Using a story to communicate to thousands

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by: John Caddell

Even the most coherent, well-written memo (the Peanut Butter Manifesto or any of Bill Gates' company-wide missives notwithstanding) will impact a dozen or fewer people directly. But a story can reach thousands.

In the new book "x-teams," the authors relate a story of how a Microsoft marketing manager named Tammy Savage raised the entire company's awareness of a new generation of computer users she called Netgeners. And the most important tool she used was a story that described who these people were and how they were different from the customers Microsoft was accustomed to.

These students lived on the Internet, logging on before they had coffede in the morning and hopping on and off until late at night. They were instant-messaging their friends, looking things up, or buying clothes. They took the Internet for granted, using it at every turn as a way to get through daily life.

From these observations Tammy created a story that brought the situation to life [emphasis mine]. Basically, she compared and contrasted this Net generation with the "PC generation" and the "TV generation." … Tammy became a crusader to push the company to figure out how to serve these new, young technology adopters before someone else stole them away. She shared the Netgen story with people in every Microsoft division. "One meeting would result in three more. One person would hear the story, and then they wanted the entire team to hear it… until thousands of people had heard it from the bottom to the top of the organization," she explained. [Ancona and Bresman, "x-teams," p.142]

If you want to communicate something to your whole company, a well-crafted story is simply your best vehicle.

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