Tell Me A Story

September 24, 2021 - 6:25am -- Flora M. Tan
 Tell Me A Story by Lloyd Graff

Every day I hear the cliched laments about the lack of people available to set up machines and run them to make parts customers want to purchase, except when I don’t.

I was talking to a successful entrepreneur yesterday who bangs out nuts and bolts by the millions. He said that he has no problem hiring great people to keep his massive cold headers banging away. 

The shop owner had written me a beautiful fan note mentioning my recent piece about the apple tree that refused to bear fruit for decades. After thirty moribund years, the tree became prolific when it should have been withering. He loved the story, and when I asked him about his own success, he told me it was about having stories to tell. 

Then he told me one of his stories. He built his business using National cold forming equipment. The president of National had never visited him, despite being located nearby in Ohio. He finally stopped by recently to study the company’s ongoing major expansion. After looking around the facility, he asked if he could use the bathroom and the shop owner pointed him toward the men’s washroom in the plant. 

When he came back to the office, his first comment was, “It’s all marble. Your shop bathroom is all marble.” 

“My people deserve only the best,” the shop owner told him.

This is a story I will remember, and it is a story his employees will tell other people in the business. It is a story that will keep his shifts humming while other manufacturers glumly complain that there are no good people available. 

One of the keys to success in business is developing the stories to tell and then figuring out how to put them all out in the field. 

When my children were young, I would often put them to bed later than I was supposed to. They wanted me to tell them stories and preferred an original genre I had developed over the years. I called them “Ooga, Wooga, Mooga” stories for the three primary characters in them. They were original and ridiculous meandering tales that I would make up on the spot.

The kids loved them because they were not out of a book and thoroughly unpredictable. I think the stories made them feel special. Nobody else had ever heard an Ooga, Wooga, Mooga story. As they got older, they begged for them when they were sick or glum. 

When I heard about the marble bathroom story and felt its strength, it reminded me of the bedtime stories and their lingering memory. Now, as they raise their own children, they still talk about them.

Screens and social media certainly have their power today, but the lasting strength of the story told one-on-one is hard to replace. I think the current trend of podcasts replacing magazines, radio, and TV is fueled by the power of stories and anecdotes with the spoken human voice. It makes them sticky in the human brain. 

When politicians, media figures, and business leaders try to make their point by using numbers and data that point out what “the science tells us,” my brain immediately tunes out. 

Please, just tell me a good story.

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