I heard a fascinating talk yesterday by Louis Richardson of IBM. He is part of their Watson cognitive computing group. Three things stood out
a) His title – Chief Storyteller. Yes, seriously
b) Almost zero content about Watson or IBM AI successes. He talked more about human physiology and the role of cortisol, the stress hormone and oxytocin, the love and trust hormone
c) contextualized that jargon to real life human experiences. He talked about his hotel room the night before with sticky notes. Margaret Riddolls, the Westin “experience specialist” had researched his background on LinkedIn and figured he would appreciate a personalized welcome and get his oxytocin going. Louis later emailed me the picture below he had taken with her.
I posted about the talk on my Facebook page and mentioned the talk was effective for the HCM audience but likely that IT folks would have been bored. Vijay Vijaysankar of IBM responded
“When I sponsored training for my senior staff earlier, story telling was a big part of their training. And from what I hear from field – it helps equally with IT folks as well. Like my boss used to remind me – IT people are people too.”
Paul Greenberg chimed in “That is the one contemporary title I think isn’t just a homage to being cutesy and a “look at how hip we are” title.” He proceeded to give examples from Adobe and SAP.
What’s going on here? It is a sea change from two decades ago when I heard Doug Burgum, then CEO of Great Plains (now part of Microsoft) use his entire keynote at the annual Stampede user event to talk about the story of an English clockmaker, John Harrison who beat out far more qualified scientists to solve one of the vexing problems of the 18th century – how to accurately measure longitudes, so important then for sailors and for all kinds of navigation since.
I had listened mouth agape to Doug’s talk. My neighbor was furious – he had come to hear about products and technical architecture, not a history lesson. Others in the audience were similarly disappointed.
Yesterday, Louis’ talk was a clear hit. People were walking around talking about oxytocin. I used my own talk to say I am a “story whisperer” – I have countless stories in the form of case studies in my books.
Story telling is the vogue. Yes, even to IT audiences. As Vijay says they are people too. We all like to sit and listen to tales around the campfire.
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)