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Look for the Bigger Story & The Winter Zumba Challenge

A couple weeks ago, we ran a post about Telling Good Stories. It was about Ben Nemtin and his bucket list of adventures.

Do you know someone like Ben? A person who is a bit larger than life, a riot to listen to, always has an incredible story to tell… in fact, is always doing things that are storyworthy. The world seems to eat out of Ben’s hand, good fortune follows him everywhere. People want to be Ben, date him, hire him.

So what’s the trick to becoming more Ben-like?

Telling good stories!

(Didn’t see that coming, did you?)

Being a good storyteller is an important life skill, but it’s especially critical for your career development. The ability to describe your ideas in a riveting way gets you hired and promoted, gives you more earning power, endears you to team and cements your reputation as a leader.

Masterful storytelling involves 2 parts:

  1. Doing stuff that is storyworthy
  2. Telling stories in a way that draws people to you and creates a lasting impression

Today’s post covers the first part. You can lead a storyworthy life even if you current life story is no more interesting than a sea lion’s.

A lot of people will make up excuses protest that current constraints don’t allow them to live interesting lives. That’s just unimaginative. The average 78-year life is just 683,806 hours (less 1/3 for sleep!). You don’t get a do-over. So make your mark. Get comfortable with the unknown. Do something courageous, spectacular or silly. RIP. THE. HEAD. OFF. IT.

How? If you observe something that could be made better, do it. If you’re curious about why something is the way it is, figure it out. Try new things. Invite people to talk about their ideas and passions. Say hello to someone. Smile. Offer to help or listen. In short, get involved and be sincere. LOOK FOR THE BIGGER STORY.

The Bigger Story

What do I mean by the bigger story? As we go about our lives and our jobs, we’re routinely faced with choices and opportunities to act. At one end of the response spectrum, we can be apathetic, disinterested, lazy, withdrawn, etc. Or we can respond in a way that’s expected, respectable, and average. Or we can look for the bigger story, which entails doing something larger than life, imaginative, and noteworthy.

Here’s a personal example. Promise you won’t blackmail me with it!

We recently welcomed an au pair into our family. Among her many talents: Baking and dancing. The other day, she breezes by me at the gym and says, “I’m taking Zumba if you want to join me.” Oh how nice, except that Zumba and I don’t go together because my I have the sense of rhythm of a sea lion.

On the other hand, baked goods and I do go together. Those are my genetic leanings: Pastries over dancing. So my choices are obvious: Status quo Jen rides the croissant & brownie express, new & improved Jen tries Zumba.

Although me learning Zumba isn’t all that intriguing. But what if I get Gaby’s au pair friends, who have been doing Zumba (and salsa, samba & meringue) since they were niñas to teach my friends to dance and we make a giant dance party like in Footloose or Bring It On? (I know, I have issues.)

Viola. High crash & burn potential + Convincing others to join you on some kind of madcap odyssey = Bigger story. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that there’s an element of crazy to the bigger story. That’s what makes it so fun to tell.

This is the field that Ben plays in. His advice is to dream big (“be ballsy”) then tell others before you can talk yourself out of it. Same formula as my runner friend Kelcey Harrison, who took off from NYC in July in a pair of sneakers to raise awareness of lung cancer and is scheduled to reach Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on December 1.

Here’s what the bigger story sounds like on the job. Some of you may recall this earlier post from Brian McGinty:

When I joined Razorfish in Philadelphia, most of the Analytics team was doing manual campaign reporting.  As a team of analysts we would pull data from different feeds, crunch everything together and load it into dashboard reports to show the client. Not only was the work tedious but the client rarely used the report to do anything.  The whole group was pretty dejected.  I wanted to be doing more cerebral analytics projects, projects that were more exciting and would help our clients drive their business.

I decided I was going to make manual reporting go away and replace it with something better.  I created a “business plan” for how to get from being a group of data jockeys to a team of strategic analytics consultants and showed it to my boss.  I got investment from the company to build an automated reporting engine and provide training to the whole team on more sophisticated analytical techniques.

Time spent on report production dropped from 30 hours per month to 2 and with our extra time we trained ourselves to become experts in advanced analytics.  I created a suite of products and services for our group that we could sell and within a few months we already had more work than we could keep pace with.  We were delivering new and innovative solutions that had real value and revenue from our new department quickly grew to over $5 million.

There, that should get you on the path to storyworthiness.

Part 2 is next week: Becoming a Masterful Storyteller. I’m off to eat a cookie conquer Zumba with a couple gamed-faced Elaines. PS – The au pairs think my idea is fabulous. See that? We’re already impacting international relations.

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