Knowing your customers’ stories

I recently watched the short video above from Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square. It reminded me of a powerful point.

Your customers always think about benefit from their perspective.

On the other hand, I tend to think about the benefits of my products or service from my perspective.

This is one reason entrepreneurs are sometimes disappointed that their new product doesn’t take off like they would have hoped. They have failed to fully and deeply understand how the product fits into the life of the end user.

So how do you get that perspective? You need to spend a lot of time talking with your customers. You need to understand their hopes and fears. What causes them pleasure? What causes them pain? After you go deep, you can begin to constructive a customer narrative and write the story from their perspective.

Where and how does your product fit in? What problem does it solve?

This approach leads you to the true benefit of your product – solving a need that the customer really has. Take the time to explore the lives of your customers. They will show their appreciation by buying what you are selling.


The beats of a story

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

I love this post at 99u on “The five beats of successful storytelling.” I plan to use this to explore the story I want to tell at an upcoming talk.

As I have mentioned before, storytelling is so crucial in today’s world. There is so much information floating around, the only thing that tends to get our attention is a well crafted story.

My take on the importance of storytelling overtime

  • pre-3000 BC – I would love to write some of this stuff down, but I don’t know how to yet. It’s easier for my cro-magnon brain to process a story, so tell me about the story about that enormous woolly mammoth you killed with your bare hands and I will draw pictures of it on this cave wall.
  • 3000 BC – 2013 – This industrialist work/life balance has really got me down. Can you just send me the excel spreadsheet with last quarters’ sales figures?
  • 2013 and beyond – I have a million tweets a minute coming at me. Lot’s of information, but nothing is sticking. My modern hipster mind would love a story so I can make sense of all of this.

So as you can see from my exhaustive chronicle of time, storytelling is back in. There’s no doubt that good storytelling has always been valued, but I believe stories help us separate the signal from the noise.

So check out the framework and 99u’s article. Try and craft your story doing this…I am working on mine and hope to blog about it in a few days.

A simple storytelling framework

What exactly goes into telling a good story? You need a hero, a villain, some conflict and a little resolution right? Something like that…

Let’s back up a little…why is storytelling important? It’s important because we connect with stories. We share our lives with stories. Personally, I have shared some of my happiest moments with new friends through stories: the story of how I met my wife, the story of the birth of first child, etc. I also have stories that describe times where I felt like a part of me has died with loved ones that I’ve lost. Our lives are a series of stories.

Another important property of a story is it’s ability to channel the complete opposite emotion of what you experienced at the time. Think of powerful stories you may have heard about a person who was without hope and didn’t see a way out. And then someone provides for them in a way they couldn’t have imagined. Or think of a story where someone was extremely embarrassed or frustrated. Years later you’ll be in a group and everyone will now laugh as you the story is told. Here’s a summary:

You were hopeless — your story —> provides hope

You were embarrassed/frustrated — your story —> provides laughter

Storytelling at work…

It’s clear to me that storytelling is important. Those best at communicating their ideas use stories to do it. Here’s an example…you are in a meeting. You propose to a coworker IT that your group needs TPS reports twice a day (and don’t forget the cover sheets) rather than just once a day. For five minutes they describe why this won’t work using generalities. You stop them and ask for a specific example.

At this point your coworker hasn’t been storytelling. Think about the best stories – they are full of details. A picture is painted for you and you are able to experience the story. Why can’t your coworker do the same thing? Here’s a sample response…

“Jane, I’d love to be able to provide your group with TPS reports twice a day. We ended up landing on daily production due to the needs of the marketing group. Let me walk your quickly through our production schedule….once we’re done, I’d love your thoughts on how we can move some of the pieces around to get your group reports twice a day. We start at 5:45am with….”

The framework


Design thinking is centered around gaining empathy for your end user and having them experience a solution. Storytelling is an integral part of this process. In the picture above, the amazingly talented storyteller Scott Doorley was teaching the group this framework. Since the picture is tough to read, here it is:

Once upon a time…

And everyday until…

Until one day…

Because of that…

Until finally…

And ever since that day…

And the moral of the story is…

Here’s a simple example:

Once upon a time there were two tadpole sisters who were the best of friends. And everyday they played together, until the oldest sister turned into a frog. And because of that the youngest sister was lonely and sad. She played everyday by herself. Until finally, she turned into a frog! And ever since that day, her she and her sister have been inseparable. And the moral of the story is sadness and depression can be transformed like the tadpole into happiness and joy.

Practice, practice, practice…

So how do you improve as a storyteller? The first thing I have done is to practice. I play the “storytelling game” almost every night with my daughters. We alternate who takes each part of the framework. It is great fun for her and I’m continuing to hone my craft. You can also use the framework as a group exercise. If you’re in a meeting with 4-5 coworkers take turns constructing a story together.

The next bit of advice I would offer would be to view every presentation, every meeting, every project, etc as an opportunity to tell a story. Think about the opening, the conflict, the resolution and what you learned.

If you’re in the audience, what would you rather listen to? A well crafted story that allows you to experience what has happened on a project, or a deck of endless slides that just give updates on what has happened. I vote for storytelling.

Lastly, spend time talking with great storytellers…maybe even some professionals. How cool would it be to invite a professional storyteller to your office to teach your group how to tell a great story? I’m in the process of trying to set this for my team.

Storytellers are not born, they are made…keep practicing and please share your stories.