Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Storytelling

Learning to Speak the Language

Entrepreneurs inside are surrounded by research, data, policies, plans and PowerPoint decks—great vehicles for communicating the “what” and the “how” or facts and figures but less useful for explaining the “why.” Stories engage people affectively(7) by helping them align existing values with new possibilities, new choices and potential outcomes—critical for enlisting others in one’s vision. Stories help people see why they should change and how they can act. Risk-averse organizations striving for greater efficiency seek success metrics dependent on research and data. But, these tools do little to help EI who are working with new ideas in new spaces. For EI, there is no data to input into existing metric tools. With meager support for how to develop good storytelling skills, entrepreneurs inside learn by trial-and-error to decipher what story components work best for their specific context.

(7) 350.com Workshops: Telling your story workshop developed in collaboration with Marshall Ganz and the New Organizing Institute.

Opportunities

  1. How can we explicitly teach storytelling as part of the entrepreneurship method?

  2. How can we create a new set of tools to promote entrepreneurial action beyond the predictive toolkit of data, process, planning, and metrics?

A tool for convincing and alignment

A tool for convincing and alignment

Scott

Scott on successfully bringing others towards your vision.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvnEwA.html

One of the most fundamental jobs for entrepreneurs inside is convincing others to believe in something unfamiliar, untried, intangible—something that does not exist yet, but is likely challenging the status quo. Facts and figures while critical to making one’s case, do little to manifest a possible future or “sense of inevitability” that can motivate and enlist others. Stories are an important tool for this type of promotion—creating alignment between ideas and individual and organizational values—and for overcoming resistance to act. For EI, the story is a proxy for data. Without the compelling and well-articulated story, there is little perceived value in the idea at early junctures. Chris, who runs innovation and product development at his software firm, views his role as Chief Storyteller. He uses storytelling to help shape new markets for the organization and regularly “[comes] alongside [his] team” to help them keep stories in mind to guide what they're building. As Scott, a VP at a major health insurance company, tries to create new prevention and wellness programs that promote healthy behaviors for his organization’s member base he feels he needs to spend up to 50% of his time “selling” the concept of wellness both internally and externally to partners and customers. And, Jessica, a special projects director within a philanthropic foundation, feels she needs to be ready with her story at all times in order to effectively communicate if asked about something related to her project.

Bridging communication gaps

Bridging communication gaps

Jamien

Jamien talks about being able to bridge communication gaps.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv2TwA.html

Danielle

Danielle discusses getting people to buy-in to her vision.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvoBAA.html

While storytelling can be a powerful tool, it’s important to know and speak the language(s) of those within the organization or community. Storytellers with underdeveloped skills tend to overlook the challenge of discovering what communication and language gaps exist between themselves and their audiences. It takes practice and know-how to learn how to identify these gaps, and to create stories that speak at different levels. Jamien, a food infrastructure change agent trying to link local food consumers and producers together in ways that address food deserts, realized she needed to “become receptive to the times when communication became a barrier.” Jamien realized she needed to understand how people were internalizing concepts in order to craft the right story at the right level of detail. “I would think everyone was on the same page and find out later that it went completely over some people’s heads and others felt like it was overly simplified.”

It’s also important for entrepreneurs inside to realize that storytelling is not a single act but an iterative process. As a university president, Danielle understands how critical it is to create an iterative dialogue. “When you envision something…, you can be at odds with the way most {in the university} have been trained to think. So bridging that gap can be a challenge as a President, because you’ve got to go where they are in their own thinking and understand what are their concerns, what are their fears, what do they see as the potential obstacles and then help move that forward… if there is a gap between you, it’s not going to work. You’re never going to get them to come with you. Allow some time for it to percolate, go back, and continue to listen to work through.”

Progressive Disclosure

Progressive Disclosure

Jeff

Jeff talks about helping others find what speaks to them.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvnPAA.html

Pam

Pam talks about passing the final vision on to clients.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyOYgA.html

Jessica

Jessica describes her process of socializing an idea.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv3GAA.html

Borrowing a term from interaction design, several entrepreneurs inside working in formal roles exhibited a communication technique called progressive disclosure.(8) Using this technique, EIs sequence information and actions across several groups—starting with only a small subset of essential people and then spanning out across the broader organization, in a sense building the market. Scott, an innovator in the wellness space, describes a process where he starts with a one-on-one meetings to get the buy-in he needs and then gradually moves out to enlist leadership as a group, and finally engages “the masses” throughout the company. In this way, Scott progressively discloses his story to build critical mass.

In community-based organizations, the technique is the polar opposite. Community leaders communicate the issue out to the whole in order to identify the set of people who are most passionate about the issue. They then move inward to find smaller groups who take on tasks. The Very Reverend Jeff describes finding those who an issue “calls to.” In a local food cooperative, Jonah feels the process starts after an idea is floated out to the whole cooperative for a “temperature check.” Once the appropriate level of interest in the idea is confirmed, they form small sub-committees to begin transforming the idea into reality.

 

(8) According to Experience Dynamics founder Frank Spillers, the technique caught the attention of user interface specialists at an IBM lab in the 1980’s. The approach was dubbed "training wheels" because the IBM researchers found that hiding advanced functionality early on led to an increased success of its use later on.