promotions, email blasts to boost sales…
  • Streamline Overhead: Take a long, hard look at your overhead costs. It can be costly to not re-evaluate. Avoid unnecessary costs by remaining flexible with regard to schedules, shipping  and overhead. Put together early retirement packages for costly workers to help reduce expenses. Hold contests for employees to submit their ideas, e.g., travel, duplication, energy-saving…

In the article What Are Business Intervention Strategies? by Jacquelyn Jeanty writes: Business intervention strategies are different approaches that enable businesses to affect significant change within its organization, process, structure… Change can take place within overall structure of an organization or within certain parts depending on desired goal. Circumstances that warrant intervention strategies include; adapting to global markets, mergers, acquisitions, product developments, market share…

According to the ‘Free Management Library’: Business intervention strategies are a way to work toward pre-defined goals or to deal with unforeseen circumstances that develop within organization. Business goals often require change to take place at some level for the business to grow and develop. Organizational issues concerning; personnel, morale, high turnover rates… can also warrant the use of business intervention strategy as a means for improving productivity and work relations.

Certain strategic approaches may target a business’ overall structure while others focus on the processes that make a business run. Business and organizations, typically follow certain systems that define its administrative, management, production processes… and how these different processes integrate with one another.

Business intervention introduces alternative processes designed to change how a system operates, either on a global scale or within specific areas. Intervention made within management structure alters a business’ overall reporting process. An example, a company goes from a hierarchical, ‘top-down’ structure to a functional structure where individual teams act as self-directed units.

Other strategies target specific processes involved, such as; marketing, sales… and looks for areas where change may bring about a better outcome. Still other strategies play role in situations when problems develop within organization, for example; low productivity, workplace burnout… or, problems that develop in particular product line. In these cases, business must intervene with specific steps to change the factors (e.g., work hours, worker incentives…) that contribute to negative conditions, and implement remedies that will improve or fix the problem(s)…

In the article Does Your Office Need an Intervention? by Cheryl Dolan and Faith Oliver write:  It’s good business to keep employees satisfied, motivated, and working hard, but not every company is so lucky. In fact, many organizations are bastions of dysfunction, where overwork and stress fuel negative and aggressive behaviors. For example, take bullying– one of those behaviors which tends to spike up during stressful times.

One recent study states; ‘37% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 54 million Americans) report being bullied at work, an additional 12% witness it– 49% of workers. Simultaneously, 45% report neither experiencing nor witnessing bullying: A silent epidemic. If this sounds like your company, maybe office intervention is needed. Some say dysfunctional workplace behaviors, such as; bullying and aggression, are just part of work, that they don’t affect the bottom line, and that people should just ‘knock it off’, and get back to business.

But the result of this type of thinking has deep, negative impact on business. The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person– or, of an organization. It impairs analytical thinking, creative insight, and problem solving’, says David Rock of ‘Strategy+Business’. For example, in one such company; an employee engagement survey revealed poor morale, rampant relational aggression; a bully at the center. Leadership ignored the dysfunctional dynamic and staff members weren’t held accountable.

Leadership must be intimately involved and fully responsibility for changing the entire environment and state of the workplace. Most important, leaders must do what it takes to create a thriving, safe, and functional workplace. Office intervention is the only way to combat dysfunction in the workplace: The key is to create a context of trust, mutual responsibility, and mutual accountability...

Change involves moving from one condition to another. Change is not necessarily innovation, but an organization that implements fundamentally new way to reach and serve its customers has achieved innovation. Organizations are changing at record pace to keep up with business environments that demand more value and performance.

Some organizations are doing better job of changing to meet new performance requirements. These organizations know change is the rule and that they need to master change to continue to thrive. Managers who have guided organizational change have experienced the reality of running the business while changing the business. Running an organization and changing an organization are two very different kinds of jobs each requiring different skills and mindsets…

One important point to bear in mind is that the effects of different forms of intervention to initiate change are never neutral; it always creates winners and losers. Intervention doesn’t always work in ways intended, or in ways business theories predicts it should. Part of the risk of intervention is that the ‘law of unintended consequences’ often comes into play– events can affect particular strategies: People and business rarely behave precisely in ways expected.

In judging the effects of intervention, consider these factors– Efficiency: Does intervention lead to better use of people, resources… Effectiveness: Does intervention lead to desired outcome, increased value, cost-effectiveness… Equity: Does intervention affect one group or function more than another, and unfairly creating negativism in organization… Sustainability: Does intervention impact or affect other opportunities or limit future business alternatives…

Business leaders must have the skills for strategic intervention, and integrate these efforts across the entire organization. The rush to get things done and need to meet  stakeholder expectations has forced roles of leadership to shift. Unfortunately, many leaders today find themselves ‘doing’ the job rather than providing the vision and passion to drive innovative strategic intervention…

Business is like sex. When it’s good, it’s very, very good; when it’s not so good, it’s still good, but with a little intervention it’s better. ~George Katona

Thinking Backwards– Sometimes Things Work Best in Reverse, Inverted, Opposite: Think– Outcome vs. Solution vs. Process…

The human mind, once stretched by a new idea, such as, thinking backwards.., will never regains its original dimensions ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thinking backwards is not original thinking… and so it’s said, in one form or another, but it’s very effective in business. Know exactly what you want the project, product, merger… to look like at the end. Know exactly what you want to achieve. According to Phil Wiley; start with the end in mind and work backwards. Draw a picture of it, maybe just in your mind but not the steps of how to get there, just the outcome. Only then, when you can picture the outcome, should you sit down and work out how to get there…

According to Mark Zimmer; most of us naturally think of time as an arrow that always points from past-to-future. Then, why do it… why think backwards? There are very good reasons and some of them are not only compelling but fundamentally necessary… For example, consider a safety inspector at a plane crash site trying to determine what could have caused the crash.

This is an investigation of a fatal series of events, which must be traced backwards until the root cause is found… But also, there are very practical and creative reasons for thinking backwards, and these are more than just exercises for the mind.

According to Jim Green; he calls it reverse plotting or inverted thinking to arrive at the outcome. Inverted thinking forces the brain to think outside the box and stimulates action by focusing your thoughts on the outcome before tackling the daunting task of providing a solution…

In the article The Power of Backward Thinking by Wray Herbert writes: Our mind shapes our emotions, thoughts, and language. For example, just consider a few common phrases: He is a  forward thinker. She is much ahead of her time. Like locomotion, the mind seems to value, naturally, what lies in front of us.

Psychologists think this powerful bias has deep evolutionary roots. Forward motion is what our ancient ancestors did when they felt safe, unthreatened. When they confronted something aversive or perilous, they would retreat. Over eons our evolving brain added layers of emotion to these deep-wired impulses that will approach and avoid.

A team of Dutch psychologists took this basic idea and ran with it. If avoidance and retreat have to do with danger, they wondered, is it possible that backward motion might actually recruit more brain power than forward motion? If threats are problems to be solved, shouldn’t actual and emotional retreat require greater attention, concentration? 

The psychologist, Severine Koch and colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen, decided to explore this possibility and ran this simple experiment in their lab: They had volunteers walk just a few steps, either going; forward, backward, left, right. Then immediately took the Stroop test. This test has names of colors printed in different color inks; the word blue, for example, might be printed in blue– or it might be printed in red or yellow. The volunteers, then were asked to try very quickly to name the color of ink rather than read the word. It’s cognitively very difficult to quash the impulse to read, so fast and accurate responses are taken as an indicator of focus and concentration.

The results, reported in the journal Psychological Science, were intriguing. Those who had walked just a few steps backward were far more focused and attentive than were any of the others. Their physical retreat triggered increased mental control– presumably because of ancient link between threat and vigilance. Thus, confronted with a problem or difficulty, it’s more advisable to take a step back and think about the situation, literally.

In the article Thinking Backwards by Eugene Mason writes: Where do we start? You can almost visualize a set of stairs in front of you. What will it take to reach the top? Instead, first consider: Where do we finish? This is a more thought-provoking question up front, and it usually leads to major rethinking of process along the way.

Thinking backwards can lead you to the heart of the matter much earlier– while keeping focus on the ultimate goal throughout the undertaking. For example: In a military operation, mobilizing the logistics of the operation are considered from finish to start. That means getting all of the things; that are needed, where they are needed, and when they are needed. In essence, the battle is won or lost from the very beginning based on whether or not all people, equipment… are assembled in the right place at the right time.

Similarly, business projects… work in exactly the same manner: Success is based on whether or not all the elements are assembled in the right place at the right time… For that to occur, it’s necessary to consider the outcome first and work backwards from there. Defining success early on is hard, because it often forces us to rethink the initial concept.

The concept is great, but it doesn’t always fit in the overall plan, as well as thought: Thinking backwards means being flexible in planning and allowing for changes along the way as a concept matures and all the consequences become known. A flexible person keeps its eyes on the prize and will bend when necessary. Never let the concept become the finish line, it’s just a tool. I’ve seen many instances where the finish line is changed to meet the concept. It may be just relaxing a rule to allow certain people to participate or lessening expectations when things get tough.

Be careful not to mix flexibility with compromising of principle. In working backwards, it’s important to keep your focus on the road ahead (or rather, behind). Place markers; along finish-to-start to gauge progress, and as you work from start-to-finish. Working backwards is all about determining what assets you need to get the job done, from the outset, then making a plan to get those assets in place…

In the article Thinking Backward to Move Sales Forward by Gordon Bayliss writes: Sometimes you have to think backwards to move the sale forward. That is, asking good questions for the benefit of the customer, not the sales rep. For example; When will you order? Is a question that benefits the sales rep. To benefit the customer the question has to help the customer think through their planning, decision-making, and buying process.

To move the sale ahead, help the customer think backwards. When you ask a question for the customer’s benefit, it increases the customer’s trust, rapport improves, and getting at the truth (real answer) is easier. Making the sale and getting an agreement gets much easier, too. How can you ask a good question about when a decision will be made?

For example; the question: If I can save you some money will you buy today? Is hackneyed and over used. It also puts pressure on the customer. Besides, they’ve heard that question from every sales rep that walks through their door.  Okay, so you might think of asking your customer this– If you decide that you want this done, regardless who you pick– us or someone else, when would you like it done? Well, that’s better, but the question still benefits the sales rep and not the customer.

Sales people must look at things from different perspectives and act accordingly in order to move the sale forward; this means– start at the end.Instead of asking just one question, consider a series of questions starting with the end in mind and moving backwards. For example, ask the customer questions, such as:

  • What’s your dead-line to see the results from this solution?
  • What’s your dead-line to implement solution in order to see results?
  • What’s your buying process for getting this type of solution approved? What other approvals are needed?
  • What’s your time-line schedule; adding in all– preparations, proposals, reviews, updates, changes, decisions, approvals…?
  • What are all the things you need to make your decision an easy one?

This is an example of backwards thinking that will move the sale forward. Then, follow those fact-finding questions with a couple more, for example:

  • When I send you my proposal: What are all the things you want to see in it? Is it (the proposal) to convince or confirm?

In the article Thinking Backwards versus Moving Forward by Caroline van Kimmenade writesI’m not sure why, but I think most of us tend to think backwards. For example; when something happens in our lives, we tend to go back in time to figure out why the event took place. It’s classic cause-and-effect thinking. If something happens now, it must haven been caused by something else which happened before. Makes perfect sense. Yet, somehow, it never gives satisfying answers. In fact, it never really gives any answers.

On the other hand, you know those moments when you sit back and look at a disastrous event in your past and realize that because of that event– you ended up here. We tend to refer to it as ‘positive thinking’, or ‘making the most of things’. When you collect enough personal anecdotes of– ‘because of that I ended up here’– a new possibility takes shape:

A new mental map, so to say. Instead of routing all incidents direct into neurological spaces that contain– relevant past memories (e.g., lost in haywire of little tangled routes…) they pass through one simple station only. This station would have a sign saying: ‘hmm, I wonder what this is preparing me for’. There, the rational significance of the event itself will end… Thus, final destination reached, no further to go brain-wise… back-out into the real world where the action is…

Thinking backwards changes the focus from whether something might happen to how it might happen. Putting yourself into the future creates a different perspective… According to Michael Roberto; some people will often find, to their surprise, that they can construct a plausible scenario for an event they had previously thought unlikely. For example; as a mental exercise, start with the assumption that some event you did not expect did actually occurred. Then, put yourself into the future, looking back to explain how this could have happened…

Some of Gary Klein’s work on pre-mortem exercises is similar to thinking backwards; pre-mortem involves imagining what a post-mortem analysis would look like before you actually launch a new project… in the organization. Both thinking backwards and pre-mortem exercises helps to discover and evaluate different scenarios for how the future might unfold…

It’s often argued that decision-making involves two types of thought processes; backward and forward reasoning. That is, when making predictions about the future, one first looks backwards in time to understand the determinants of one’s present position.

In Roman mythology, the god Janus was porter of heaven and guardian deity of gates; it’s commonly represented as a head with two faces– one facing forwards and the other backwards…

Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards ~Soren Kierkegaard

The Zeigarnik Effect: Drive to Finish and Need for Closure– Business, Marketing… Spielberg, Lucas, Rowling…

It wants to be finished… subconsciously remembering that the tasks was never finished… the desire of our minds to end uncertainty and resolve unfinished business… it’s ‘need for closure’– The Zeigarnik Effect.

The Zeigarnik Effect is about the human tendency to remember uncompleted tasks more than the tasks already completed. When people manage to start something they’re more inclined to finish it. What the Zeigarnik Effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting– something, sometime, somewhere… anything. Don’t start with the hard task, try something easy first. Once you’ve made a start, however trivial, there’s something drawing you on to complete the task.

The Zeigarnik Effect is named after the Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (1926), who noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served, but little recollection of the completed orders.

Zeigarnik went back to her lab to test out a theory about what was going on with  waiter. More than fifty years after Bluma Zeigarnik  study, Kenneth McGraw and his team returned to conduct the same study. The conclusion in both studies was that once people start something, they are more inclined to finish it. There is, however, one exception to the Zeigarnik Effect; it won’t work unless you are actually motivated to complete the task or achieve the goal. The Zeigarnik Effect says our brains hold-on to unfinished tasks; in other words, we like to finish what we start.

Here is what Wiseman says about the research: Procrastinators frequently put off starting activities because they are overwhelmed by the task in front of them. However, if they can be persuaded, or can persuade themselves, to work on the activity for ‘just a few minutes,’ they often feel an urge to see it through to completion.

Research shows that the ‘just a few minutes’ rule is a highly effective way of beating procrastination and could help people finish the most arduous of tasks. It is also a perfect application of Zeigarnik’s work – those few minutes of initial activity create an anxious brain that refuses to rest until the job is finished.  

Zeigarnik ascribed their results to a ‘state of tension’, akin to a cliffhanger ending: Your mind wants to know what comes next. It wants to finish. Psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls this a ‘need for closure’, a desire of our minds to end the states of uncertainty and resolve unfinished business…

In the article What Can Zeigarnik Teach About Productivity? by TimoK writes: This  ground-breaking theory states: people tend to remember incomplete things better than things which are completed. You may recognize this effect in your everyday life. If there is a task or anything else that is not finished, it keeps popping up in your mind – until it’s done.

The issue with too many unfinished tasks is that your brain keeps processing them– whether you are aware of it or not. But as soon as the work is completed your brain capacity can be freed up for something else. The best way to handle this situation is to organize your working methods. In order to take advantage of the Zeigarnik Effect, do the following things:

  • Define your ‘why’: It all starts by defining your ‘why’: What is the ultimate goal you are trying to reach?
  • Apply the right strategies: Once you know your goal, then apply the right strategies.
  • Clean your task list: Evaluate each task: Is this task contributing to my goals? If the answer is no, then you know it’s time to let go of that task.
  • Know your optimum working times: Once you have the important tasks on your list      and you want to finish them, figure out your optimum working times.
  • Do it at once – with breaks: Once you get to work, try to get as much done at once as possible– with some proper breaks (use walk away time).
  • Pick the right environment:  Find the optimum place for work, so that distractions (phone, e-mail…) are minimal.

In the article The Zeigarnik Effect by psyblog.com writes:  One of the oldest tricks in the  television business for keeping viewers tuned-in and returning, to a serial program, week-after-week is the– cliffhanger. Then, there are those fateful words: ‘to be continued…’ So, you must tune in next week for the resolution, because the mystery is ticking away in the back of your mind.

The great English novelist Charles Dickens used exactly the same technique. Many of his works, like ‘Oliver Twist’, although later published as complete novels, were originally serialized. His cliffhangers created such anticipation in people’s minds that they would anxiously wait for the next installment…  What these examples have in common is that when people manage to start something they’re more inclined to finish it.

Although the technique is simple, we often forget it because we get so wrapped up in thinking about the most difficult parts of our tasks. Although, Zeigarnik Effect has an important exception; it doesn’t work, when we’re not particularly motivated to achieve the goal, or don’t expect to do well.

This exception is true of goals in general: when they’re unattractive or impossible we don’t bother with them. But when we value the goal and think that there are possible, then taking the first step is the difference between success and failure.

In the article Zeigarnik Effect explains…Why by Mindhacks writes: Bluma Zeigarnik was a student of one of the proponents of so-called Gestalt Psychology, Kurt Lewin, and this school of psychological thought that first brought up the issues of foreground/ background awareness and perceptual processing. But, how does this all relate to business and questions of unfinished marketing headlines, email subject line, stories, videos, books, blogs…?

You may have heard a professional public speaker use a technique called ‘opening up a metaphor’, which simply means the speaker usually begins their presentation with an introductory and engaging story. Then, cuts-off (unfinished) at 80-90% story completion, ideally (the cut-off is done) at point of maximum suspense. Why? It keeps the audience’s minds open and alert, carefully listening for when the speaker will finish that last missing bit of information on ‘how the story ends’.

In the process, the audience is more attentive to the speaker’s presentation, which is exactly speaker’s intention and purpose of the ploy. However, downside of this technique is that the audience might have a strong response to the ploy (unfinished story) and they may actually begin clamoring to hear the end of the story; in fact, yelling: Hey, you didn’t finish the story! It turns out the strength of response or Zeigarnik Effect is strongly correlated to Myers-Briggs personality dimension– Judger/ Perceiver: 

More you tend toward the Judger end of the spectrum, the higher is perceived  ‘need for closure’ for having the story finished. Conversely, if you tend toward Perceiver end, you may notice that something was left unfinished, but you may not really care that much; there is no real ‘need for closure’. Luckily for public speakers, most people fall somewhere in between two extremes. Now… applying the Zeigarnik Effect to this piece, the writer says; well folks… ‘to be continued’… Some marketing gurus call this Zeigarnik Effect the ‘most hypnotic’ marketing technique ever.

The Zeigarnik Effect is applied in many very interesting ways, in the world, all around us. Television serials use this all the time, the unresolved ending that makes you want to come back every week for more… The human mind is motivated towards and likes closure and because people tend to remember unfinished or unresolved things much more than things that have been completed.

According to Issamar Ginzberg: One of the most powerful things that writers and many other types of businesses can do to increase sales is simply to add the words ‘volume one’ to the book or product – because humans, by nature, love to collect things, and when you have ‘volume one’ of a series and then you want ‘volume two’; the hoarders and collector mentality wakes up and wants you to have the complete set. This is also why newspaper articles often finish on another page – to get you to find the ending; and by looking for the ending, you page through the paper, coincidentally, looking at other stories and ads.

That’s why in many publications there is a little black box or logo at the end of each article. This lets your brain know it’s done with this information and can move on. We don’t like things just hanging around; we want things to be brought to completion. Once things are completed, we can safely forget about them…

Author and psychologist Buffington described the Zeigarnik Effect by stating that people tend to remember negative experiences and feelings longer than positive ones. Moreover, people also feel a greater level of impact from negative messages than positive ones. These results suggest that tasks tend to be forgotten or not remembered because the motivation to perform them is fully satisfied.

Thus, there appears to be little motivation to recall tasks that are finished, while there’s a strong investment of interest in unfinished tasks that continually refresh the memory. Creating closure and completion can become a major avenue for significantly lowering your stress levels and accomplishing more…

However, you can outsmart your brain and save yourself a lot of trouble just by remembering these two principles: 1. Start a task and you are more likely to finish it. 2. Once you finished a task, you are more likely to lose interested in it.

Inevitability of Mobile– Payment, Money, Wallet..: Trillion Dollar Industry with Concerns for Security, Privacy, Hacks…

Why use mobile payment?– It’s fast and easy– It’s fun– It works– It doesn’t seem like I’m spending real money– I don’t have a bank account or credit card…

Mobile payment, also referred to as m-payment, mobile money, mobile banking, mobile money transfer, and mobile wallet generally refer to payment services operated under financial regulation and performed via a mobile device. Mobile payment is an alternative payment method. Instead of paying with cash, check, or credit cards; consumers can use a mobile phone to pay for a wide range of services or hard goods…  

Mobile payment is being adopted all over the world in different ways. The combined market for all types of mobile payments is expected to reach more than US$600 billion, globally, by 2013, which would be double the figure of February, 2011. For example; PayPal alone processed US$4 billion in mobile transactions in 2011, up from US$750 million in 2010.

Most of PayPal’s growth, in this area, comes from facilitating purely mobile transactions. But perhaps the bigger battleground is the use of mobile devices to pay at physical ‘point of sale’ (POS) in stores, restaurants… Both Google and Apple have begun to develop mobile payment technologies, such as; ‘contactless payment solutions’– ‘near field communication’ (NFC): Google’s offering leverages its Android platform smartphones to allow users to pay for purchases and receive targeted ads and discount offers.

Apple has a number of patents, suggesting it sees iPhone developing into a ‘contactless payment solution’.  Then, there are third-party companies, such as; ‘Square’, which has made tremendous progress with its mobile dongle that allows smartphones to be used as card terminals. But the battle is just beginning. In the physical world there are three clear success factors that have not yet been adequately addressed. These are:

  • Value to consumers: Does the mobile payment mechanism offer the same or improved convenience as cards or cash? In the absence of a clear convenience benefit, adoption will have to be bought with discounts or loyalty points.
  • Value to merchants: Merchants have long disliked the high interchange fees charged by card issuers and merchant acquirers, but to date none of the mobile payment challengers has offered a solution that significantly undercuts this model.
  • Ubiquity: Promise of the mobile wallet is that you can leave your traditional wallet at home. This only works if you can use it everywhere – and we are a long, long way from that.

In the article The Fragmented Future of Mobile Payments by Rebecca Greenfield writes: The future of mobile payments is highly fragmented, making the promise of digital wallet on smartphones a lot less exciting. Having a phone act as a credit card makes things faster, more convenient and might even lead to more bargains. But, the way things are panning out, only people who meet specific smartphone, bank, and credit card company criteria can join in on the fun.

As of right now, Google’s mobile payment system only works on Sprint smartphones with Citi Bank Master Cards. For others, there’s Verizon, who has teamed up with T-Mobile and AT&T to work on its version– Isis, which will begin trials next year. Visa too, is apparently in the works for its own mobile payments system. Also,  don’t forget third parties like; Square, Venmo, ZipPay…, that allow users to pay using smartphones who have their ‘apps’.

These solutions can work as replacement for wallet system, and theoretically could work better than ‘Google Wallet’, but only if and when most specific locations accepts the third-party payment system. Thus, there are two types of fragmentation that are happening in mobile payments world: There are wallet payment systems, like Google Wallet, Visa…, where the service is only as useful as having the single credit card…

Then another fragmentation; occurs at the retailer level where only stores with compatible card readers can accept it; even with Google Wallet or third-party services. While the number of retailers accepting the solutions has grown, it won’t become a replacement until a majority of retailers offer them. Here it’s analogous to Netflix and streaming movies; their system is a nice supplement to ‘cable’, but it’s not a complete replacement… and the same idea can be applied to mobile payments…

Currently, all mobile payment services can only be used with specific credit cards, at specific retailers; but, it’s a supplement and not a complete replacement. So now, users have to load smorgasbord of mobile payment systems or apps or both; or settle for the current half-hearted solutions.

In the article Mobile Payment Security Concerns Put Brakes on M-Commerce Market by Christopher Brown writes:  A report from ‘Mobio Identity Systems’ says; that more than 90% of North Americans would make a mobile payment, if they knew it was secure. The survey of 1,085 people across the continent reveals that security is main reason why mobile payment has not grown as fast as expected.

Intriguingly, at present, 80.5% of those questioned said they would consider mobile payments as an addition — rather than a replacement — to traditional payments; despite overwhelming interest in the technology regardless of age, sex, or country of residence. The mobile payment market has not grown as fast as expected, says Mobio, citing a ‘Generator Research’ report stating revenues in 2009 were $68 billion, although they are expected to rise, exponentially, to $633.4 billion by 2014. The report concludes: If the security concern can be eradicated, the m-payment market may finally reach its long-anticipated exponential growth. The main findings from the research are:

  • 94% of respondents would make a mobile payment if they knew it was secure.
  • 73% said security was the most important factor in making mobile payments, with 12.4% saying simplicity and 8.5% speed.
  • 51% of respondents have made one or more mobile payments within the past three months, and the most active group is aged 25-34 years.
  • 82% of respondents see themselves making a mobile payment within the next year. Those aged 18 years or less were most confident, with 88% saying yes.
  • Men were consistently more confident in using the technology than women across all questions posed.

In the article What is Future of Mobile Money? by Dan Rowinski  writes: Questions abound: When will mobile technology take over standard payment transactions? What will the new system look like? Pew Research teamed with Elon University and tackled the idea of– ‘the future of money’.  In a previous Pew survey found that 21% of mobile smartphone owners had used mobile banking services. Of those users, 90% checked their balance and recent purchase activities. Of ‘app’ users, 46% had purchased a mobile banking ‘app’ on  their mobile device. Only 12% of mobile smartphone owners have made payment with a mobile device. 

In the Pew and Elon report, based on a sample of 1,012 Internet experts and other users, they found that these results are likely to change; but, not as soon as many  mobile payment services providers would like. Many experts have said– mobile payment is a market in infancy, and that real noticeable change of user behavior is between two and three years away. Because it’s the time it will take to separate all options that are emerging for mobile payments, and determine which system(s) will emerge as dominant.

This aligns with responses to Pew’s questions to Internet experts on what ‘wallets might look like by 2020′.  Of Pew’s respondents, 65% agreed with the following statement: By 2020, most people will have embraced and adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards…

But, in contrast, it’s interesting that 33% agreed with the following statement: By 2020, payments through the use of mobile devices will not have gained a lot of traction as a method for transactions. The security implications raise too many concerns among consumers about the safety of their money. Cash and credit cards will still be dominant method of carrying out transactions in advanced countries…

There are many reasons, some are conflicting, that consumers will or will not adopt mobile payments in the next few years. Yet the conversion of money (currency) to transactional information, will continue. As Amber Case said in the Pew report: When credit cards arrived, checks did not disappear and neither did money. Some systems may emerge that use completely smart payments, but there will be other forms of payment available…

Money is becoming more invisible, more abstract, and consumers may remain nervous about exposing it to devices and systems that are not yet standardized, and whose security is constantly being questioned. But there’s too much money to be made by those who have already invested in mobile payments, and consumers will soon be ushered into a new era, nervous or not. Proven systems built on mobile connectivity and increasingly flexible means of exchange provide a tipping point in shift towards cashless society. The ability to replace cash with digital money transferred via mobile smartphone is one of the next big things for over a decade.

Proponents have for years been predicting widespread use of mobile payments for range of activities, e.g., transportation ticketing to buying Starbucks to entertainment venues… They posited that this would all first take off in technology-savvy European markets, probably led by partnerships between banks, IT firms, and mobile operators. What few recognized was that regulation and willingness of consumers to make the shift would be such a barrier; what even fewer experts saw was that serving ‘unbanked’ populations in Asia and Africa would be the catalyst for change.

The principle has been proved that innovation often occurs when– the need for change is greatest. Look to Asia and Africa, where there are few banks, poor physical infrastructure and rural population that are often dependent on remittances from other locations. In a survey conducted by University of California, it indicted that U.S. consumers would shy away from using handsets to pay for purchases, if it means giving up personal or data-tracking data. An attitude that mobile payment providers may find worrisome as they push out mobile and e-wallet technology to the masses within the next few years…

Beyond issues of consumer security and privacy, mobile payment must also deal with other obstacles for widespread adoption of mobile payment technology and that is; sheer number of mobile payment systems options will be overwhelming. However, as reluctant as consumers are; mobile payment is inevitable, and another step in the increasing digitization of money.

As economies move from gold-to-cash-to-numbers in bank accounts; money has become just another kind of information that can be moved and tracked by computers, and now mobile devices. It’s a shift that has profound effects on financial institutions, governments, consumers…

The future is about mobile– payment, banking, money, wallets… It’s successful in many countries… and, U.S. is actually lagging behind other economies, but it will happen… it’s just a question of when. ~Kagan



Storytelling in Selling– Vanishing Skill: Making the Incredible Feel Credible… Power of Stories and Narratives in Selling

To hell with facts! We need stories! ~Ken Kesey … If you don’t feel it, you won’t remember it. ~Bob Dickman

There are three key skills that define a great salesperson: ability to ask great questions, ability to listen actively, and ability to tell great stories. According to Tom Searcy; you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about the first two; but– what do you know about storytelling?

Stories have become increasingly important in the world of selling. They can be a powerful tool for getting the attention of prospective customers, because they’re memorable and allow you to easily differentiate yourself; they help people understand and connect with what you do.

According to Michael Bosworth; for most of 190,000 years that humans have been alive on this earth, they’ve learned their most important information, including; survival skills, culture, religion… through stories. The human brain, in fact, is wired specifically; so that stories, and storytelling, have a much stronger emotional impact than information that’s presented quantitatively or according to some other emotionless structure.

Stories appeal immediately to the right side of the brain. As soon as somebody hears ‘once upon a time…’ or, ‘I’d like to tell you a story about the time…’ the listener relaxes and goes along for the ride. The connection during the story can remain between the two people long after the story is over, leaving the top sales reps with a connection that others can’t achieve.

Effective storytelling captures the hearts and minds of the target audience… and is a critical skill in the business world: At Nike, senior executives are called ‘corporate storytellers’. The 3M company banned bullet points and replaced them with writing ‘strategic narratives’. Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood directors to teach their executives storytelling techniques.

Business schools have storytelling courses to their curriculum. According to Paul Smith; the difference in business success is storytelling… great leaders do it well… mediocre ones don’t. Here are few pointers:

  • Keep it real: Concrete ideas are more memorable than abstract  ones. Tell stories that relate to the audience in a way they can ‘wrap their head around it’.
  • Appeal to emotion: Humans make emotional decisions, so your stories need to touch the heart.  
  • Use the element of surprise: Stories that have sudden twist or surprise are memorable.
  • Recast your audience into the story: Put your audience into the plot of the story. Make them ‘walk it’ with you. Their involvement makes it more memorable than just telling them about it. Get them to ‘taste it’.

In the article Selling Isn’t Telling—But, It’s Storytelling by Chris Arlen writes:  The first lesson in sales is that selling ‘isn’t telling’– you can talk at customers– but, that won’t get them to buy. Now, consider the notion that selling is storytelling — but, before you let word prejudices get in the way, think about this: Stories and storytelling are the most effective form of human communication.

Stories increase audience listening and retention. They are tools to transfer knowledge and provide social cues about how knowledge should be applied. Our brains are wired to think in narrative structures and most often remember facts as smaller versions of a larger story. This anthropological reality is the basis for the selling directive: ‘People buy on emotion and justify with facts’.

Research by Daphne Jameson showed: Storytelling plays an important role in the reasoning process and in convincing others… managers preferred stories instead of just abstract arguments or statistical measures. When situations were complex, narrative (stories) allowed them to involve more context.’ In selling, this is exactly the desired outcome; customers listening, engaged, remembering our message, and finally taking action based on our proposed solution.

In a sales context we want customers to be interested in our vision of the future by presenting factual information that’s interesting and persuasive. The most successful reps are those that tell customers the most compelling and persuasive business stories. However, creating great sales stories is more art than science…

In the article How to Use Storytelling in Sales by Wim writes: For storytelling to be effective it must be a good story: A story that’s remarkable, relevant and entertaining. The basic elements of a good sales story are actually very simple: One storyline, one protagonist, and a challenge or obstacle that needs to be overcome.

To make it easier for your prospect or customer to identify with the story and the protagonist; it’s essential to make your characters real people… Also use some actual details like– names, dates or numbers to build the story’s framework and make it more concrete. Of course your story should also be compelling and entertaining, so make sure it has an arc and builds-up to a climax.

The perfect sales story has a good balance between action and drama, and speaks to emotions rather than logic. The rest is up to the storyteller. Share yourself as a human being with flaws and all. True energy and passion often come from our struggles with obstacles and our capability to overcome them. These are the stories that touch people and build trust. You simply become more trustworthy as you show that you understand people. That’s why it’s also important to first listen to the buyer’s story.

Get to know your customer by finding out what drives or motivates them. What are their deepest needs, wants, fears and desires? Are they looking for money, status, prestige, safety, comfort, pleasure, fun or do they just want to belong? What are their objections to buying from you? Next you verify whether you’ve actually got the buyer’s story right. If this is the case, then it’s time to retell the customer’s story with a few tweaks and different outcome so that the prospect can visualize his future, which includes you and your solution.

It’s important to understand which emotions drive your buyer, than craft your story to appeal to them. Tailor both the story and character to the listener. In fact, research has shown that people remember 65 to 70% of information shared through a story, while it’s only 5 to 10% for information conveyed through facts and figures. Instead of presenting some boring stats and graphs, take your listeners on a journey

In the article Selling with Stories–Powerful Sales Tool by Ian Brodie writes: Some people are great natural storytellers. They mentally record their experiences as stories and have no trouble recalling them in an interesting and entertaining way. For the rest of us, it takes a little work. What you need to have in your armory is a set of compelling stories – perhaps 6 or 7 – covering a variety of situations where you, your products or services have added significant value.

Then select from stories, as needed, to fit particular circumstances you think are going to be relevant and interesting to your prospect. To craft stories, first think about typical problems your product or service solves, then using actual examples of specific customers, summarize them in a short paragraph…

A few guidelines should help here: Make the story personal. Don’t just talk about a company, talk about a named individual who ‘owned’ the problem that your product or service solved. Your story will feel much more real… Talk about the challenges the person faced. Again, try to describe them in personal terms so that the prospect builds a connection to your story.

Don’t belittle the person – turn them into the hero of the story – they had a problem which (by working with you) they overcame. Don’t spend a lot of time describing what you or your product actually did. Although this might seem interesting to you– it’s the least interesting aspect to your prospect. They’re much more interested in whether the problem you solved is similar to theirs, and what value or benefits did your solution bring.

Close with benefits that the product provided– but, underplay this. Almost add it as an afterthought– as if the tremendous value you brought was just part of everyday business for you. Avoid boasting or self aggrandizing statements.  Armed with your stories you can begin to put them into action in sales situations. Don’t overuse them, as you risk hogging the conversation when you should be listening. Instead, use them sparingly to spark the curiosity of the prospect, gain credibility, and provoke a reaction or question…

Storytelling is a differentiator… facts and figures, specifications and prices all still matter, for certain. But, it takes stories to connect with customers on an emotional level. The motivation to choose one brand over another– when the choices are endless– is triggered by emotion. To get story right– to bring it to life– you must understand two things: 1. What the customer cares about. 2. That storytelling isn’t just telling– it’s selling and positioning, too. Too much telling is where people go wrong with storytelling… the key is to leverage the power of storytelling to sell more and influence people, and get the desired results. 

According to Due Daniels; storytelling enables you to tap into the customer’s personal interests and unconscious desires. He calls this ‘selling the dream’. By ‘dream’, it not only means plugging into the customer’s fantasies, although that certainly can be part of the process. It also means appealing to the archetypal desires and gratifications that operate below conscious and rational awareness.

According to Rolf Jensen; storytelling is an important part of selling strategy… whoever tells the best story, and whoever tells it best, will win. Master storytellers are able to build characters, scenes, and conflict that keep the audience on the edge of their seat, and they are able to use descriptive words and convey feelings the audience can relate to. In a world with so much noise, this technique could be one that makes the difference in your selling success.

In final analysis, whether a story is based on a true story or not; how well it’s crafted will determine whether your audience will embrace it. Because making a believer out of an audience with sympathetic characters and a compelling; can’t-wait-to-hear-how-it-ends storyline– is the single greatest achievement a storyteller can strive for when trying to sell their goods.

Telling a good story is what will impress the customer, but caution– don’t go over the top with the storytelling… The art of storytelling is dying… We live in an age of sound-bites, special effects, snappy comebacks and the 30-second attention span. It seems that no one is interested in taking the time to listen to, or tell a good story.