In a classic clip from an old I Love Lucy episode, Lucy gets a job in a chocolate factory and she and her friend Ethel are placed on the assembly line.

The draconian supervisor tells them: “Girls, this is your last chance. If one piece of candy gets past you unwrapped, you are fired!” The production line starts slowly and they carefully wrap candy, remarking how easy it is. Then the assembly line starts to speed up, and they can barely keep up.

They start stuffing their mouths with candy and Lucy calls out to her friend in despair: “I think this is a losing game.” They hear the supervisor returning and hide the remaining candy in their mouths, under their hats and even down the front of their dresses. Their mouths are bulging. The supervisor returns. Seeing the empty conveyor belt, in a moment of perfectly-timed comedy, the supervisor shouts to the conveyor belt operator “Speed it up!”

This famous scene has been parodied by many other TV shows.  What makes it funny even now is the relevance of this message to our modern lives. So often we keep up the pretence of being on top of stuff, and the pretence can work for some time, but exacts a heavy toll.

Somewhere along the line, for a lot of us in business, work became synonymous with worth and ‘busy’ became the currency to measure this worth.

Author Julia Cameron says there is a difference between purposeful, zestful work and work for work’s sake; not in the hours we put in but in their emotional quality.

Three things we can all do to improve the emotional quality of our work lives is to ask for help, stop being a hero/martyr (only I can do this) and draw a line in the sand (I don’t look at emails on Sunday or take business calls after 6pm).

Just as an alcoholic gets sober by abstaining from alcohol, we need to abstain from the idea that we’re only at our most productive when we’re putting in frantic 12-hour work days. There’s far more merit – and reward – in purposeful, contemplative work.

How do you improve the emotional quality of your work? Please share, as always I love hearing from you.

Business Storytelling: why it’s much harder than it looks

Warren Buffett, often speaks in folksy aphorisms. I guess, in modern terms, we would refer to them as tweets. He famously said about investing, ‘…is simple but not easy.’

Interestingly, this is the most common feedback I get from clients all over the world. Not about investing, but about storytelling. Storytelling is much harder than it looks.

So, to borrow from Mr. Buffett, storytelling is simple but not easy. When you hear a story, part of its success is that it seems simple, even effortless. Simplicity means that the audience ‘gets it.’ You understand the story and the point it is making. Consider this gem from the late, great David Foster Wallace, a brilliant American writer.

Two young goldfish were swimming along and they met an older fish, who said, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” One of the young goldfish looked over at the other and said, “What the hell is water?”

Wallace said that the point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous and important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

When we look at Wallace’s story, it’s relatable (most of us are familiar with goldfish; some of us might even have goldfish at home). It’s also short. A couple of sentences. And, most importantly, in a business context, it is purposeful. These are essentially the hallmarks of an effective story. These are also the very features that make a story seem simple.

So, what then makes a story difficult to craft? The very thing that makes it simple–making a story relatable, short and purposeful!

For a story to work in business, it has to be relatable. It must be about people, usually a single person (always people, not teams or organisations) to which your audience can relate. Your audience then immediately identifies with the story.

Business people often struggle with keeping their stories short.
My rule of thumb is that a story in business should take you under two minutes, which requires a lot of thinking, crafting and redrafting to nail.

And, perhaps the hardest thing to do well with storytelling is to land your stories on purpose. The power and juice of a good story lies in how you link it to a message (purpose). But, it’s important to do this in a way that is elegant and delightful and not clunky. This is difficult, even for story ninjas.

It may seem easy to come up with stories that are simple, short and purposeful, but they are actually difficult to craft and deliver.

The second most common feedback I get from clients is one of regret. Please don’t let that be your regret.