EMPOWER issue 14 'storytelling' Sep 2021
Storytelling is central to human existence. For this latest issue we explore the stories we tell each other and why they should matter to marketers. This i
Issue 14, Sep 2021 Storytelling
Storytelling is central to human existence. This issue we explore the stories we tell each other and why they should matter to marketers. Our writers look at how what we say shapes our behaviour, how we redefine our values and careers, how stories can help us be more optimistic, why squiggly career stories are important, how anyone can tell a story, and how subtle brand stories might save us from cynicism.
Mike Piggott, Editor
Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, Dan Cable, writes about chemotherapy and says the stories we tell ourselves can have a huge effect on our behaviours
VP, Brand at EA, Elle McCarthy, on pregnancy, internalised guilt, speaking up as a leader and breaking societal norms
Author of The Whole Marketer, Abigail Dixon, asks: How do you cultivate a values-based career? Start by defining your values, taking the reins and finding your own path
Founder of Upping Your Elvis, Chris Barez-Brown, says that the stories we tell ourselves shape our very being, and in ten minutes a day we can be more optimistic
Helen Tupper, Co-Founder of career development company Amazing If, on what makes a good squiggly career story and when you should tell yours
Global speaker on communication, creativity and collaboration, Neil Mullarkey, says everyone can tell a stories, you just have to seek them out - they're gold dust
'Over the last 18 months it's safe to say we're fed up', writes Havas Hong Kong's Head of Strategy, Duncan Bell. 'And brands haven't escaped this malaise.'
How do you construe?
Professor Dan Cable's teachings focus on employee engagement, change, organisational culture, leadership mindset, and the link between brands and employee behaviours. Here he writes about chemotherapy and says the stories we tell ourselves can have a huge effect on our behaviours
HOW DO YOU CONSTRUE?
Dan Cable is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School. His research and teaching focuses on employee engagement, change, organisational culture, leadership mindset, and the link between brands and employee behaviours. In this piece he writes about chemotherapy and says the stories we tell ourselves can have a huge effect on our behaviours
Once, I needed to develop a story about chemotherapy...
Every other week for six months, I needed to receive chemo for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At first, I told myself a “poison story”— because chemo is really toxic. It can’t even touch your skin because it will burn you. And I felt like I was letting a medical team inject poison into my body. It was invasive, and I felt strong negative emotions: anxiety, fear, dread, and disgust. I fought back panic as the chemo slid into my port. It made my chest cold and I tasted metal in my mouth.
You can see why my poison story made me feel that I had to fight the chemo. It was hard to get out of bed on chemo days, and I fought back a flight response as I walked into the Cancer Center. I can remember how hard it was to work in this emotional state. I had my computer with me, and there was no logical reason why I couldn’t use the time to work. But it was hard to make progress when I felt that way.
Lee Berkowitz, my doctor and hero, helped me craft a different story. He helped me see that the chemo was medicine, and helped me feel lucky to have it. Chemo was invented the year I was born, and doctors hadn’t figured out how to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma successfully until about 1980. If I had been born ten years earlier, I would have just had to watch the life drain out of me. The medicine story changed a lot for me. It was the same chemicals, but I focused on how it was going to let me see my kids grow up.
Chemo sessions still weren’t fun, of course. But the purpose of the sessions seemed different and my emotions changed from anxiety and dread to hope and gratitude. My reactions to the chemo slid from resistance to commitment, and my resilience and energy improved. I used the sessions to make progress on my work.
My chemo experience taught me something I’m trying to not forget: The story that we generate and tell ourselves can have huge effects on our behaviors and the results that we create.
If we can craft a better story about the meaning of our circumstances, then we can change the way we relate to those circumstances. The result? Better emotions and better outcomes.
Best self-activation, Prof. Dan Cable
When we believe in the why of our actions, we have greater resilience and stamina when the going gets tough. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” It’s all about the meaning that we assign to our actions. For example: what do you think you are doing right now? You could say, “I am moving my eyes,” which focuses on what your physical body is doing. Psychologists would call this a low level of construal -- this interpretation emphasizes the how of our behavior, in terms of how you are moving your physical self. These types of responses don’t assign much higher-order interpretation about why we are doing what we are doing, so quitting has no costs. You could answer, “I’m reading,” which shifts the emphasis from your physical body into an activity with a purpose. “I’m reading this article for a required MBA class” is an even higher level of construal because there is more of a why and not just a how.
Or you might say, “I am learning how to help people be more alive at work.” This answer focuses on learning -- comparing ideas with what you already believe, and updating – and the learning is focused on making a positive effect on others. The why is very strong in this story, prompting you to stay actively involved even if distractions became available.
The research suggests that the higher our level of construal, the more we will stick with the activity when the going gets hard.
There are three steps that any of us can use to get more inspired by what we do all day long, and improve our resilience. And let’s face it: It’s going to be hard to inspire anyone else if we are not feeling inspired.
1) Take charge of your story
Make a life not just a living, Prof. Dan Cable
We have stories running around in our brains about all of our actions. But that doesn’t mean that we have actively chosen the stories around our values. For example, I wanted to be a professor since my first year as an undergrad at University. I loved the concept of getting paid to read and teach. But four years later, when I was pursuing my PhD, I “learned” that being a successful professor is all about publishing, and that teaching was a waste of time. I didn’t believe that when I started my PhD, of course, but after consuming a steady four-year diet of “The important thing is publishing research in obscure journals” I heard myself start saying it myself, and even began to believe it. Sometimes we start to believe in the things that people around us say, especially when extrinsic rewards, like job offers and status, are on the line. When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I stopped teaching. One day I realized, with the clarity that life-threatening illnesses can provide, that my story about teaching was not inspirational to me. And later, when I was lucky enough to not die, I wondered: “what if I can use the platform of my teaching to show leaders how they could help employees get more living out of life?”
I tried it and I found that my new story about teaching was not only more inspirational to me, it was more true to my own past and more consistent with what I had learned: Life is short, and we should get the most meaning that we can from it.
Don’t wait until cancer to improve your story of why you do what you do.
Here is an exercise that can help you identify your existing story (because they can be slippery and subconscious), and can help you find a story that is more true and more inspirational to you. The exercise is based on construal level theory by Antonia Freitas and her colleagues, and consists of considering each task or behavior on your job, and then asking “why?” four times.
This exercise nudges us to (a) recognize what story we currently are telling ourselves about the why of our behavior, and (b) develop a more high-level and meaningful way to interpret our activities.
First, locate the different activities that you invest your time into. There may be 4-5 “big” activities that devour 70-80% of our time, and then lots of smaller activities that are less frequent and less consuming. Use your calendar to make this realistic. Take a week or two that are representative of your activities and write them down. If you like to work visually, put the activities into “buckets” where the size of the block reflects the time you spend on that task. Now, for each of the buckets, ask why you do it 4 times. For example, one of your activities might be holding performance review discussions with employees. So, ask “why do I do this?” -- and then really listen to the answer that you hear running around in your head. You might hear back: “because I have to… twice a year.” Or you might hear: “I want to let my people know where they stand.”
Prof. Dan Cable on engaging employees and bringing our best selves to work
Whatever the answer is, write it down and then ask “why” a second time: “Why do I have to?” or “Why do I want to let my people know where they stand?” The answers you hear might not be inspiring, such as “because it’s part of the job (this is such a low level of construal that you really can’t even ask why again).
Or “because HR withholds my raises unless I turn them in signed.”
Or, the answers might start to sound inspiring to you: “so that people can know how they can reach their career goals.” And a third time: “Why do you care if HR withholds your raises?” or “Why do you care if people know how to reach their career goals?” And so on, for one last iteration.
There is “a” right or a wrong answer, there are many alternatives. What we are trying to do at this stage is figure out what story you have imported from your environment, across time. It doesn’t mean that the story is “true” or that you can’t change it.
But the sad thing is that many of us are not even aware of how we are construing our behavior, and we might not be very impressed by our stories when we hear them.
Andrew Carton, a professor at Wharton, revealed a similar process when he analyzed NASA during the 1960s.
He found similar steps that, at the time, helped employees ladder between their work and NASA’s higher-level purpose and ultimate aspirations. Consequently, employees were able to construe their work not as lower-level, short-term behaviors and tasks (“I’m building electrical circuits”), but as the pursuit of longer term objectives (“I’m putting a man on the moon”) and the greater purpose the objectives (“I’m advancing science”).
2) Choose the right story
Step 1 might have revealed that some of your stories were at a low level of construal
(e.g., “because I have to”) which leaves us uninspired and not very resilient in the face of adversity. Other stories might have shown you a high level of construal is possible and more stimulating (e.g., “I’m not building circuits, I’m advancing science”). You might find that the higher your level of construal, the more “buckets” can be interpreted at means to those meaningful ends.
Step 2 is to choose the story that is most personal and useful, for you.
The same behaviors and activities take on very different meaning to us depending on the stories we tell ourselves about what we are doing. If we choose more meaningful stories about our work based on personal values, perspectives, and experience, we can interpret our impact in better ways and light up our selves up. The story that inspires you only has to be true to you -- you do not need to “sell it” to anyone else for it to ignite your own positive emotions and resilience.
Ironically, however, it will be these positive emotions and resilience that inspire the people you lead.
Take Candice Billups, for example. She has worked for over thirty years as a janitor at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan. On the one hand, Billups could focus on the low level of construal -- mopping floors and refilling soap dispensers. However, Billups interprets her work in a different way. She says: “I am basically there for the patients . . . my relationship with the families is really important to me . . . I see myself as a positive force at the Cancer Center.” Billups focuses on the why of the work in a way that is meaningful to her (helping patients through a difficult time) rather than repetitive physical tasks. Of course, both are true—but we have latitude to focus on one story or the other. Which story helps more?
Billups’ story affects her emotions and behaviors.
She invests in getting to know patients and their families to understand their needs. She brings a positive attitude to help them smile even in the difficult circumstances. Billups says she humanizes the hospital for patients: “You have to understand that when they come here they are very sick. They don’t want come to an environment where everybody is frowning and pouting, and there is a fighting amongst each other. So I try and always, always have a smile.”
As a leader, you could focus on getting promotions or making more money. This construal is sometimes effective in the early stages of our careers, but many of us find that it is not very inspiring once we have our promotions and lots of money. The goalpost on “financial freedom” just keeps getting higher as we make more and more. This story might not leave you very resilient in the face of adversity later in your career. Another story you could adopt is: “As a leader, I help people put more living in their lives.” This is a very high-level construal for your leadership activities.
For many leaders, this answer puts considerably more meaning into work,
and as I describe in Alive At Work, you don’t need money to help your team experience more excitement, enthusiasm, and purpose in their work. This is a powerful way for many to think about the why of leadership — as a chance to light up employees.
3) Match your behaviors to your story
So far, we have identified task buckets and then found the highest level of construal that you can believe in to make the work more stirring to you. The final step is to allow your story to affect your work behaviors. That is, in addition to “re-purposing” the meaning of your activities, you can change the activities themselves.
We know that different employees in the same job have different interests and strengths. With the speed of environmental change increasing, job descriptions and job titles are becoming less standardized, and more personalized. The way that one employee or team best interacts with customers and produces a final product or report may be very different from another employee or team -- even when they hold the same job title. But it is not just the organization that benefits through job crafting. The research shows that when employees find personalized ways that their jobs can add more to internal and external clients, it ignites them. It builds their enthusiasm, engagement, and sense of purpose. As individuals change the boundaries of their jobs around their strengths and interests, it affects the way they define themselves as workers and as people.
What might be less obvious to us is that we can craft our own jobs without waiting to be asked.
It is so common to assume work is something that we have to do because we need the money. Many of us forget about the possibility that we can do more without being asked or paid, just because it boosts our enthusiasm. For me, this step was simply a matter of talking with my classes more about the power of purpose, and sharing evidence-based ways of putting more living into life instead of teaching students “best HR practices” like SMART goals and annual incentives.
Or consider Charles, who was in one of my classes. Charles started off in sales at the beginning of his career. When he interacted with people and made a sale, he got a rush, and he felt alive. He was so good that after only 18 months he was made a sales lead, with 4 people on his team. Mostly, he still was a salesperson, but occasionally this role meant he did a bit of managing, but he said it “didn’t get in his way too much.” So Charles still liked what he was doing and was still very good at sales, so he was promoted again two years later, to sales manager. Now, 20 people reported to him.
The good news for Charles was that he was making about 3x more money than when he started; he had a nice new Mercedes. The bad news is he wasn’t very enthusiastic about his job anymore. He didn’t really get out into the field often, maybe only twice a week. He missed talking with customers, he spent the majority of his time in what he called “bullshit meetings” about sales cycles, or performance management, or new product launches, or market segmentation, or the new organizational structure.
Charles grew bored at work -- as his income was his highest, he felt like an “order taker,” just processing things that didn’t mean much to him.
Charles repurposed his job as developing great relationships with clients, and then he tried a small experiment at work.
Each week, he went into the field to visit one client. Not with the intent of selling anything, just with the intent of connecting with clients. So he would go to a supermarket and talk with the manager about what was selling, what was new, what was surprising. Or he would go to a distributor and talk with people about the trends, what was moving in bulk, what was being returned. He didn’t do this because it was part of his formal job description. His supervisor didn’t ask him to do this. He did this on top of all his regular deliverables.
Charles learned two things from his experiment, which moved from one client a week to several clients each week. First, he was surprised by how many of his other tasks took on more meaning for him when he applied the higher level of construal. For example, if he was interviewing a job candidate, he found he now had fresh stories and new examples to talk about. If Charles was meeting with a salesperson about their performance, he could identify more with the market and what they were facing, and he felt more relevant in helping them develop better relationships with their clients. If he was sitting in a new product meeting, he could connect the product to the trends he’d talked with people about, and would get back in touch with clients with the new information.
Second, Charles learned that he could still make sales. He found that the best way to make sales is not to try and make sales, but talk with people about the problems they are facing, just because you want to know. Talk with people about what they’re excited about, and really listen.
This “off the job” investment connected Charles to the market, but ultimately he increased the share of wallet with many existing customers and he enjoyed doing it. He got that salesperson’s buzz when he was driving back to the office with a new order, which made him feel more enthusiastic.
Or, consider Dr. Dorothee Ritz, the Microsoft country manager in Vienna. Dorothee matched her leadership behavior with her construal of helping employees learn about the purpose of their work. She selected a set of key customers across industries ranging from car manufacturing to retailers to hospitals. And then fifteen people from Microsoft— a team ranging from senior leaders to associates— went on- site at each company and asked lots of people at lots of different levels: “What are your challenges?” They talked to people in IT, of course, but they also talked with business decision makers across different functions.
Nobody told Dorothee that this was her job. This was an experiment that aligned with her own construal of what leadership is for. Dorothee says that these immersion experiences were enlightening for people and increased their sense of purpose. Employees dove into their projects with more energy and enthusiasm after they had witnessed the clients’ needs themselves. And, these investments have been good for business, because clients like to be listened to and many good ideas emerged from the meetings.
Is chemotherapy poison or medicine? Of course, the answer is both. But interpreting chemo as a weapon in the fight against cancer improves patients’ emotions and resilience Your story about why you do what you do is not objective— you can’t see it or touch it. You might not even be aware of the story that you’re telling yourself about the why of your work activities.
But your story is very real in one sense: it affects how you act and how others respond to you. You will find that it is possible to change the story you tell about your work activities, and the evidence suggests that you will feel more inspired, energized, and resilient. Change your behaviors to match the best story you can believe in, and you are more likely to inspire others and make your own work more meaningful.
Dan's book, Alive At Work is available to buy now. He also hosts a brilliant podcast called Squeezing the Orange with comedian Akin Omobitan, where they unearth social science’s hidden gems.
Finding your purpose: A less intimidating approach, Dan Cable
This article first appeared in the Harvard Business Review - with Dan's permission it's been edited and adapted for this issue.
The stories we don't tell: reproductive rights and work
VP, Brand at Electronic Arts, Elle McCarthy, on pregnancy, internalised guilt, speaking up as a leader and breaking societal norms
THE STORIES WE DON'T TELL: REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS AND WORK
VP, Brand at Electronic Arts, Elle McCarthy, on pregnancy, internalised guilt, speaking up as a leader and breaking societal norms
“So tell me what’s happening in your life?”, the CEO asks.
It’s over a decade ago, I’ve just joined a new agency and he’s asked me to go for a drink with him, saying he takes all new starters out to get to know them better. I’m thrilled at the chance to impress and have written down some ideas I want to talk to him about. I’ve brought my notebook with me, which sits limply unopened on the sticky Marylebone pub table. “Boyfriend?”, I answer yes, we’ve just moved in together. “Oh dear”, he says, “You’re not planning on having babies any time soon are you?”. I answer no too quickly. Why did I answer that? How could I not have? What if I had said yes?... I try to bring the conversation back around to work, he glazes over and orders another round, “Gin and tonic for my companion.”
I didn’t know then that him asking the question was an HR violation - or that his interest was actually because he would later sexually harass me until I left. At the time I received a message loud and clear - this man, in his power, felt that he had a right to my decisions about my body because I worked for him.
Over a decade later, I’m 7 weeks pregnant after trying for a long time. I haven’t told anyone yet, despite being in a role where I feel valued for what I do. I’m on a call with a colleague when suddenly I start bleeding. I say, “A family member is calling me, I’m sorry, it’s urgent” and of course he says, “Please, go, take the call”. A blurry trip to the ER where my husband and I are convinced it’s all over, ends with a doctor discharging us. She shoves a piece of paper into my hand, “Don’t mind what it says, you’ll probably be fine but we have to write this. We will see what happens in a few days”.
The luminous orange form they discharge me with reads in all caps: THREATENED ABORTION. PUT NOTHING UP THE VAGINA.
The next day, shaken and exhausted, I’m back at work, unsure what to make of mine or my baby’s prognosis, and still bleeding. It takes a week to get confirmation of a healthy heartbeat and we continue to take things day by day. I tell my colleagues I’m expecting a few weeks later, which is still earlier than is advised. They are happy for me and supportive. From that moment I give myself more off-camera time when I need it.
At the twenty week scan I’m given a devastating diagnosis and have to take two days off to take hospital tests. It turns out to be a false alarm.
My body is a hot mess and my nerves are shot to bits but I still feel guilty every time I take time away from work for anything associated with my pregnancy.
Vox: Why LGBTQ rights hinge on the definition of "sex" | 2020 Election
This guilt is something I’ve internalised.
First and Second Wave Feminists before us fought hard to be seen and treated equally, but that sometimes meant masking what they were going through, assimilating despite having different needs. And to my surprise, I catch myself doing the same. This comes in part from the toxic interactions I’ve had, like the anecdote about my old boss. It also comes from society constantly sending women messages we can’t help but absorb. For example, the state-backed maternity leave policy in California is more liberal than most. But still, women are given six weeks protected leave for a vaginal birth, and eight weeks for a c-section, as though these are the greatest variable factors rather than being just two amongst many others; delivering pre-term, tearing, the baby’s health, postnatal depression, support level and more.
For many in the LGBTQ+ community, up until recently, workplaces didn’t account for their reproductive rights at all. One story shared with me by a woman took my breath away:
“It’s been 7 years but I recall when I needed to take time off for the birth of my new baby from the ad agency I worked at and they only provided me one week paid of 'bereavement leave'. My wife carried and gave birth to our son and there wasn’t a policy in place for same sex partners and parental leave at the time. I imagine their policies have changed since then as government policies have changed, but still it’s not that long ago and still shocks me to this day that they only offered me a week off and that bereavement leave is the only available category to indicate why I was taking the time off. I took a month unpaid just so I could actually be home.”
The language ‘bereavement’ relating to its opposite event: a birth - is so disturbing and dehumanizing. The fact that the company didn’t have a policy in place at all for non cis-gender couples is far worse.
California today does acknowledge that both partners, irregardless of sex or gender identity need the same amount of time to bond with their children.
Why doesn't the US have paid parental leave?
This is good in theory because it decodes parents from the binary of ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’. And because male partners taking a similar amount of ‘bonding’ time to women, can help decode women as the default primary care-givers. But men rarely take this time at the start of the baby’s life or take it all in one go. I wonder how many men feel like they can’t? So, I put the question to an online group of marketers. One person replied with brutal honesty. “My first child was at a consultancy firm where they made it clear my primary marriage was to the company. When I had my second child I worked in a culture where there was A-track or Mommy-track.” Another wrote on the experience of taking leave, “Nothing was asked other ‘when will you be back?’. Given the massive near-future change in your life that will impact your professional life I was surprised. I think it speaks to the US societal separation between church and state - work and family.”
My husband plans to take his ten weeks immediately after me, and whilst he has a handful of colleagues who did the same, he has also experienced more than one person suggest he takes the leave later, ‘when the baby is more fun’. In these instances he explains that he needs to be the primary caregiver for those ten weeks of our childs’ life and that he also wants to do it, as we don’t have any family here to support us. Disrupting the expectations around gender and parenthood can start to happen as people model different ways of being, and talk more openly about their needs but this must expand to reproductive rights generally.
Back when I was trying, a colleague shared with a group of us that she had gone through egg freezing and documented the process on Instagram - the hormone lows, the exhaustion, the many injections that she had to give herself. I remember watching her videos and feeling so grateful to her for making them. It was a window onto a human experience that I had been lacking. It gave me greater understanding of and empathy for that journey. At the same time, I was going through my own different fertility journey, something that I didn’t share. Looking back, this is probably because I felt the subject was taboo. But fertility struggles are common, natural, painful and require some work and time commitment to work through. The fact that I masked this process goes against everything I try to practice. I talk about mental health with my team, I share that I am in therapy, we talk together about our life-work balance in that order. And I have spoken and written about how faking it until you make it doesn’t open the door for others who face deeper layers of discrimination than me as a cis white woman.
Around the time of my ER trip, New Zealand launched a new bereavement leave policy for miscarriage.
It struck me the that I had never heard anyone talk about miscarriage at work or seen a panel on miscarriage in a professional conference. This can be added to a long list of other reproductive rights issues from IVF to egg freezing, to adopting, to fostering and more. A few weeks after my ER scare, I did share what I had been going through with my boss and some colleagues and they often shared in return, something I’m incredibly grateful for. I’m now 30 weeks pregnant, experiencing the new joys and challenges that come with the third trimester and embracing it at work. And I’m making a commitment to speak up more about my own experiences and needs. By reflecting, speaking up, learning and translating those learnings into how I show up as a leader I hope to become a better ally to all people who need better provisions made for their reproductive rights.
Let’s start by breaking societal norms and telling more of the stories we don’t tell.
New Zealand Law Puts U.S. To ABSOLUTE Shame
Reclaim your marketing career
Author of The Whole Marketer, Abigail Dixon, asks, how do you cultivate a values-based career? Well... the story starts by defining your values, taking the reins and finding your own path
RECLAIM YOUR MARKETING CAREER AND GAIN FULFILMENT
Author of The Whole Marketer, Abigail Dixon, asks, how do you cultivate a values-based career? Well... the story starts by defining your values
Overwhelm is the overriding emotion marketers express to me...
Overwhelmed by the increased breadth of their role, the pressure of commercial responsibility and accountability, the constant evolution of the profession, with new approaches and techniques that they struggle to find the time to upskill on, struggling to find work-life balance, with PowerPoint decks being the focus of most evening activities.
And this was all before the pandemic.
We are now experiencing heightened levels of stress, with reduced opportunities to recharge, now being tasked with ‘Covid recovery’. Marketing should 100% be the function that leads this, but we are being tasked to do it with minimal energy in the tank and very little fulfilment in our souls.
For all its downsides the pandemic has brought, it has also provided time outside of work to slow down and reflect on what it is we truly want from the careers and our lives. Leaving many unanswered questions like is this the right role? company? Brand? and now having experienced the benefits of flexible working and in most instances a better work life balance, this is something, they quite rightly, don’t want to let go of.
In a recent survey of 25,000 marketers, nearly 80% predicted a wave of resignations is about to crest; 49% say they are planning to quit their job. Alongside a desire for more flexbility, marketers are fed up with monotonous, uninspiring work. They are concerned about the ethics of what they are doing and feel they are marching towards burnout.
Further, the World Values Survey found the pandemic has led to a greater emphasis on ‘social solidarity, equality, community, self-determination and freedom… an increased focus on free individual choice and the non-material aspects of life.’
This shift in values is vital in understanding ‘the great resignation’ (a term coined by Management professor Anthony Klotz). It is also fundamental to understanding why marketers are taking stock and realising their careers are falling short.
Marketing is a challenging yet rewarding profession, and I want marketeers to fall back into love and regain their spark and passion for their profession, to not only be successful at what they do but also fulfilled. To feel empowered and supported to take the reins of their marketing careers and make it theirs, personal to them.
For me fulfillment arises when we are spending time doing things that play to our values or we closer to our goals. However, defining your values and goals, requires you to develop a personal understanding about what it is that you value on a deep-rooted emotional level and time and energy to gain the clarity around your goals.
Cultivating a values-based career
Value are not what you do but the motivation behind why you do them they are the energy and motivation behind your goals. They are activities, behaviors, beliefs, and qualities that matter to you and make your soul come to life. They are intrinsic to who you are and what you deem of importance in life. Ultimately, values are principles by which you want to live your life and set the framework for your decisions. When there is alignment between our career and core values, we enjoy greater satisfaction and fulfilment.
However, if you are one of the thousands about to resign, consider whether changing jobs will remedy the issue and allow you take the step back. Simply put, if you aren’t clear on your values, this new story will likely be a repeat of the last.
As Nadine Singler, Head of Marketing and Sustainability at Krispy Kreme shared in my latest book, The Whole Marketer:
“I always knew when something didn't or did feel right to me but up until I figured out my values and purpose, I couldn’t clearly articulate why. Discovering my values and purpose has helped me clarify what is important to me and therefore enabled quicker and better-informed decisions.”
As Roy Disney (Walt Disney’s brother) said, ‘It’s not hard to make a decision when you know what your values are.’
Roy Disney, 1971
So how do you define your values?
So how do you define your values? There are many approaches and techniques, which can be found in my book The Whole Marketer or via the resources tab on the whole marketer website.
To define your values the key elements and approach is required, the first is to take the time out to reflect and uncover, with honesty and openness to truly listening to your internal voice. To reflect and look back on moments on your life that hold significance, both positive and negatives to define why these moments hold significant, what you were gaining or losing from these moments.
To work towards defining and naming your values. Having identified you values it is important for your too provided a definition of what they mean to you. As your definition of values is what makes them yours. One of my values is growth - which is evolving and learning but to someone else that could be about physical or spiritual growth. Having identified, start to reflect, and embody these auditing your life about what is and isn’t playing to your values now, what you can add into your life, through work, past times, to proactively play to them to gain fulfilment.
Values: the foundation of a whole marketer
Ask yourself this question - is my career as a marketer really of my making, or is it happening to me, not for me? Do I really know how to make the most of this amazing rewarding industry and profession, or am I stuck? That is why it’s so important to develop the personal understanding not only to do a great job, but to create a career that works for you and your life. To take the time out to dream big without limitations about what you want for your life as a whole, and the work you want to do, for which organisations, that will allow you to play to your values and purpose.
Few of us, however, take the time to define our values, but doing so brings insight, awareness and a foundation for our decision making. There are many techniques and tools available to help you do this, some of which can be found in The Whole Marketer.
Becoming a great marketer, or a whole marketer is someone who possess the technical skills to be at the forefront the industry, to successfully lead the commercial agenda, possess and the soft and leadership skills and behaviors to make to build a deep-rooted emotional understanding of their consumer and customers, and able to lead, motivate and empower cross functional teams to bring plans to life but also the personal understanding to gain fulfillment.
A marketer who is motivated and passionate about their career and is developing themselves holistically appreciating that knowing about yourself is just about as important as the latest marketing trends or developing technical, soft and leadership skills. It’s what, how and why, we need to possess to become a whole, rounded, holistic marketer. You will never feel whole as a marketer, and as a person if you don’t know and understand what drives and motivates you.
This will be relevant to how you interact with prospective employers (including through your CV and in interviews) and with your existing team (to define ways of working).
The Whole Marketer approach supports passionate marketers to take the reins and find own their path.
To live their lives wholly, fulfilled, and passionately as marketers but also as an individual. Create a career and Life by design, where it isn’t happening to us but for us, is really the goal for the whole marketer. Creating this new wave all starts with you and your values and creates the wave for other marketers in their career to develop holistically. For support and empowerment to be a whole marketer take the reins go to www.thewholemarketer.com.
The stories we tell...
Author, speaker and founder of Upping Your Elvis, Chris Barez-Brown, says that the stories we tell ourselves shape our very being, and in just ten minutes a day we can be happier and more optimistic
THE STORIES WE TELL ABOUT OURSELVES SHAPE OUR VERY BEING
Author, speaker and founder of Upping Your Elvis, Chris Barez-Brown, says that with just ten minutes a day, we can be happier, less anxious, and more optimistic
These may be stories about our past heroics or about lamentable tough luck or about a dream of who we will become.
Regardless of the story and the context, what we tell ourselves has enormous power. Many of our stories are well practised and rehearsed. They have been told many times to many people and our partners, families and dear, dear friends are polite enough not to draw attention to their repetition.
There are other stories however that might never see the light of day and yet offer profound impact on who we are and how we use our unique talents. These are the stories that we may not even be aware of and yet dictate so much of our daily reality. These stories live deeply within our subconscious.
This presents one hell of a challenge for us, as what we think is what we feel.
And with 95% of our processing happening in our subconscious; most of us have no idea about what’s truly important to us or why we're having a good day versus a bad.
All of which means most of us find using our talents in a meaningful way on what really counts day in day out is an impossibility. But there is a way for us to understand the stories we tell ourselves and to bring them out of the shadows of our subconscious and into the cold light of day.
In doing so you will get your head straight and start to understand how these stories impact the way you show-up. You then have a choice on how to deal with them, which unlocks a little bit of wizard like magic that puts you in control of how you’re living and working.
Just by devoting 10 minutes per day for 10 days to getting your stories out; you will become more happy, less anxious, more productive, more optimistic, more satisfied with life and way more dangerous.
Talk It Out is a super simple human approach to understanding what's in our subconscious.
It can transform the lives of millions of people on this planet.
And we want you to embrace the opportunity. We have just completed a test of the Talk It Out app with the NHS, working with Unilever to conduct the research through their data for good programme.
Each person started their day by doing a Talk It Out for just five minutes. What that practically means is talking into the app as you walk outside about your day and what is the most important thing for you to focus upon.
We call this your ‘Big Thing’. What people notice is that they have a lot of stories about their day and how they “should” be spending their time. After a while of walking and talking they get through their conscious stories and start to access the ones living in their subconscious.
It's obvious when you uncover something important to you because you feel it in every cell in your body. Energetically you get a mighty kick. That’s a clue that you’re honing in to your Big Thing. The Talk It Out app captures these moments for you, giving you absolute clarity on what your focus should be. Each person then ended their working day by doing the same thing, but this time reviewing how they did on delivering their Big Thing.
And that’s it! Super simple to do, with some powerful results…
- Anxiety scores decreased by 37%
- Happiness scores increased by 20%
- People dealing with problems well increased by 42%
- People thinking clearly increased by 46%
- Life satisfaction scores grew by 38%
And those interviewed all experienced an enhanced focus on what matters most. Our ambition is to provide the Talk It Out app to anyone who needs it on the planet, for free. We are determined to help people’s well-being regardless of their situation. But we need help to do this. We need to now test it with more organisations to see how it fares in different contexts.
The more data we get the more we can make sure we reach the people who need support with their wellbeing most.
And so, we’d love to test it with you, the wonderful Marketing Society members. And best of all, it won’t cost you a penny, but you can get results like those above for you and your people.
If you have at least 100 people in your organisation and you’d like to help them to get their heads straight, be more productive and just feel better - we would love to hear from you.
We’ve already got experiments running with Nike, AstraZeneca and Unilever so far.
Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat about getting an experiment going with your people too. Your stories can then be used to energise and not debilitate. And most importantly by working together, we’ll be helping to make the world spin better for millions of people who desperately need support with their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Why stories are important for squiggly careers
Helen Tupper, Co-Founder of award-winning career development company Amazing If, on what makes a good squiggly career story and when you should tell yours
WHY STORIES ARE IMPORTANT FOR SQUIGGLY CAREERS
Helen Tupper, Co-Founder of award-winning career development company Amazing If, on what makes a good squiggly career story and when you should tell it
As marketers, we’re well versed in the importance of telling stories to connect with consumers and convince our clients and stakeholders to move forward with our plans and proposals.
When we lead with stories rather than stats, our messages are shown to be 22 times more sticky. I see this reflected so much in my own experience. When I worked in innovation for Capital One, I once went shopping with a customer to talk about how they used their credit card. It transpired that on that particular day, her card was frozen in orange juice in her freezer (it meant she had to wait 24 hours for it to defrost and couldn’t see through to the numbers while she waited!).
This conversation sparked an idea for a ‘credit freeze’ product that was considerably less messy. And, when I worked at E.On, a customer who described having a bath in water heated by solar panels as being like ‘bathing in sunshine’, inspired a new way of thinking about the language we used alongside complex technology. These stories helped me to sell concepts internally and secure the funds turn ideas into reality.
But, storytelling skills aren’t only important for the success of the brands and businesses we work for, they are increasingly important in helping people to understand our careers. And transferring the storytelling talents you develop in your day job to how you talk about your career development can significantly increase your opportunities for growth.
The career ladder, a concept that has stuck around for over 100 years, had the benefit of making career development simple. In a predictable and linear world, providing you were happy to stick to the path you started out on and follow in other people’s footsteps, you could quickly explain your career journey through a series of predictable and logical steps. In interviews, career ladders gave people a short-cut to understanding ‘you’ and what you ‘do’. We didn’t need stories to bring our journey to life. Our steps did the talking for us.
However, the ladders that moved so many forward people are increasingly starting to hold people back. When organisations are faced with constant change, they need adaptable employees who have the ability to upskill and reskill, to learn and unlearn. Employers want to hear from people who have the curiosity and resilience to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty that has become our working norm. And that is where our squiggly career stories come into play. Squiggly career stories are unique and compelling insights into your career journey so far. Rather than focusing on the shiny moments and hiding the mistakes, failures and moves that went wrong, we use these insights to create inform what we stand for and what makes us stand out.
Staircases led to career conformity, squiggly careers recognise our individuality and in telling our stories, we bring that to life for people.
Why squiggly careers are better for everyone | Helen Tupper & Sarah Ellis | TEDxLondonWomen
What makes a good squiggly career story?
1. Squiggly career stories focus on the talents you have developed rather than the titles you have held. These talent-based stories help people to see how you can contribute to the business with skills and experiences they might otherwise have been unaware of.
Trying answering this question: When in your career have your strengths most stood out?
2. Stories about when you have failed and what you learnt from the experience connect with people on an emotional level. Sharing failures shows vulnerability and creates empathy which strengthens relationships.
Trying answering this question: What is the failure that you learnt the most from?
3. When you share stories which bring to life the things that are most meaningful and motivating to you, people get an insight into your values. The more we live our values in our day-to day-work, the more fulfilled and happy we are in. By sharing values-based stories, people can support you to live them more.
Trying answering this question: What is most important to you about who you work with, where you work and what you work on?
When to tell squiggly career stories
Career stories aren’t just for job interviews! The more we share our journeys we other people, the more we open-up conversations about careers and the reality that our success is as individual as we are. The ladders that limit our learning have been replaced by squiggles that enable us to be at our best. Answering the questions above individually or collectively in team meetings is a great way of cultivating career curiosity, building connection and creating new opportunities for growth. I think this quote from Oprah Winfrey sums it up well “Everybody has a story. And there’s something to be learned from every experience”.
I hope this helps you to see the value in your story and builds your confidence to share it with others.
Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper: The best career path isn't always a straight line
Storytelling - oh no, do we have to?
Author and global speaker on communication, creativity and collaboration, Neil Mullarkey, says the good news is, everyone can tell a story: colleagues, clients, customers... you just have to seek them out
STORYTELLING - OH NO, DO WE HAVE TO?
Author and global speaker on communication, creativity and collaboration, Neil Mullarkey, says that everyone can tell a story: colleagues, clients and customers... you just have to seek them out. They're gold dust
Who’d be a leader now?
It’s no good just being good at your own job, you’ve got to be a coach as well, an enabler, yada-yada … and now a storyteller! When did storytelling become a thing?
There are lot of myths about storytelling. Some people think it just means being better at presentation skills. Others whisper deeply about ‘sense-making’. ‘Narrative’ is bandied about in data and tech circles. Or does it just mean, ‘marshal your thoughts better’?
I teach storytelling.
One time I talked through the twelve stages of the hero’s journey. Well, it was for a business school. I droned on about archetypes - the mentor, the shapeshifter - and, oh dear. The story that lots of organisations want to tell is, ‘we want to sell more widgets’ or ‘our thingamajig is the best’ or ‘our whatjamacall will make you happy’.
I could tell you some science behind stories, about mirror neurons that mean my brain ‘acts out’ in a tiny way, in my head (or even gut) what you are describing - movement, emotion, facing dilemma, making a choice - as if I were in the story, identifying with the protagonist. I might convince you that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ so that, if you tell me a compelling story then I want to be your customer, your client or your colleague. But you don’t need any of this to know that we all have a story and that story is the original software - it pre-dates Powerpoint, Excel and even the Biro.
"The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories”, said the anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson.
"People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way round”, said Terry Pratchett.
To illustrate the point I often get people to describe a recent project in two ways. First, with us much management jargon as possible (KPIs, synergy, alignment, values, leverage, straw man, burning platform, transformation, pathway, customer experience, behaviours, trusted adviser, helicopter view, low-hanging fruit, cascade, purpose…)
I’m sure you can add to that list, which contains words that do mean something but may have lost their power through over-use or misuse. I fear that storytelling is going the same way.
Second, they just have to tell it in simple language - the sort their niece/nephew/grandparent/next-door-neighbour-at-a-barbecue could understand. Managers relish the chance to send themselves up, yet readily admit that they often default to buzzword banality.
Neil on soft skills, at the London Business Forum
I ask them to share a personal story.
But then to tell the group not their story but their partner’s one. They are great at this. We begin to realise that we all have much in common. Stories have similar shapes - loss, redemption, growing up, finding love, learning a lesson, victory from the jaws of defeat, a failure that was a blessing - things with which we can all identify.
I see people telling a brilliant story. Then I ask them to talk about their work and they fall over, sometimes literally.
It becomes impersonal, dry and dull.
So, yes, dear leader, you might have to tell your team the story of how we got here, where we are now and where we might go in the future. It needn’t be complicated. It may change over time but there has to be some element of jeopardy, choice, and facing failure. You need to be clear that your people have a role to play in the story, and indeed in co-creating it.
Marketing is storytelling.
Data can be helpful but without a story it’s raw and indigestible. One thing I work on is to be clear about who the protagonist is. Too many firms are good at telling their own story but not so good with that of their client or the end-user. You may have great processes but ‘what’s in it for us’? How will our customer feel?
The good news is that everybody can tell a story. I have seen this time and again. You can improve with practice. That means finding stories, articulating projects and strategies as stories not as congested Powerpoint slides - and LISTENING.
Your suppliers, clients, colleagues and customers have stories to tell. You may find them hard to hear. But seek them out. Surveys are one thing. Stories are gold dust.
Neil Mullarkey co-founded the improv troupe, the Comedy Store Players, and still performs with them every Sunday. He is now an author and global speaker on communication, creativity and collaboration. On 4th October he brings his alter ego to the Comedy Store with his show, “Don’t Be Needy, Be Succeedy”; visit https://www.succeedy.com
And, yes, Mullarkey is his real name. For more info visit https://neilmullarkey.com
Business not as usual: Neil's tips on coping during the current crisis
Can subtlety save us from cynicism?
'Over the last 18 months it's safe to say we're fed up', writes Havas Hong Kong's Head of Strategy, Duncan Bell. 'And brands haven't escaped this malaise.'
CAN SUBTLETY SAVE US FROM CYNICISM?
'Over the last 18 months it's safe to say we're fed up', writes Havas Hong Kong's Head of Strategy, Duncan Bell. 'And brands haven't escaped this malaise.'
Over the last 18 months, it’s safe to say that more and more people have become more & more fed up.
Fed up with lockdowns. Fed up with Zoom calls. Fed up with sour dough. Fed up with traffic light schemes. Fed up with quarantines. Fed up with politicians. Fed up with the news. Fed up with everything.
And brands have not escaped this malaise either. According to the 2021 release of the unique Meaningful Brands Study run by Havas globally, 71% of consumers are tired and fed up of brands’ empty promises.
In addition to this, consumers feel that only 47% of brands are actually trustworthy. These and several other findings within the Meaningful Brands survey have led Havas to label this as The Age of Cynicism and I think that most people would gloomily agree with that sentiment.
As we continue to struggle through the Covid-19 pandemic, even the most ardent optimists out there will find it difficult to strike an enduringly positive tone when the daily news cycle continues to bombard us with numbers of cases, hospitalisations & deaths. Combine that with new words we’ll undoubtedly start hearing more of such as “boosters”, “endemic” & the inevitable “epsilon variant” and that feeling of cynicism is going to be difficult to shake off.
Not to mention the whole climate change thing!
For those of us whose job it is to communicate with people at scale and convince them that they should buy or use our (or our clients’) brands, products and services, this current reality requires expert navigation and sensible caution. Storytelling or creative communication of any kind, whether for commercial or artistic purposes, has a higher risk than usual of being painfully tone deaf.
There are other geographical factors to consider too when considering how to craft a brand’s messaging post-pandemic. In China, the latest announcement from the government concerning the redistribution of wealth and their drive for “common prosperity” has led to many Chinese firms adopting the slogan. Meanwhile international luxury brands that could be associated with the indulges of conspicuous consumption by wealthy Chinese citizens, especially with the revenge spending trend that’s been seen in the past 12 months, have already seen their share prices take a hit immediately after the “common prosperity” initiative was introduced.
Large flashy ad campaigns promoting expensive purchases are unlikely to go down too well in Q4 in China as a result or at the very least, will be less effective.
The safest approach that many marketers will undoubtedly revert too (even more so than they already do) is to focus on the very bottom of the marketing funnel,
attempting to drive as much POS conversion as possible. That means more cheap digital ads, with more BUY NOW buttons, more frequency and more clickbait in the hope that, by showing a picture of your product with a price tag next to it a hundred more times to someone on their mobile screen, it will lead to consumers inevitably succumbing to this online bombardment and converting into a sale (YIPPEE!). As Rory Sutherland has pointed out many a time before, that standard approach will ensure that at the very least you won’t get fired from the marketing team if you don’t sell any more stuff.
It’s the most unsubtle approach. And least creative. And most cynical.
Hence the Age of Cynicism.
This bash-them-over-the-head, hard-sell, digital frequency approach only identifies one reality of the COVID age
– that we are spending a lot more time in front of a screen. It ignores the emotional reality. That’s where creative storytelling has an important role to play. Don’t tell us how your company is going to change the world – the world is screwed. Instead show people how your product or service can give some support during difficult times. How you can provide comfort, safety, security or even just a little bit of fun and entertainment to daily lives. That’s what consumers want – 77% of respondents in the Meaningful Brands study expected brands to show support in times of crisis, yet only 36% felt satisfied with their efforts.
A great example is Budweiser, who skipped their usual Superbowl ad and instead focused on rewarding their vaccinated customers in an attempt to boost inoculation in the US,
showing a socially-led benefit as well as donating part of the marketing budget to vaccine education charities. Not in a preachy or brash way to get some acclaim on social media but actually helping and letting that help do the talking.
Elsewhere, in China, the shift from utilising mega KOLs with millions of followers to incorporating KOCs (key opinion consumers) who have smaller followings and are genuine users of your products is a move to create more authentic, subtle connections with consumers.
Also it could be argued its sharing marketing spend with smaller content creators as well, not just the elite superstars. A redistributive benefit.
Globally, as different places recover at different speeds, this shift to subtler marketing approaches can at least attempt to hit the right tone. The “we’re saving the world” messaging should wait until the world has actually been saved.
As we move from 2021 in to 2022 still recovering from 2020, a subtler approach will be what it takes to be relevant & meaningful in this highly cynical age. And to tell stories that aren’t just full of empty promises.