October 23, 2012

Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results

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How Do You Get Inspired?




Reviewed By Stephanie West Allen


Lori L. Silverman, Editor. Jossey-Bass, 2006. 320 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 0-7879-8270-9.

Writing about the value of narrative or story in effective, memorable communication, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker made this observation in Salon.com: “Cognitive psychology has shown that the mind best understands facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, mental map, or intuitive theory. Disconnected facts in the mind are like unlinked pages on the Web: They might as well not exist.” (See “College Makeover: The Matrix, Revisited,” November 16, 2005, www.slate.com/id/2130334.)

Lawyers wishing to have what they say remembered, to have their communication exist in the mind of the listener (whether client, fellow attorney, firm employee, opposing counsel, prospective client or juror), will want to take a look at Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results. This new book, edited by Lori Silverman, is true to its thesis: If you want to make a point clearly and memorably, tell a story. Example after example, story after story, illustrate the strong influence storytelling can have on an organization, its culture, its people, its clients, its product or service, its prospective clients and the community at large.

Silverman has divided the book into three parts: the day-to-day use of stories in the workplace, the role of stories in an organization’s strategy and change, and the introduction of stories into an organization. Each part includes chapters by different authors, with a total of 15 chapters. The chapters are stand-alone and not lengthy, so the book can be picked up in spare moments for an enjoyable read, put aside and then read some more.

Reading all these stories is truly quite enjoyable, but also instructive. The stories are woven together with interviews of 171 people from the public and private sectors about their use of stories to effectuate their organizations’ goals. Each author also provides complete coverage of the how-tos of his or her chapter’s topic. Thus, the book is filled with ideas the reader can use right away to create, find, choose and use effective stories.

The organizations represented by the interviewees are diverse. They include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Goizueta Business School of Emory University, Chivas Brothers Limited, Lands’ End, Kimberly-Clark, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, KYGO-FM, Washington Business Journal, the U.S. Air Force, NASA and Kaiser Permanente, to name just a few.

Moreover, the topics addressed by the authors are those that are in focus for the legal profession today, including serving clients; teaching client service; changing or emphasizing firm values, mission and direction; building teams and strengthening relationships; leading; communicating strategic information; managing projects; shifting public opinion; researching markets; and branding.

A nice technique used throughout the book is that a deft summary closes each chapter. For example: “While market research cannot exist without its core emphasis on scientific and statistical rigor to establish the validity of the work, research cannot drive managerial behavior without a story that is used to convey meaning about the data. It is like a lighthouse: cutting through the fog of market and organizational behavior may well depend on being able to clearly and brightly point out the path with stories that light the way.”

And for another insightful example: “With these steps, when your organization is confronted with the question ‘What’s in a name?’ it will be able to discover, develop and deliver a story that conveys true meaning and authenticity. In this way, it will be able to communicate the unique and distinctive worth of the organization, its brands, and its products and services to employees and customers.”

Lest you are still wondering about the value of stories in the workplace, the book also addresses ROI. This extensive attention to the measurable results is one of the book’s unique attributes.

Ultimately, this book is not heavy and yet it is not at all frivolous or light. Readers, even very busy ones, will likely enjoy Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over. When they close it at the end, they may actually be surprised at how pleasant the learning has been. Later they may painlessly recall the points of the book and be moved to use more stories. That’s what stories do; they slip easily into your mind, stay there, and change you at least a little. I think this book will, too. After all, as the book points out on page 3, “Which would you rather hear? A bunch of facts and figures about customer service or a story? People will remember stories long after they’ve forgotten the facts.”