For whatever it’s worth, I’m a verbal thinker. I do my best thinking when I’m talking, unlike a visual thinker who processes information best by seeing. I remember things I read or hear aloud. I’m also a sponge for historical information and love to speak in metaphors, especially those that involve common historical knowledge.
Here’s an example from years ago. I was wrapping up a strategic sales workshop for a large software client. Afterward, I approached the sponsor, who was also the head of sales. He had just delivered an ending keynote to the audience. I was hoping we might have dinner together so we could build a more personal relationship.
When I asked, he said, “Eh, I think I’m busy.”
I replied, “Come on, don’t be King John the II!”
He said what you would probably say in that situation. “Who’s King John the II?”
The King John Story
This is a great example of how to begin a story. The listener is asking you to share and giving you permission to engage them. You can take the feedback they give you as you’re talking, then choose to wrap up quickly or go even deeper if they seem interested.
Whenever I share my King John story with others, it goes something like this:
“Who is King John II, you ask? Well, if you’ll allow me, the story of old King John II actually starts about thirty years before. It begins with a boy born in Genoa, Italy. This kid, a smart and handy lad, gets into the family business with his father. They build ships and get quite good at it.
“One day, this bustling young man says, ‘I don’t just want to make ships, I want to sail them.’ And where would a young man with sea-faring ambitions go in those days? To the largest shipping empire in the world at that time, of course: Portugal. So this kid, who had become a man by now, heads west and finds himself wanting more. He wants to be an entrepreneur. He has a great idea, but it will need some funding. So where does he go? None other than your boy, John. King John, that is.
“Now getting into the court of King John II is no easy task, just like how hard it is for someone like me to be getting direct access to you, one might say. But back to our story. This entrepreneurial dreamer goes into the court of King John II, lays out his plans, and says ‘I just need a little money, what do you say?’
“And just like you, King John II says ‘eh’ without really considering that some decisions, no matter how small, will ripple through eternity. Now this kid is crushed and devasted, but he pulls himself together and comes back a second time. His heart is racing as he lays out his bold idea and asks for capital. But again, King John II says, ‘Eh, not interested.’
“The boy nearly falls to the floor, his dreams crushed, but once again he pulls himself together. This time, he goes East to a smaller and less powerful region of the world called Castille. He goes into the court of Isabella and Ferdinand, asking the Spanish crown for money and support. Of course, that year is 1492, that boy is Christopher Columbus, and that King John is the reason nobody speaks Portuguese in the world.
“Now, can I take you out for dinner tonight or not?”
Weaving an Epic Narrative
The first time I used that story, I had just read the section on Columbus from Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States and subsequently watched some YouTube videos on Portuguese history, so I had been thinking about it quite a bit.
My artistic mind was able to get into a flow state, pulling in recent information, translating it back into what was in front of me, and animating it in such a way that got the sales leader to decide to come out to dinner.
Even better, he had me share that story with several strangers we met that night. I added or subtracted certain pieces according to the conversation.
One of my favorite games I play with colleagues and friends is what we call “tell us the history.” In this game, the other person points to something in our shared vision–for example, a tree, table, chair, or building. They ask me to tell them the history of this object. I can instantly start sharing a story, mixing in historically significant and accurate details with made-up elements, prequel characters, storylines, and additional facts to advance a narrative that sounds both believable and fantastical at the same time.
This can go on for several minutes. As soon as I pause to “think” about how the story ends, I fall out of a flow state and laugh at myself. The story was an epic narrative of a simple object, entirely made up, but plausible all the same.
It’s All Related
If you asked me to sit down and write a story like this, I wouldn’t know where to start. For me, getting into a flow state requires jumping in and getting started before my “thinking” (executive function) takes over and blocks my pathway.
You might wonder how this relates to you: King John II, storytelling, knowing your history, and getting into a flow state.
My point is that everything is related. In the modern world, we like to segment everything into different disciplines, categories, and areas of study. On one hand, it’s necessary to separate these areas of knowledge because it would be impossible to get a grasp on anything without it.
Yet on the other hand, it gives us a false sense of mastery when we have accumulated deep knowledge in just a few areas while ignoring the rest.
Everything is related. Sports, politics, music, engineering, medicine, law … just to name a few off the top of my head. All areas of knowledge connect to each other. The opportunity–as well as the challenge–for Business Artists is to find the connections and then use them to think, lead, sell, and communicate on a deeper level.
In the examples above, I was able to use my knowledge of King John II and other topics to get into a flow state and tell stories. It requires getting out of my own way and letting go of my need to be in total control of the process.
What opportunities do you have to find the connections and get out of your own way so you can connect with others in a deeper way?