Stories. Aren’t they incredible?
A story — you live in it, empathize with it and sometimes relate to it if it rings a bell.
Today, I am not going to talk about fictional stories, but rather stories told in a business context — or for that matter, one of my very own stories.
About five years ago I made a career shift from what we, consultants, call “industry” into management consulting. Consulting was my dream job and when I had an opportunity to jump in it, I took it and dived right into it. Consulting was my dream job for one simple reason:
You will constantly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.
“A few modern philosophers… assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” -Alfred Binet
I love this quote and I live with it every single day.
You see, I studied software engineering and to be frank, to a great extent, it has nothing to do with what I am doing right now. However, part of my studies included taking a compulsory eight-month internship to graduate. Being my nerdy self, I opted for the techy jobs.
Fortunately, I had a conversation with my career advisor at my university. One thing led to another and he suggested I apply for an internship in a consulting firm. I asked, “What is consulting?” The more I learned about it the more I was intrigued to explore consulting. I applied in every consulting firm I knew of. Of course, I researched a lot because as I said earlier, at the time I had no clue of, “What is consulting?”
I joined consulting.
Let me remind you, I was a techy girl, a little nerdy, and oh, by the way, I was the kind of girl who would take time off her summer vacation to go to a Java camp and love it!
Let’s be clear, those kind of girls are not the best when it comes to “negotiation skills”.
My first assignment in the consulting job depended heavily on one main skill. Guess what? Yes, you got it right. It’s “negotiation skills”.
My role entailed me to get on the phone, convince a CXO to set-up a meeting they didn’t want to discuss something they are not interested in. Have that meeting. Convince them again that this thing they didn’t want in the first place is actually good for them.
Ok. That for me is a nightmare. I mean give me a piece of software or program and I will code it for you, but this? God, no!
Before I continue, let me take something off my chest and tell you something about myself. You are getting to know a little bit more about me, and you will know why pretty soon.
I really appreciate me and mostly think highly of myself. Some people call this overconfidence, but I call it gratitude. This is not to mention that I think I am the best at everything. On the contrary, I don’t think I am the best at everything, but I strongly believe that if I put the effort in it, I will be one of the best.
You reap what you sow.
The above paragraph was a disclaimer to what I am about to tell you.
Hmm… What exactly happened when I joined consulting?
To tell you the truth, I absolutely sucked.
I couldn’t get anyone on the phone for a proper conversation, let alone convince them to have that meeting.
People would hang-up the phone.
I felt humiliated. I was fragile.
Then, I went to my manager all upset — telling her that I am not cut out for that.
She calmed me down. She calmed me down, and then told me, “It happens to all of us.”
I felt a little better.
Still, what are we going to do with this endless list of clients we need to call and meet?
We were screwed.
Our client started pressuring us. If we couldn’t get it together, they would withdraw the project and give it to our competitor.
Things couldn’t get worse.
“What are we going to do?” I kept wondering.
The team flew in an expert from India to give us training on how to handle this situation — I mean, handling those calls, as well as, the meetings. He came to train us on those “negotiation skills”, the key required skill to succeed in this project.
He spent one week with us and coached us to become pros ourselves. Yes, we became pros — all of us. We were able to get into the phone, have a smooth conversation, run that meeting successfully and deliver the project. Amazing, right?
I mean, me, the geeky techy girl, is doing a great job in what requires her to utilize her “negotiation skills”. Wow, I am impressed. I was impressed. I still remember this moment even though it was practically 10 years ago.
It changed my life. My first manager and the negotiation skills expert changed my life. They might not know it, but they absolutely did.
My innate believe that I can excel in anything I put my mind into hasn’t been more engraved. It became part of me. It’s me. After this incident, no longer would I tell myself, “I can’t” or “It’s not me”. I know one thing. I can if I put the effort into it. Simple.
Remember my favorite quote I shared at the beginning of this blog post? That is my belief system. Not just for me, but practically for anyone — but only if they want to… and the put the effort into it.
From that moment forward, consulting became my dream job. Why? It pushes your limit… and most importantly, you will constantly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.
Some people asked me, “Why didn’t I start my career in consulting?” My answer to them is that you don’t always get what you want at the time you want it. Sometimes you have to wait. I waited, and when the opportunity arose, I jumped right into it.
Guess what happened when I re-joined consulting?
You wouldn’t believe it… or would you?
Once again, I wasn’t the best. My career prior to consulting had little to do with what we do in management consulting, and so the transition was a bit tough.
My first deck, PowerPoint presentation, lacked “the story” factor. My manager would go through my deck and tell me, “There is no story.”
I looked at him and felt confused. I thought, “what story?”
“Not again,” I thought. I knew I wasn’t the best at the time… and I also knew I have a lot to learn.
In my mind, stories were only fictional. They were not part of a business report. #Dah?
I couldn’t be more wrong. Now, I know all about stories, and the first thing I think of when I know I have to write a report is always the story.
Didn’t I tell you what I believe in?
I can if I put the effort into it. You also can — if you put the effort into it.
Stories are an integral success factor to any presentation, to any report, to any book, or to any content for that matter. Stories help others understand what you are trying to tell. Stories get them on your side. Stories make things clear in their head. Stories get people excited. Stories tell them how you are going to solve their problems.
Stories are phenomenal. Stories are told every day, and not just in a business context.
When I started writing this blog post, I wanted to tell you everything you need to know about stories in a business context, but then I drifted to tell you my story on how I came about to understand the importance of stories.
So here is my promise to you. In one of the upcoming posts, I will share, “Everything you ever wanted to know about stories”, so you can make the best out of them, yourself.
Stories are phenomenal and will always influence the way you see things.