Tell Me A Story

By Lloyd Graff

Every day I hear the cliched laments about the lack of people available to set up machines and run them to make parts customers want to purchase, except when I don’t.

I was talking to a successful entrepreneur yesterday who bangs out nuts and bolts by the millions. He said that he has no problem hiring great people to keep his massive cold headers banging away. 

The shop owner had written me a beautiful fan note mentioning my recent piece about the apple tree that refused to bear fruit for decades. After thirty moribund years, the tree became prolific when it should have been withering. He loved the story, and when I asked him about his own success, he told me it was about having stories to tell. 

Then he told me one of his stories. He built his business using National cold forming equipment. The president of National had never visited him, despite being located nearby in Ohio. He finally stopped by recently to study the company’s ongoing major expansion. After looking around the facility, he asked if he could use the bathroom and the shop owner pointed him toward the men’s washroom in the plant. 

When he came back to the office, his first comment was, “It’s all marble. Your shop bathroom is all marble.” 

“My people deserve only the best,” the shop owner told him.

This is a story I will remember, and it is a story his employees will tell other people in the business. It is a story that will keep his shifts humming while other manufacturers glumly complain that there are no good people available. 

One of the keys to success in business is developing the stories to tell and then figuring out how to put them all out in the field. 

When my children were young, I would often put them to bed later than I was supposed to. They wanted me to tell them stories and preferred an original genre I had developed over the years. I called them “Ooga, Wooga, Mooga” stories for the three primary characters in them. They were original and ridiculous meandering tales that I would make up on the spot.

The kids loved them because they were not out of a book and thoroughly unpredictable. I think the stories made them feel special. Nobody else had ever heard an Ooga, Wooga, Mooga story. As they got older, they begged for them when they were sick or glum. 

When I heard about the marble bathroom story and felt its strength, it reminded me of the bedtime stories and their lingering memory. Now, as they raise their own children, they still talk about them.

Screens and social media certainly have their power today, but the lasting strength of the story told one-on-one is hard to replace. I think the current trend of podcasts replacing magazines, radio, and TV is fueled by the power of stories and anecdotes with the spoken human voice. It makes them sticky in the human brain. 

When politicians, media figures, and business leaders try to make their point by using numbers and data that point out what “the science tells us,” my brain immediately tunes out. 

Please, just tell me a good story.

Question: What stories do you enjoy sharing?

Share this post

7 thoughts on “Tell Me A Story

  1. Miles Free

    HA! On our long drive to move to Georgia when my youngest was just out of diapers, I told them the story of the giant one eyed winking lizards whose red “wink ” they could see in the distance. (Warning lights on Commercial broadcast antennas). I told them how as a young man I used to hunt these giant one eyed winking lizards and that their foot prints were what made all of the flat parking lots we see today. and I told them that if they ever saw two winking, it meant the lizard was looking our way and they had to be very still or it would find us. For years when driving at night, when the three in the backseat got suddenly quiet, I would look for the lizard that they saw out the window.

  2. Daniel

    Your words are a warning to me that so many people just want to hear a story that fits with their existing beliefs.
    “When politicians, media figures, and business leaders try to make their point by using numbers and data that point out what “the science tells us,” my brain immediately tunes out.”
    I believe this is why 40% of our population may never get vaccinated and will continue to to tune out science and truth.

    1. Noah

      Hi Daniel,

      You are so right. Everybody has their own data they want to trust.

      Social psychologists like Robert Cialdini say that the way to make people on the other side consider getting vaccinated is to tell them stories about other people who were not vaccinated getting sick and stories about those who are vaccinated being saved. It’s the best if you have a story from someone in their tribe, who can say “I once thought like you, and now after this happened I feel differently.”

  3. Rod

    When our children where younger we would drive from North of Seattle north to Arlington.
    We would pass through Everett where Scott paper had a pulp mill and the air had a aroma, not to pleasant.
    They would all do what anybody would and plug their noses and ask what the smell was.
    I told them that the towers were where all the residents of Everett went when they had to Fart.
    The smoke stacks became none as the Fart Towers from that time on.

  4. Daniel B.

    Another great blog Lloyd!

    My Dad would tell us Pete and Zeke stories before bed. “Pete and Zeke were two monkeys that lived in a tree house, next to a river, deeeep in-the-heart of Africa.” (every story started with that line). Lots of other animal characters and one human boy too. I have told the (made up on the spot) stories to my kids and grand kids. Definitely in the theme of your “Ooga, Wooga, Mooga” stories. My dad also would tell us “Mr. In-Between” stories – much shorter themes like: Mr. In-Between just didn’t fit in, he was too small to ride a bicycle and too big to ride a tricycle, so he rode a bicycle with training wheels….and that was just right for Mr. In-Between.

    Thanks for the reminders in your blogs about living life and how small things (like a bed time story or marble bathroom) can have major impact.

    Take Care!

  5. Hale Foote

    We live in California, but I grew up in Louisiana. So my bedtime stories for our kids were spun from place names: there was a little girl named Bogalusa, who had a pet alligator named Tchoupitoulas, and a brother Rapides. There were infinite plots, but when I forgot where we left off the prior night I was immediately corrected.


Comments are closed.