John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Michael Margolis. He is the CEO and founder of Storied, a strategic messaging firm specializing in the story of innovation and disruption. He’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Story 10X: Turn The Impossible Into The Inevitable. So Michael, thanks for joining me.
Michael Margolis: John, thank you. It’s an absolute thrill for us to connect today.
John Jantsch: So when did the Story come into your life? I mean, we all have stories, childhood stories, but when did you start realizing it was a tool that you could or should use?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, what a great question. So for me, like it is for many of us, I came to Story and my sense of this path out of huge failure and disappointment.
John Jantsch: Which is a story by itself, right?
Michael Margolis: It always is, right? And it was … And for me specifically, it was at the age of 23 after my first career, I’d been a social entrepreneur. So I came of age at the birth of the internet economy and co-founded a nonprofit, had very quick fast success working on poverty, race, the digital divide, complicated stuff, right? It’s not like selling cupcakes. And despite all the quick success that we had within a couple of years, it all fell apart.
Michael Margolis: And I remember sitting there after it all kind of crumbled and there was this sense, John, that something like was missing from the conversation. Like I knew it intuitively, but I didn’t have the language for it, specifically how to tell the story of innovation, because when you’re dealing with innovation, in this case, this was social innovation, like culture change, much less business innovation. But when you’re dealing with innovation, by definition, you’re overstepping, doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. It’s heretical, it’s taboo, it’s off limits, it gets lost in translation. And it was really that struggle and frustration that set me off on the journey that’s been now 20 years of mapping and decoding and developing narrative frameworks that we deliver and teach inside some of the biggest companies in the world today.
John Jantsch: So storytelling, books about storytelling, are quite hot right now. So in your estimation, what does Story 10X kind of offer that maybe carves out its unique spot in the storytelling realm?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, absolutely. So what people have described it as is actually the world’s first book on storytelling for disruptive innovation. So one of the things that we often forget is that when it comes to storytelling, which is universal. I’m a cultural anthropologist by training. I’m fascinated with the universality of story and its use across time and history. But storytelling is contextual to the format or the medium.
Michael Margolis: So for instance, if you are writing a screenplay that’s for a film, that’s a very different format in which you’re going to construct and tell a story than a thousand page novel. Well equally, there’s a completely different context, not just for applying storytelling to business, but applying storytelling to innovation and disruption in the context of business. Because it’s, if you think in the traditional storytelling terms, John, when someone sits down to watch a movie or read a book, in a certain way, there’s a contract with your audience, which is they’ve agreed to suspend disbelief to go on a journey with you.
Michael Margolis: And now we live in an age of Netflix and like ADD attention span, so that that window is shorter and shorter before you go, “Ah, I’m going to go watch something else.” Or, “Ah, I don’t like this book.” But nonetheless, your audience is willing to suspend disbelief to go on a journey. Now when you walk into an executive board room or you’re leading a town hall with 5 thousand employees, or you’re in front of investors, pitching them on your next series of funding, I promise you, nobody’s giving you that benefit of suspending disbelief.
John Jantsch: I suspect the opposite’s true, right? You have to wade through the I don’t believe you.
Michael Margolis: Yeah, and that’s the paradox. So what are we taught to do, John, is we’re taught to lead with data and conclusions. But if you lead with data, the story is dead on arrival. So that’s the paradox, because we often forget our audience doesn’t have context, they don’t see the big picture. And they also don’t have emotional self identification. So instead you’re presenting the data that doesn’t mean anything to them. And what you’ll usually hear back in response is, “Well, how’d you come up with that data?” Right? Or, “I don’t know if I agree with that conclusion.”
Michael Margolis: So this is what we describe in the book. It’s actually a three-step narrative framework, which helps people to understand that people have to see it and they have to feel it before they can believe it. So data is a critical part of the story, but it’s the third step in the sequence. And when you actually address getting people to sort of see it, capture their imagination and see the possibilities and get people to empathize and emotionally identify or relate, then they’re going to be begging you for the data that supports what you’re selling. But that one shift makes all the difference.
John Jantsch: It’s almost kind of like they have to be bought in, they have to realize the problem, and then it’s like, “Okay, well then tell me how this is going to work for me.” I mean-
Michael Margolis: Exact … Well, yeah, and to your point about the problem, how often are you in front of an audience that you don’t have shared problem definition? Or how often is that audience complicit if not responsible for that problem? So of course, where you go presenting the problem, they’re going to get defensive.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I mean think about how many products have gone out there and failed because they were solving a problem the audience didn’t know they had. And I think that that’s … But that’s, it’s not necessarily a big leap, but it takes some skills sometimes because of just what you said. I’ve gone out on stages before and said, “Well, you need to do this and you need to do that.” And you can immediately see the arms cross. It’s like, “You don’t know my business. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Michael Margolis: That’s exactly it. And we don’t see, we have this blind spot. So people like you, people like me, and many of your listeners, those of us who are the innovators, the change agents, those who carry the torch where we’re like, “I see the future, I see where things are going, I know what we can do.” We get so passionate and enamored with the new story that we forget that the moment you present the new story, anybody that lives in the old story is likely to feel wrong, bad, judged, stupid, or defensive. And then we’re like, “But what’s wrong with people Why don’t they see what I see?”
Michael Margolis: And like the old saying, John, we teach what we need to learn most. So a lot of this storytelling stuff for me was I’ve always been someone with a strong point of view and sort of get ahead of my own britches sometimes. And I used to struggle when I was younger of like, “What’s wrong with people? Why don’t they see what I see?” And that frustration of feeling like I’m hitting my head against the wall. And I started to realize, “Oh, well there were actually ways I could adjust how I frame and convey my ideas to create more of a receptive feel to make it more relatable and accessible.” Because disruption, innovation tends to trigger fear. It’s the unknown, it’s the unfamiliar for folks. So it’s been a humble learning process for my own.
John Jantsch: So you have an entire section of the book on this framework called the undeniable story. So you started to allude to it and I think I interrupted you. Do you want to kind of say like, here’s part one, here’s part two, here’s part three?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, for sure. So, as you said, undeniable story. So the very premise of this is how do you talk about the future in a way that’s difficult, if not impossible to reject? Because remember, the biggest thing we’re up against? Disbelief. So how do I talk about this way? And again, we do a lot of work in Silicon Valley. We work with heads of product and heads of design at places like Facebook and Google and Hulu and Tesla and the like. And then we also work with a lot of Fortune 500s that are trying to be like Silicon Valley and lead digital transformation and all of this kind of change. So leaders are often having to present this vision about where we’re going and what’s next. And inevitably, they’re up against the VP of no. And so from that perspective, how do you, again, get people to see it and feel it before they believe it?
Michael Margolis: So those are the three steps. Step number one, see it, is actually all about naming the change. So this is actually the most critical step of the three, John, where we often take for granted that people can locate themself in our story. And that also that we’re giving them directionality. See, story is like a GPS. So it’s a location device. Like where are we? And story’s also a transportation vehicle. It takes us places. And the question is where is it taking us and do we want to go there? So part of what we have to do when getting people to see it is we have to frame a context that people can see and that speaks to how the world is changing. So this is one of the storytelling hacks that we figured out here, which is when the world changes, you have to change your story to reflect that new world. It’s a way to externalize the change or the conflict so that you don’t put people on the defensive, but that did something wrong.
John Jantsch: Is there simple way for you to give an example of that?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, for sure. So it’s everything, like inside big companies, it’s things like predictive analytics, and/or things like AI, automation, like pick any of them that are these big trends, and then help people understand, “What can we do now that we couldn’t three or five years ago?” Because of the forcing functions of technology, economics, culture changes, there are all these forces of change that are creating new opportunities and possibilities. And we take it for granted, but like the things that we can do.
Michael Margolis: I was just on a call earlier today with one of our clients that is a Fortune 100 in the insurance and financial services space. I was speaking with their chief digital officer. And one of the things they were pointing out is, “Look, you know, we pay out $40 billion in claims every single year.” So when someone, someone dies early and unexpectedly, or there’s a car accident, or property damage, so on and so on. Well, what if actually through our predictive analytics, we now actually have the ability to identify signals and indicators that we could do, for instance, monthly screenings in different ways that actually would help to identify breast cancer earlier in the lives of of a middle aged woman for instance?
Michael Margolis: Now that’s something that’s completely outside the traditional remit of this company, but they’re realizing as an insurance company it’s like, “Okay, how can we get further ahead in the curve of that customer experience based on the commitment we have to our customers, but let’s actually like create the interventions earlier on.” So that’s the kind of example and obviously this guy is a real visionary inside his company and he has to then be able to convey, communicate this within a broader enterprise that’s going through transformation. Does that help?
John Jantsch: Yeah, it does. I was afraid you were going to say that they had with AI and predictive analytics, they were going to be able to tell who was going to die. So I’m glad you didn’t go there.
Michael Margolis: Sadly, I have a feeling they can figure that out too.
John Jantsch: Pretty darn close, I bet. Wanted to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. And this allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation email auto-responders that are ready to go. Great reporting. You want to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships? They’ve got a really fun series called Klaviyo’s Beyond Black Friday. It’s a docuseries, a lot of fun. Quick lessons, just head on over to Klaviyo.com/beyond BF, Beyond Black Friday.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about personal stories. So obviously a product needs a story and you need to ways to simplify concepts and information. But does everybody need their own personal story? I mean obviously speakers are very well trained to go out on stage and some sort of connection device. I mean, but is that become sort of standard fare now for anybody that, whether whatever you’re doing, whatever your career is, you should have your story?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, well the answer is yes, absolutely. And it plays out. Sort of, let me give two quick examples. The real simple one for everybody listening is before any business meeting you’ve been Googled. Which means that people are experiencing your story online before they experience you in real life. So let that sink in for a moment cause that’s an existential, “Oh fuck,” for just about every single one of us, right? Because it’s like, “Oh God, does this website make me look fat?” It brings up every insecurity and inadequacy, and we all have it in some form or another.
Michael Margolis: But your LinkedIn profile, your about page. I mean John, you and I have so many mutual friends in common, but as we were introduced, I’m sure before our call today, you Googled, right? Like you followed up on some of the other things that, I forget who introduced us, but it was a wonderful friend. But in follow up to that, it’s like you follow the breadcrumbs. We all do.
Michael Margolis: And so that’s the first place. And we actually even created an online course for this called The New About Me. It’s our bestselling online course, which is like how do you talk about yourself online without sounding like a wanker? And like writing that about page using storytelling principles. So that’s a basic, everybody has to do it. And even if you are working inside a company, your own personal brand, it shows up in many different ways as you’re building your reputation and your expertise and so on.
Michael Margolis: So that’s the basics. We spend a lot of time working with senior leaders inside companies. And so for instance, we just three weeks ago were with another Fortune 500 client. And we did a leadership summit for the CEO and their top 200 leaders. They were presenting their vision and strategy for the year, big transformation they’re leading. Every single one of those 200 leaders, SVP and above, over the next month were all going to lead town halls for all of their direct reports down the line.
Michael Margolis: And so our session was all about how do you personalize and humanize the larger company vision? And we often forget it’s tough because many of us, I know you’re very passionate about servant leadership. So many of us who have this servant leadership mindset, we go, “But it’s not about me. I’m here to serve others.” And so part of what we point out in support though is you can’t separate the message from the messenger and that by helping people understand your own personal backstory or why do you care about this vision? What is it about this new go-to-market or the three pillars of transformation that somehow connect to what you’ve gone through before in your life or how you’ve had to lead a transformation somewhere else.
Michael Margolis: People need that personalized emotional connection. And we had leaders share. We had one leader share story about how their first job was delivering cakes in like a delivery truck and like all of the comedy of errors that would happen and trying to balance like five layer cakes and making sure that they didn’t show up turned upside down. Or another one of the senior leaders told this story about her first job working at a dry cleaners and the things she learned there about customer service that were these humble lessons that inform how she applies the work today. So you’d be amazed at how these little personal vignettes will go to humanize you as a senior leader and help people connect with that.
John Jantsch: Okay. You ready for the tricky question?
Michael Margolis: Oh yeah. I love tricky questions.
John Jantsch: How much of your story has to be true?
Michael Margolis: Great question. I’m a big believer … I live in Los Angeles, so there’s the old Hollywood adage, based on a true story.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Michael Margolis: So, what I often-
John Jantsch: They really play around with that one too. Sometimes it’s like based on some things that could have been true.
Michael Margolis: Well, so I’m a big believer first and foremost of truth with a capital T. So truth with a capital T is you better really be speaking to something that is fundamentally true about yourself, about life in the world. And then it’s understanding, just like a good Hollywood screenwriter, is that if you’re taking a book like Lord of the Rings and you’re adapting it for the screen, you have to make choices that are going to serve your audience.
Michael Margolis: Sometimes you have to simplify the story. Sometimes you make slight zhushes because it’s just not going to translate otherwise effectively. So I do think sometimes, there is a little creative flourish and sometimes you’re editing, but you have to always ask yourself, “The choices that I’m making, am I doing it in service to my audience or am I doing it in service to my ego validation? Or am I doing it in service to somehow fundamentally deceiving and misleading people on something of material fact that somehow negates or warps?” Would they feel truly betrayed if they found out about the adjustments that you’ve made. So that’s the subjective line that I counsel clients around.
John Jantsch: So people have used story to manipulate. The classic sort of, the one that I see that if I get a pitch from somebody that starts with how he or she lost everything and they did this and did that and now they’ve overcome and they’re doing whatever. The essence of that pitch is, “You’re broke too. And like I used to be, and now you can be rich like I am.” And the essence of that pitch really rubs me the wrong way. How do you see that being an issue of … And I’m not saying all of those are trying to manipulate people, but there certainly is a manipulative aspect to that.
Michael Margolis: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’m trying to think what’s a simple way to answer that. Because we could spend the next hour unpacking that, John. But so here’s what I think. I think that we are increasingly living in an age where our audience is getting smarter and smarter, is getting more and more discerning about whether I can believe this story or not. It’s because we’re asked to process and analyze.
John Jantsch: I’m sorry.
Michael Margolis: Yeah, go ahead.
John Jantsch: I’m sorry, I hate to interrupt you, but I should have interjected a political joke right there. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Michael Margolis: Oh, we could.
John Jantsch: About our audience believing the truth and getting smarter. But I digress.
Michael Margolis: Well, no, no, no. Look, well and I our political environment right now is a great morality tale around manipulation of story and truthiness and post-fact era and all this other kind of garbage. I still fundamentally believe at the end of the day that because of the age of transparency that we’re in, that at the end of the day, the half life of a lie is shorter and shorter and shorter. The truth comes out and we do pay attention to the clues and markers of, “Do I trust this? Do I believe in this? And most importantly, how does this story make me feel?”
Michael Margolis: And we’re more and more skeptical of stories that make us feel like crap. This is a big part of the premise of the book Story 10X, which is something that Jonah Sachs, another colleague of mine in the world of storytelling wrote the book Story Wars. He talks about this, that for the modern marketing from the 1950s to the last about 10 years ago was this era of inadequacy marketing of basically selling and preying on our fears and insecurities. And I think we’re becoming more and more resistant to those kinds of messages.
Michael Margolis: So if we feel something is heavy-handed, we have a sense of it, people are going to react. I think those strategies are less and less effective in this era where we’re looking for authenticity, where we’re looking for … We’re trying to figure out who can we trust and what can we believe? So there’s no simple, clean answer to it, John, other than I think that that character matters.
Michael Margolis: I think that natural authority comes from being able to talk about, “Here’s what I know or here’s what my gift is. And you know what? Here’s where I’m a work in progress. Here’s the stuff I’ve struggled with too.” And the key to it is to make the journey be an open loop. Basically you’re inviting people to join you in the unfolding journey as opposed to back to data and conclusions, the end, the story is over. I’ve wrapped it up in a pretty little bow. And so that shift in mindset I think is the paradigm shift for all of us to think about because you have to invite people into a story where there’s more chapters to be written, if that makes sense.
John Jantsch: Yep. Yep, yep, yep. Absolutely. Become a part of the story. So Michael, thanks for dropping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast to talk about Story 10X. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Michael Margolis: Yeah, absolutely. So you can find Story 10X on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and all your local booksellers. You can also go to our website, GetStoried.com, that’s G-E-T-S-T-O-R-I-E-D.com. And if you go to /Story 10X, you can actually download the first 70 pages of the book. And feel free to reach out to me through social media. I’m especially active on LinkedIn. You can find me there, Michael Margolis.
John Jantsch: All right. Thanks, Michael. Hopefully we’ll run into you soon one day out there on the road.
Michael Margolis: I would love it. Thanks, John. Really appreciate it.
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