Posted November 4, 2011 by Kelly MacDonald
The Impact of Storytelling
by Kelly MacDonald-Hill, Partner, Senior Vice-President
As one would expect, when reviewing the many wonderful speakers I’ve had the opportunity to experience at industry events this summer, it’s the stories I remember best. It’s not the stories that simply underline a point that jump to mind, however. It’s the intricate stories, often surprising in their subject matter, their relevance not immediately apparent, that draw you in and slowly reveal a universal truth or insightful perspective that is tied in nicely to the work you do, the issues you face, the goals you aspire to achieve – these are the stories that are reviewed in our minds, that are retold and become owned as our personal wisdom – they affect change in behaviour and in effect change our world.
I have spoken to many attendees of this year’s IncentiveWorks conference who were impressed with keynote speaker and innovation expert Peter Sheahan’s knowledge of the meeting industry and the examples and data he utilized to describe how we can better leverage our assets and position our value to compete in today’s uber complex and demanding marketplace. But it was a story from outside our world that packed the most punch.
Peter told a story about a small insurance company that burst on to the scene a few years ago in the US which has innovated its way to double digit growth in a down economy: Progressive Insurance targeted young male drivers in the 18-24 age bracket. They studied the numbers and discovered an algorithm that showed they could mitigate the risk of insuring young drivers simply by looking at their credit ratings. Young males with good credit ratings have fewer accidents than those without – what’s more – they grow into responsible (and most likely loyal!) adults!! Talk about creating a new market space in a mature industry!! Their next innovation was even bolder – “Why not pay everyone who has an accident?” Sound crazy? It turns out the annual cost of legal fees to investigate claims is more than the cost to simply pay customers claims without question! Wow! What wonderful examples of testing assumptions and thinking creatively!
Another example of the impact of storytelling occurred at this year’s Financial and Insurance Conference Planners – Canadian Regional Meeting. The luncheon keynote was business journalist Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent for The National, and co-host of the Lang & O’Leary Exchange. Amanda felt compelled to provide a reality check and a call to action to her audience. Her concern being that as the global economy becomes more complex and intertwined, we become overwhelmed and observe critical events such as the recent financial crisis and the ongoing precariousness of world economies as a passive audience rather than engaged participants.
She likened her role as a business journalist with a front row seat to the financial crisis as that of a cameraman on “Wild Kingdom”. She recalled watching those beautifully captured scenes on television as a kid: gazelles grazing on the lush savannah, a close up of a swish of the tail keeping flies at bay, a mom, nudging her kid… and then the lion, stealthily surveying all, waiting for his moment to strike, leaps with horrifying speed and power, killing the mom as the baby gazelle runs crying, anxious to catch up with the others. That cameraman, Amanda points out, could have saved the gazelle – but that wasn’t his role.
Amanda stepped out of her role, to urge us to be wary, to be more informed, to be personally accountable to our own financial health and the outside factors that might impede it; to speak out, to hold our politicians and business leaders accountable… This isn’t television; we’re not just an audience. We are the gazelles. She didn’t say that in so many words, but that’s what I heard, and it’s what I have been reliving and playing with in my mind ever since. That is the power of a well-told story.