Growing up in the 70s and 80s was markedly different from what it is now. We, the Generation X (Gen X) world are three to five decades removed from the Generation Z (Gen Z) of today.
Three aspects of life embedded in the psyche of Gen Xers are peer pressure, limited opportunities, and living within one’s means. Born to middle-class parents and living in the circumscribed world of a college campus, in the steel township, accentuated these aspects of life.
Forty years ago, the typical Gen X child had deference to her parents; out of awe and/or dependence. Today, there is a distinct transformation in this parent-child relationship.
So, I am certain this narrative will resonate with my Gen X readers.
The backdrop — An uneasy mix of dread and happiness:
The dreaded days would be the hot and sweltering summer months of May and June, in the steel township. The annual report cards come out at this time. These two months would also be the harvest time of the luscious lychees in our garden. The outer skin (epicarp) of the fruit transitions from a camouflage green to a pinkish-red hue. The red-ripe lychees bedecking the tree is a remarkable sight!
My sight would be on the steady ripening of the lychees, but my mind would be on the calendar dreading the approaching date of the annual academic report. If the report card delivers superior performance, we would relish the lychees with unbridled joy; with the peeled skins and sucked-out seeds strewn all over the house.
However, if the report card delivers a disappointing performance, we would partake in the lychees with a visible restraint, huddling quietly in a corner, carefully placing the skin and the seeds in a bowl….an act conducted cautiously averting the gaze of my stentorian father and the peering eyes of my mother. The latter assiduously trying to find out what did go “wrong”!
“Kahani mat bana”:
When the report card is below expectations, the ensuing, well-worn script plays: The ineffectual ruses and justifications for below-par performance are made. They make no traction in lowering the ire and dousing the frustration of the parents.
Simply, all that “Kahani mat bana” (do not foist your tall tales by externalizing the problem), is what one must sheepishly listen to and uncomfortably stomach.
The business parallel:
Last week, I ran a workshop on Business Communication at a premier technology institute. “Storytelling” as an impactful mode of business communication was a significant constituent of the workshop.
Storytelling is as old as our revered epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. “Business” Storytelling in the contemporary world firmly moved mainstream in the early 2000s. It has emerged as a potent skill in the professional world because it keeps the audience engaged and invariably has a truth well told and helps conclude with an implementable action.
As a Gen Xer, I know for certain storytelling was treated derisively (remember “Kahani mat bana”) both at home and office in our time.
The form of storytelling, which I am now referring to is the nuanced art of “business” storytelling. In the subject workshop, a business situation is modeled. The role-playing CEO communicates the below-par performance of the company and its fallout on the employee bonus pool. The “CEO” communicates the unwelcome news to his “employees” through the modus of business storytelling.
Dialing Back to the 80s:
Now, going back to the narrative of my handling of the dismal score on the report card. I looked back to see where I had faltered in managing the justifiable parental frustration four decades ago.
The report card does not present a pretty picture. The red-lined comments of the teacher highlighting the average performance cruelly exacerbate the pain.
The litany of reasons mumbled by me is not cutting ice. The more the reasons offered, the harder the conversation is. Discussions veers around precious time wasted hanging out, listening to cricket commentary on the radio, and in philately…that meaningless hobby!
The anxiety-ridden parents of yesteryear had to deal with kids who were oblivious of what the future would hold for them if the study results were not above par. The guilt of being a drawn-out burden on the parents would be thrown in.
The excuses got the sympathy. However, the empty assertions that the next report card would yield an improvement did not look credible…. “Poor you.”
Can the story with the right ingredients give the answer?
Now I have something in my arsenal, the ingredients of storytelling, albeit four decades later!
I opened mentally the magic box of storytelling. The story is a fact wrapped in context and delivered with emotion and comes with a conclusion.
Can this harsh truth of the numbers be put into context? Numbers in themselves cannot bring in a conclusion. However, if numbers or data are communicated through a story, they will inspire confidence, promote understanding and generate action.
How could they have empathized with me? What could have been done?
I could have come up (then) with a plan of action with the corrective steps (a causal sequence of events to be undertaken). Understand the subjects which needed focus and attention. For example, if physics is the area of weakness that is dragging down the scores; joint study and tutoring help could be considered, coupled with periodic checks on the progress. Through this process, my parents would “share” my pain. From the “poor you” the shift would be “You are trying and I know that.”
Poor scores will not improve without proper corrective action. When the actions are woven into the story and presented with emotion (read: authenticity), they are expected to inspire a collective implementation by the stakeholders (parents and child) and better results will be achieved.
“The truth is a story well told.” Was this sublime understanding missing when I dealt with my frustrated parents four decades ago, as a teenager? I wish someone had taught me the art of “storytelling” then.
So here we are:
As expounded by a storytelling Guru:
Visuals (read: emotions) and stories without data are art.
Data and visuals without a story are graphs.
Stories and data without visuals are tales.
If we coalesce all three, we can move from spouting” tall tales” to delivering “short stories.” A “poor you” can be transformed into a “he-will-make-name-one-day.” We can hit the sweet spot and the frustrated parents of the yore would transform into the understanding parents …. and the lychee relishing ritual will go on unaffected!
Fellow Lychee Lover and Business Storyteller