Monthly Archives: August 2019

Four cartoon people's heads

Collaboration Between Businesses

I attended a speed networking event recently.  About 20 of us spoke one-to-one with everyone in about one hour.  A minute each way for each meeting.  I’m not sure how effective this approach is – I’ll see if any collaboration builds from it. 

We weren’t expecting this and so we all invented our own approaches.  I promoted Telling Stories: Making Business.   I collected business cards with a note of those who expressed interest.  I’ve written to these new contacts and will see how effective this was in due course.

Speed networking means we have brief encounters and ask whether they’re interested.  There’s no time to dig deeper.  Indeed the pressure is to think of reasons why not to go further, simply because there’s so many potential opportunities.


Does speed networking reinforce the idea that the purpose of business networking is to sell?  Obviously sales happen, I’ve made a few purchases from people who I’ve got to know through networking.  But making a purchase is fairly rare. I decide I need something and look for someone I know who can supply it.  A direct sales pitch is unlikely to work, especially from someone I have not met before. 

One person I met at the same meeting with whom I had a longer one-to-one, sells personal financial advice.  I already have a financial advisor and so I explained I’m not currently in the market.  I offered some ideas about why selling financial advice is difficult.  Most people don’t understand the need for it.  I wish I’d talked to an advisor earlier – why didn’t I? 

We edged closer to a better understanding of the purpose of networking.  It is not primarily to sell.  It is mostly about collaboration or inspirational support.  How can I help this business owner, even if I have no interest in their business? 

If we seek inspiration, we’re likely to find it in unexpected places, with businesses different from our own.

Creative Collaboration

Even where a business is different, there may be opportunities for creative thinking.  Imagine a 10 minute conversation where you work out an offer you could make together.  What sort of offer could someone in property make with someone who offers massage for sports injury?

Maybe none.  But the majority of ideas come to nothing.  The aim is not to come up with something revolutionary and viable.  It is to look at what I do from a fresh perspective.  There’s no pressure to take it further but you never know, until you make the effort.

So far, I’ve assumed two very different businesses.  But what happens when you ask the question of a business similar to your own?  This opens up a world of new possibilities for collaboration.  More next time.

Cat mystery

Use Distraction to Hide Something Important

Last time I explained misdirection.  Distraction is related: here you conceal something significant early in your story.  The audience forgets about it until it reappears towards the end.

The Story of the Sparrow, Part 5

Daniel landed catlike on his feet.  Folk cheered him as he held the silver asp aloft.  Cat and Little Sparrow were at his side and Cat moved them on.  Little Sparrow removed Daniel’s mask and gave it back to Cat.  Daniel slipped the asp onto Little Sparrow’s wrist.

Cat reminded Little Sparrow she’d said she’d reward him.  He smiled his wickedest smile.  “Stroke me!”

Little Sparrow froze in terror.  Daniel objected.  Why did he insist on tormenting her?  “Because I’m a cat, it’s what I do.  It’s up to her.  If not, it’s another tuna steak!”

Little Sparrow knelt down and held out her hand.  Cat walked towards her and as her hand touched him, began to purr.  Daniel stood there open-mouthed.

“I’m off home” said Cat, “Don’t stay out all night, she can look after herself.”

Daniel and Little Sparrow walked toward Josiah’s village. Suddenly, Little Sparrow stopped, Daniel walked on a few paces before he realised.  “Daniel”, she said.  “Yes?”  “May I hold your hand?”

He held out his hand and she slipped hers into his.  “Oh, it’s so cold!”  She pulled her hand away.  “Sorry. No, no it feels good!”

And so they walked on together hand in hand.

Near the junction with Josiah’s road, they stopped.  Little Sparrow let go of Daniel’s hand and faced him.  “Daniel, friend.  I thank you.”  She bowed.  Then she turned and ran down the road to her beloved. 

That was the last Daniel saw of her.  Except …


A few days later Cat was annoyed at Daniel’s moping.  “Forget her, she’s gone”. 

“I know.  She’ll be back under water now.  It just hard not knowing how it went.”

“Well, that’s easy, go and ask him.”

A few hours later Daniel walked down the lane toward Josiah’s house.

As Daniel approached the gate, the old man looked up from his roses.  “You must be Daniel.”

The old man said he’d never forgotten Little Sparrow.  He believed she was gone, drowned.  He’d married, had children and grandchildren and passed his love of birds to them.  “I’m so grateful to you”, he said, “my time is close and now I have a name for my lips.”  He’d prepared a gift for Daniel.  An album of photos of birds.

Back home, Daniel and Cat, turned each page.  Cat thought it would make a good take-away menu.  They turned the last page and there was a different photo.  Josiah and Little Sparrow, arm in arm, looking into each other’s eyes.  No mask.

The Gun in the First Act

The playwright, Chekhov, said that if you see a gun in the first act, it’ll be used in the last.  The challenge is to introduce the gun in such a way, the audience forget about it.  When it’s used, it’s been present all along.

How well have I done this in the five parts of this story?  This is a story about loneliness.  I probably need to make more of Daniel’s loneliness in part 1.  The fact he’s accepted an invitation from friends, shows him coming out of his shell.  Perhaps it helps him understand Little Sparrow. 

In between we have scenes of possession, comedy and the dreadful rabbit, not to mention the mystery of Bryony his grandmother.

This final part brings us back to this underlying theme.  Cat shows Little Sparrow can overcome her fears.  Daniel perhaps doesn’t see this so clearly.

The love story plays out but it is not the key relationship.  It is the friendship between Daniel and Little Sparrow.  He understands she must know whether Josiah remembers her. It’s important the lovers are reunited.  But the emotion is in Daniel’s empathy for Little Sparrow.

Provide Information Early

Now you know the end, you understand what motivates Daniel in the middle.  Why does he go through so much for Little Sparrow?  Once we know the end, we see the initial description of Daniel’s loneliness informs everything that follows.  The magic, the strangeness of the world he inhabits does not matter.  What matters is why he does what he does. 

Note how misdirection and distraction reinforce one another.  Is this a story about magical Folk?  Or is it about a teenage boy with compassion?  The magic is largely misdirection.  It distracts us from Daniel’s state of mind.  We know he’s lonely from the start.  We see the significance of this towards the end. 

Using Distraction

Distraction is finding ways to conceal the importance of some detail.  I’ll share a few ideas but if you innovate, you are more likely to succeed. 

Remember you know the end of the story and your audience does not.  This means you can relax.  It may seem obvious to you but it won’t necessarily be obvious to them.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Describe a scene and conceal something important in the description. 
  • Show the important thing being used for some other purpose.
  • Mention a weakness when describing the villain.  You could depict the weakness as a strength. 
  • Hide it in plain sight.  For example, the container that holds something of value might be more important than its contents.
  • Describe something from the perspective of the protagonist, who might not appreciate its importance at that moment.
  • Build a foreground scene that conceals something in the background.
  • A departed character makes an unexpected reappearance. 

This concludes this sequence about storytelling for the present. 

Over Here. No, This Way

What is Misdirection in Storytelling?

Misdirection builds suspense in your stories.  When you begin a story, your audience does not know how it ends.  If it’s your life story, you survived, so how do you surprise your audience?

The Story of the Sparrow, Part 4

Cat licked his lips and then his paw, his eyes on Little Sparrow.  Daniel had apologised for putting her through this audience with the Oracle. 

“So, what’s it worth?  You don’t want me to eat the bird?”

“Tuna steak”, said Daniel.   “Two this week, on condition you help us.”

“Done.  I’ve heard there’s lots of new Folk from the reservoir.  They’re having a scramble tonight.  Get to know each other.  Visit old friends before they go back underwater.”


“The prize is the silver asp.  When Folk wear it, they become human for one day.”

Little Sparrow fluttered around, excitedly.  She could enter and win and meet Josiah!

“Hah”, said Cat, “you’ve no chance.  The Rabbit’s entering and no-one has ever beaten him in a scramble, apart from Bryony.”

“My grandmother?”

“He’ll want to win when he discovers she’s taking part again.” 

“Cat, she died before I was born.”

“He’ll think you’re her.”

“No, I … Look, I’m human, they won’t let me take part.”   Daniel thought he’d spotted a flaw in Cat’s plan. 

“Which is why I’m going to lend you my mask.  With that they’ll think you’re Folk.  And you’ll move like I do, with power and grace and not like a teenage boy.”

Cat rarely took human form.  Daniel had never seen his mask.  Cat’s true name remained a mystery.

Little Sparrow had every confidence in Daniel.  How had he got roped into this?  She wanted to know how to thank Cat. 

“If I can’t eat you, there’s something you can do for me when you’re human.   And it’s another tuna steak for the loan of the mask.  The bird must fasten it on, you must not see the outside.  It’s got ‘Idiot inside’ written on it.”

The Scramble

Daniel stood on the land in the reservoir, staring at a massive crowd of folk.  Most expected Rabbit to win. He stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  Fully armoured, snarling at any Folk who came too close.  “That’s Rabbit”, said Cat unnecessarily. 

Daniel wore the mask and mingled with the crowd.  Then the murmuring began.  “Bryony …. Bryony …”  The rabbit turned and snarled at him.  “I told you don’t race me again.  This time I win and you release me.”  What did he mean?  Daniel had no idea, release from what?  What had his grandmother done and when and how …?

The race was along the shore and then up the bank to a great oak and high in its branches, the silver asp glinted in the sun.  Suddenly the crowd surged forwards and the race began.  Cat had said use elbows and teeth, push them aside, be ruthless.  Daniel found he was stronger more agile, cat-like.  He shot ahead of all but Rabbit, who bounded along the shore.  He was soon at the tree and began to climb.  Daniel caught up and he could see the Rabbit was less good at climbing and his armour slowed him.  He leapt onto the tree and began to climb but the Rabbit blocked his way.  Daniel leapt onto the Rabbit’s back and then from his shoulder, leapt ahead, reached the asp, grasped it and fell to the ground below. 

Misdirection and Your Audience

This part of the story is a massive exercise in misdirection.  I’m not going to spoil the final part but notice what I’ve done here.  The silver asp is a McGuffin.  It is a magical instrument and its purpose is to bring the story to its conclusion.  Very little else contributes to the resolution to the story.  It raises questions about the relationship between Cat and Daniel, who Daniel’s grandmother was and why so many Folk know her, what did she do that the Rabbit wants to be released from? 

Cat has his own agenda and this brings humour into the story.  You get the impression, Daniel’s going to be paying for tuna steaks for some time.  Note the way Cat and Little Sparrow assume Daniel will take part in the scramble. 

You think you’re going to find out more about this magical world.  You’re not.  The story pivots as Daniel falls from the tree.  That’s misdirection!

Concealing the Ending

The ending is consistent from what has gone before but it also has a different feel to it.  The ground is laid in what has gone before.  This is the point of misdirection, you set off in apparently one direction and then pivot the story in a different direction. 

Humour is a common means to misdirect.  You think this is a funny story and then the story pivots to tragedy. 

In this story, Little Sparrow will either find the love of her life or else she will not.  One of those has to be true.  We can all see that.  Can the ending surprise?  Yes, it can.  

Comedy and Tragedy

When you start a story, your audience does not know what will happen.  Don’t announce at the start, this story is a comedy and has a happy ending.  We see this in Rom Coms, there is always a point where the principle couple seem to be impossibly far apart.  We genuinely believe they cannot possibly get together and then at the last moment …

There is a point where it could swing either way. The audience does not know what will happen.  Comedy or tragedy?  Keep them guessing until the very end.

Distraction is a close ally of misdirection.  Here relevant material is divulged early in the story, where its significance is downplayed. 


Wonder in Storytelling

Wonder helps the storyteller change the way we see things, builds suspense and holds attention.  Witness the story of the sparrow.  It is a story for entertainment, to be performed, not written.  What do I seek to change with this story?

The Story of the Sparrow, Part 3.

Little Sparrow kept close to Daniel.  She watched him sleep, she followed him everywhere, which was awkward in the bathroom.  Folk are not usually visible to humans and they don’t see things as we do.  Little Sparrow decided Daniel was a friend and she would not leave his side.  She was terrified of Cat and so when he left her outside the bathroom, Cat lost no opportunity to torment her. 

Daniel was glad to get out of the house and took the bus into town.  Little Sparrow sat fluttered beside him on the bus.  She sang a sad, sweet little song. Away from Cat, she seemed calm and determined.  She’d resolved to find the one she loved, to know whether he still loved her.  There were a few days before the waters returned and she would be drawn back into them.

Into Town

They arrived in the city centre and made their way to the Local Studies Library.  The Library was built where trees and animals existed and some persist and found themselves in a library.  Some enjoy fun, hiding things and turning pages when people look away.  Others try to help, although their understanding of help might be different from ours.  They were greeted by a librarian and beside her an old squirrel-headed Folk, with spectacles perched on the end of its nose.  He was delighted a Folk had come to the library for help. 

Daniel asked the librarian for a map of the flooded village, he wanted to find the house.  Various Folk flittered and flustered about.  Soon, a duck waddled over and guided Daniel’s hand, helped him write the names of books he needed.  It wanted to help Bryony, Daniel’s grandmother. With genealogies and electoral rolls, they came upon the name of Hinchcliffe.  Then they found the oldest son was Josiah and still alive. 

Daniel sat with Little Sparrow in the Peace Gardens.  He held his phone to his ear as he explained they were going to visit him and find out whether Josiah is indeed the one she seeks.  Daniel tried to prepare her for disappointment.  She listened and said she knew it was the right name.

Josiah’s Garden

They took the bus to a small village, not far from the reservoir.  Daniel walked to the end of the street.  Little Sparrow sniffed the air.  Daniel found a spot where he could see unseen.  The man lived in a small cottage with a lovely garden, full of roses.  He was deadheading and carried a small package on a strap around his neck.  Daniel wondered what it was and then he saw the man pause and look at a songbird in a tree.  He stood still and opened the package, a camera. 

Meanwhile, Little Sparrow edged closer.  As she entered the garden and stood in front of him, Josiah paused and looked up.  He sighed and then continued with his work. 

Eventually, Little Sparrow returned to Daniel.  She was very sad.  Daniel said he thought this would happen.  People often lost second sight as they grew older. 

He explained the next step was to consult the Oracle.  Little Sparrow was very excited until Daniel explained the Oracle was his friend, Cat.

Wonder in the Story of the Sparrow

This is literally a fairy story.  Fairies are often called Folk.  But what I want is to reinvent Folk.  They are often depicted with a king and queen.  My Folk are anarchic.  They are blobs of sentience that take a wide range of forms.  We glimpse more in the next part. 

They have different personalities.  Little Sparrow is timid, calm and determined.  She knows what she wants and she’ll stop at nothing to get it.  Cat is argumentative, opinionated and has his own agenda.  Others are helpful, mischievous or dangerous.  Their relationship with our world is half in and half out.  They see us more than we see them. 

Structuring their world this way has advantages for the storyteller.  Relationships with Folk take many forms.  We see a relationship between Daniel and Cat, never fully explained.  It is established, free and easy, they appear as friends who argue.  The odd thing about Cat is he appears to be a real cat.  It’s not clear from this story whether others see him but there is something odd and in-between about him. 

The key relationship in this story is between Daniel and Little Sparrow.  I can’t say too much at this stage.  What we have seen so far is his compassion for her.  She is totally dependent on him to help her. 

It is the friendship we see develop that gives this story its emotional heft.  The wonder is in the relationship not the strange imaginary world of Folk.

Wonder in Real Life Stories

Can we learn anything from the story to help us structure real life stories?  What evokes wonder in a real life story?

Here are a few things:

  • Relationships – genuine relationships, showing love and compassion, are rare in stories I hear.  Maybe people find it easier to talk about past failings than to talk about love.  But love is only one possible relationship.  Friendship and even rivalry can be moving.  There are negative relationships as well and there are reasons storytellers avoid using them.  We might agree someone deserves punishment but is it a good note to end a story, if you are promoting your business?  Wonder is perhaps best encountered where positive relationships overcome negative.
  • Transformation – where someone becomes a better person.  This is usually the protagonist but might be someone else.  The ending of many fairy stories, “they married and lived happily ever after” may be trite but summarises the transformation we see. 
  • Spectacle – where we see something we have never seen before.  The story triggers imagination and invites us to see things differently.  This implies a sense of place, sharing details that help us see something not seen before.  This may be somewhere far away, we’ve never seen but can see as a result of a story.  Or else somewhere familiar, seen from a new perspective.

Meaning – Should Stories Have a Moral?

Maybe a fourth source of wonder is meaning.  Business owners have a purpose telling stories but meaning does not necessarily evoke wonder.  A story that helps us see things differently and act in consequence, may evoke wonder.

Confluence of wonder and meaning is powerful and easy to misuse.  Think of slogans like “Make America Great Again”.  For true believers these words evoke a story.  They’ve heard the story and listen to it repeatedly.  But do they think of it as a story or as the truth by which they live?

We see competing stories in politics.  You need a more powerful story to compete with one already powerful.  This is why images such as “unicorns” or “sunlit uplands” don’t work.  Those who oppose Brexit need a better story, they cannot win the argument without it.

Stories are Powerful

In the words of the Amazing Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  Stories are powerful and business people are obliged, with everyone else, to use them with care to build relationships and empower audiences.

It is in the nature of stories to have multiple meanings.  Retell a story to bring out a new meaning.  If you don’t do that you find audiences apply their own meanings to stories.  This might be what you want but make it a conscious decision.

However, bringing a story to a moral, “therefore we should all live in this better way”, is not effective.  People don’t like to be told what to do.  You know what meaning you want to communicate, and so build it into the story.  An effective way is to conceal the meaning of the story until the end.  There are two ways to do this, misdirection and distraction, and I shall cover these in the next two posts.