Inconsistent stories

Storytelling is a wonderful skill when it comes to communication and helping others retain information. It is also capable of influencing behaviours to a large extent. And so it has to be used and received carefully.

Stories that are attractive can be inconsistent. Just the other day, I came across this person who decided to be a career coach because he realised he had put so much time and energy into his work he neglected other important things in life. Having been a top performer at work, he now wants to work with individuals to help them perform well at work. Coaching allows his life to be more flexible and to “help” others.

Somehow, it was hard for me to receive that story. Not that I suspect it isn’t true but the difficulty is the fact that he is now teaching others strategies to progress and do well at work which had landed him outside the corporate ladder in the first place. It would seem like there is some paradox here. Surely, one would not want to lead more of others into the regret of neglecting family and life due to work having experienced the full force of that oneself?

I think it’s great more people are becoming entrepreneurs and creating value as freelancers or solopreneurs. A lot of the work to attract and market involves storytelling and positioning yourself well. At the same time, the story you tell serves as a way to align yourself and the work. An inconsistent story breaks that.

Honest Abe

The Political Genius
The Political Genius

Team of Rivals is one of the rare books I left at camp to be read consistently and then finished within plan. I brought it into camp two weeks ago and planned to have it finish exactly today; I knew that if I was reading it consistently I would finish about 2 chapters per day, which means it’ll take me 13 days for the 26 chapters that Doris Kearns Goodwin penned. I initially thought I might bring home to read over the weekends but resolved to leave it in camp as a material to be read in camp.

The book turned out to be incredibly entertaining and while I could put it down for a drink, a chat or some other minor distractions, I’d be happy to resume reading wherever I left. The prose flows smoothly and easily for me and I love Goodwin’s narration. She makes history seem alive and playing in front of you with the thoughtfully embedded quotes in the narration that is carefully credited at the end notes. The pictures, diagrams and maps included made the experience even more wonderful.

The most important part about Team of Rivals that I enjoyed was the little bits scattered all over the book where Abraham Lincoln related his little anecdotes and jokes to others. From our frame of reference, these all are anecdotes themselves demonstrating the character and personality of Lincoln. One that I liked in particular involves Lincoln telling someone about his dream:

In his dream, Lincoln was at a party where he overheard a guest commenting on him, “He is a very common-looking man.” Lincoln joined the conversation immediately, suggesting “The Lord must prefer common-looking men, that is the reason He made so many of them”. Lincoln was positively amused by the response he gave in his dream.

And having read the book and gotten to know more about Abraham Lincoln, I came to realised that the response in his dream was very real; it was something so characteristically Father Abe. I was naturally drawn to the many other jokes and stories he shared – some I understood, others were perhaps closer to the hearts and minds of those who were audience of his time.

Months ago I bought a little selection of speeches by Abraham Lincoln and I haven’t gone beyond reading his Gettysburg Address and wondering what so great about it. Now that I’m more familiar with the course of his political life and the circumstances in which he made those speeches, I shall revisit the book and appreciate the wonders and influence of his oratory prowess as well as his ability to weave issues into stories for the layman. And perhaps, I’d learn something out of all that.