Steve Jobs and Johnny Cash Taught This Tech Leader to Tell Better Stories

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“Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs were master storytellers,” Cameron Craig told me during a visit to Polycom’s headquarters in San Jose, California. Craig should know. He’s worked for both men in black and today transfers the lessons he learned to his role as director of global communications for the video conferencing company.

Craig was a tour publicist for country legend Johnny Cash and also worked for Steve Jobs beginning in 1997, watching and learning for the next ten years as Jobs led one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history. Both Cash and Jobs were performers and gifted communicators in their respective fields. Craig credits both bosses for influencing his communication skills and teaching him to master the art of story.

Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs were master storytellers

As storytellers, Cash and Jobs featured heroes and characters in their narratives. “For Johnny Cash, the hero of his songs was the underdog, the prisoner in San Quentin, the misunderstood youth, the Native-American. He gave the underdog a voice. Steve Jobs did the same thing for another underdog, the ‘mere mortal,’ the person who just wanted to get something done, but the technology was too complicated.”

Craig’s reference to ‘mere mortal’ refers to a line Steve Jobs often repeated. Jobs once told a reporter for The New York Times, “As technology becomes more complex, Apple’s core strength of knowing how to make very sophisticated technology comprehensible to mere mortals is in ever greater demand.” In the Apple narrative complexity was the villain and mere mortals were the underdogs.

Watching his former bosses connect through narrative gave Craig an understanding for the power of storytelling to establish a deep and loyal connection with an audience (music fans or product customers). “You’ve got to tell great, authentic and compelling stories to draw people in,” Craig says.

Steve Jobs and Johnny Cash paid obsessive attention to storytelling to make heartfelt connections with their audiences.

In this second week at Polycom, Craig saw Jeff Rodman, the company’s co-founder, speaking to a group of children at a ‘bring your kids to work’ day. “He had them captivated and I wondered, what is he saying to those kids that’s so interesting?” Rodman told the kids a story about the day he found a 95-cent book at RadioShack, tinkered with an idea for a compact audio speaker, and turned the idea into a $2 billion company with more than 400,000 customers.

The kids—and Craig—were glued to every word. “You have to tell that story a broader audience than eight-year-olds,” Craig suggested. They shared the story publicly and it was picked up by the Harvard Business Review with the title, How I Built a $2B Company by Thinking Small.

According to Craig, “If you search deep enough, we all have these stories inside us.” Craig believes in looking for the hook, the backstory behind a business, service, or invention. Once you discover it, you’ll likely find an audience that wants to hear it.

 

Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker and author of The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t.

 

An Autograph That Tells A Story

I was thrilled to receive an unexpected gift at my doorstep. A mutual friend had given Dwight Clark, the legendary 49ers football player, a copy of my book, The Storyteller’s Secret. Mr. Clark generously sent me a personalized, signed football.

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The signature itself tells the story of one of the most memorable plays in NFL football history.

On January 10, 1982, the 49ers faced Dallas in the NFC conference championship. Quarterback Joe Montana had led a last minute drive to the Dallas sixth-yard line. Only 58 seconds remained in the game. Dallas had the lead. The winner would go on to the Super Bowl.

In a play that now has its own Wikipedia entry, Montana took the snap and Dallas’ fearsome defensive players were about to tackle him. Montana managed to throw a high pass to the back of the end zone. It looked too long. Dwight Clark made a leaping catch that was captured in a photo for the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The 49ers won the game and went on to win four Super Bowls in the 1980s.

Clark’s signature tells the story. He sketches the actual diagram of the play, writes the date and gives the story a title, “The Catch.”

I often say that “everyone has a story.” Now I can know that signatures can have a story, too!

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker and bestselling author of eight books including: Talk Like TED and The Storyteller’s Secret, From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t. Sign up for Carmine’s newsletter at carminegallo.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytelling Rocks at Google

Google organized the world’s information and gave people access to it in a few simple clicks. Today, in the same world it transformed, Google has a challenge. If data is freely available, how does a company stand apart from its competitors?

Meet Avinash Kaushik. His official title is Digital Marketing Evangelist, but internally he’s known as Google’s ‘Chief Storyteller.’ He’s THE most passionate executive I’ve ever met on the topic of storytelling and how it can make massive changes in a company’s business.

“My job is to change the way Googlers tell stories,” Kaushik said during my visit to his Google office in Mountain View, California. Along with a team of 75 people, Kaushik holds “Storytelling Rocks” workshops to spread the gospel of storytelling to 4,000 account leads, sales and marketing professionals who are responsible for billions of dollars in annual revenue.

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“Avinash, when people think of Google, they think of search. They think of data. What role does storytelling play?” I asked.

“Storytelling is a powerful way to get our clients to think differently,” says Kaushik.

Kaushik points out that Google provides an immense amount of data to clients who can use the information to make transformative changes in their business. But a data dump will fail to help customers if they can’t make sense of it. That’s where Kaushik and his storytellers step in. “The size and the scope of the change we drive is so big, that I think it is best done with stories,” says Kaushik.

The Google Storytelling Framework

Kaushik has developed a storytelling framework called: Care-Do-Impact. Like everything at Google, it is carefully measured for its effectiveness. Presenters are even given letter grades on how well they perform each step of the framework.

Step 1: Care. Kaushik recommends that a Google sales or marketing professional spend the first 20% of a presentation explaining the amazing “out-of-sight” that could transform the client’s business. An “insight” is a small piece of information that the client might already know; an “out-of-sight” is knowledge that is exclusive to the company making the presentation, information that can radically change a client’s business.

Step 2: Do. Kaushik suggests that a full 50% of the presentation be spent on helping the client or customer understand what they should do with the information. This step requires account leads to understand the clients’ business in a remarkably deep way. “We’re creating a competitive advantage for Google because we will know more about your business than anyone else who comes to see you,” says Kaushik.

Step 3: Impact. The remaining 20% of the presentation is spent explaining the impact of Google’s ‘out-of-sight’ on the customer’s future success. Kaushik leaves room in the presentation (10% of time) for the speaker to be interrupted with questions.

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According to Kaushik, this framework represents a fundamental shift in presenting data. Where many companies overwhelm customers and prospects with mountains of data, a Google pitch must give equal weight to the data and how it will impact the company’s business.

“There is a massive amount of interest among our sales team for storytelling,” says Kaushik. And the way we’re going to accomplish a shift in culture at Google is to make everyone a storyteller. It’s very exciting. How often in your life do you get a chance to change people’s minds? I tell stories that fundamentally change the way you think about something, and that’s exciting.”

Google has recognized the power of storytelling to propel its business forward in the 21st century.  It’s an important lesson all of us should learn if we hope to stand out in an ultra-competitive global marketplace.

Carmine Gallo is  a popular keynote speaker and bestselling author. His new book is “The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t.”