July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

Story First: Crafting Products That Engage - Donna Lichaw

September 7, 2016

[responsive_vid]

Speaker - Donna Lichaw

While many of us seek out the newest and shiniest tools, methods, and processes to build more successful products and services, we often overlook one of the oldest, leanest, most effective tools out there: the structurally sound story.

Whether you realize it or not in the moment, you experience everything as if it was a story. The better the story, the more likely you are to want to use a product, continue to use it, pay to use it, and recommend it to others.

In this talk, you will see how taking a story first approach to product design and content development will help you build more successful products and services that excite your customers, draw them in, incite them to action, and keep them engaged over time.

Transcription coming soon

So in 2004, I presented my year-end project in film school, to an audience about this size. And before the film even fully ended, before the lights could go up, one of my classmates, his hand shoots up, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth. They have been etched into my psyche. I can’t believe you made us sit through that.

Audience: Ooh!

Now, I wish it was just Brian who felt that way, but he was not alone. I failed. Failed to engage my audience. Somehow that year I forgot one of the foundational tenets of filmmaking which is if you want to engage your audience, you have to have a story at your foundation.

Now, websites, software, apps, services, I’ll call them all products for shorthand, they have a lot in common with films. They are all things that people experience, whether you’re thinking about a product or actually using it, and they’re all things that have to have a story at the foundation, if you want to engage your audience.

You can lay the story at your foundation by accident, like I did, with a lot of — a lot of my films. Some of them were pretty good. I have to say that I was in grad school by then. I’d been studying films for years, making films, I’d won a few awards. You could do it by accident, like I also did in my career over many years, working with businesses building successful digital products, or you can lay this story at your foundation with deliberate care and intent. With deliberate care and intent, like this person here. If you were in in my workshops the other day, I already gave you the answer, so you cannot answer this, but … but can anyone else tell us who this person is? It’s a nerdy quiz here.

Vince Gilligan. Who said that? All right, you get lucky, lucky, lucky. A copy of my new book. Come up to me after the talk, .I’ll have it up here.

So correct. This is Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, the TV show Breaking Bad. And what Vince Gilligan knows is what all TV writers know. If you want to engage your audience, you lay the story at your foundation with little note cards on a cork board. You map your story out, deliberately, with care, and intent. So you can do things like this. What Vince was seated in front of was a story map for season four of Breaking Bad, and if you’ve seen season four of Breaking Bad, you know what this card refers to.

And if you haven’t, I love to — I love to give homework out, so if you haven’t, you have to go watch Breaking Bad. It’s absolutely amazing. Mapping the story out helps you make things go boom. Not just on screen, which could be — could be a tactic, but makes things go boom for your audience on the other end.

Now, in order to understand how this works, you have to first understand how story works. Some mechanics here, luckily that are easily, easily learned.

So in each one of my favorite movies, as an example to walk you through story mechanics and what it does to people.

Back to the future: Has anyone ever seen Back to the Future? OK. I always love to check. So it’s actually I’ll rephrase it. Has anyone ever not seen Back to the Future? I want to see a hand. One person. Two. OK. That’s the most — the most I’ve ever had in an audience. Usually there’s always one one one person I put on the spot. This time there’s two and that’s totally OK. That’s totally alright.

So walk let me walk you through here. So first, every story has a beginning, middle and an end, and on that timeline we’ve got a structure. This is what we call the narrative arc. On that structure. Got plot points. So how does it work? Let me walk you through it.

[5:00]

At the beginning of the story you have an exposition. It’s a fancy way of saying it’s the beginning of the story. It happens as quickly as possible, this is where we’re introduced to the main character, they are some kind of hero and they have some kind of big lofty goal. So in Back to the Future we’ve got Marty. He’s got family that’s the kind of, you know, they’re sort of a bunch of losers, but he wants to do something really cool with himself. He’s got this friend called doc. Doc has a time machine. They’re going to do really cool stuff. Until something changes. This is what we call the inciting incident, or simply put, the problem. A very technical term that we used in screenwriting, a problem arises. Something changes in the world or the character that kick starts them on a journey. So Back to the Future what we have is in order to fuel the time machine, Doc had stolen plutonium and he’s found out and he gets shot. So not so good.

Then we’re led into what we call rising action. Now, it’s called rising action simply because if that X axis is time, that Y axis, it’s interestingness, intrigue, awesomeness, tension, tension is good, tension is good for stories, because it gets people engaged and it gets people interested over time, so every scene has to be more and more interesting as things go on. So in this case, Marty goes back in time, and he meets his mom and his mom has a crush on him and things just get weirder and weirder and weirder until we get to the point of no return, also called the moment of crisis. Now, this is that moment in every story where we’re near the end, very, very close to the end, the hero is this close to solving the problem that arose early on, but we’re sitting in the audience thinking, you uh-oh things are starting to get really wrong.

Will he or won’t he get Back to the Future? So he’s on stage, he’s playing Johnny be good, his hands start disappearing, his parents might never kiss and oh, my God, he’ll never be born and things get crazy and crazy. At this point when you’re in the audience, you’re not just watching a movie, but what scientists tell us is that physiologically you’re experiencing it as if you are the main character on screen. Your pulse quickens when it’s supposed to. Your palms get sweaty. Your heartbeat is racing, it’s as if you identify with the main character to the point that you are experiencing everything like they would be in real life. So what happens? How do we overcome this hurdle? If the film ended right now, it would be a cliff-hanger, or worse, it would be a tragedy and it would be really sad. So how do we overcome this?

Well, we come to the moment that we call the climax, or sometimes this is called the resolution, because this is the high point of the story where the problem that arose early on is resolved. So in Back to the Future, they figure out how to get Marty back to the future, and there’s lightning and there’s a clock tower and there’s all this stuff and then there’s falling, and this leads to what we call falling action. Now, the idea with falling action is that if the movie ended, when Marty got back to the future, he was in present day and then the credits started rolling, it would be just as unsettling if it ended up on the clock tower with lightning. It would not feel as complete to us.

As humans, we need stories to come full circle, in essence, to take us back home, so that we feel settled and we know how things ended up. A good way of think of falling action is then what? Once we know then what, we feel better about what just happened. So in this case, back to the future, Marty is home. Home often in these types of journeys is better than when it started, and that is key. Home has to be better, because there has to be a reason why this person went on that journey. There has to be some kind of payoff. So what’s going on? Welby is their house servant, which is pretty crazy. His parents — his dad is a published author. It’s so exciting. Earlier on in the beginning of the movie, Marty really wanted this truck and he wanted to take his girlfriend away for a weekend with the truck but he couldn’t have a truck, and so he gets — he gets keys to a truck. It’s pretty cool.

[10:00]

Then again, it has to really, really end somehow, so often, in classic Hollywood movies, there will be some kind of a kiss, so his girlfriend shows up and he tells her, oh, my God, you know, the craziest, craziest craziest day and they kiss and they embrace, and it could be the end, but if you’ve seen Back to the Future, which most of you, except for two people. — I just don’t know how. Two people. This could be the end. But what movies sometimes do and serials and novels and especially TV shows, is something else happens. So doc shows up and he says Marty, Marty, Marty, you have to come with me? Where? To the future and so kick starts what will be the next installments. The next movie.

So this is, you know, this works great for movies, TV shows, novels, as well. Though novels have a lot more flexibility. Movies and TV shows, they absolutely have to keep you hooked or else you know, you can’t just put a book down for a few weeks and then come back to it.

So how does this apply to the type of work that we do? Because most of us are not making — not making movies for a living.

So I want you to look at this photo here. And again for those of you in my workshop, you cannot — cannot answer this one. But I’m just going to have you yell is out. If I tell you that these two people are using an Apple product, it’s an app that comes preinstalled on every iPhone and iPad, what app are they using? Yell it out.

Facetime.

Calendar !

Yup. There we go. There we go. Not Siri, right? Anyone think Siri? Right. Not Pokémon because Apple didn’t make Pokémon and a few other things. So how do you know that they’re using FaceTime? What’s going on here? It took you all split seconds here, microseconds. So when you look at a photograph like this, what your mind is doing is you start computing a narrative, you see these two people and you think, well, they look a little bit older and they have an iPhone and this is an app that comes preinstalled, maybe they’re grandparents, maybe they miss their grandkids, and well, face time is something that they can look to see their grandkids and they’re happy, so probably they’re seeing their grandkids. This is something that many of us have probably experienced at one end or another. This is what your brain does when you look at photographs. So something, it’s a still, it’s not a two-hour-long movie, it’s not a five-year-long TV show. Your brain uses what neuroscientists and cognitive scientists call narrative parsing to parse out data in milliseconds. It’s so strongly ingrained in us as human beings that you’re doing it without even — it’s completely subconscious, you’re not even thinking about it.

Now, the thing about story is it’s so powerful, not just for looking at things and getting meaning from what we see and experience, but if you were these two people using face time, you’d be using the same narrative parsing to comprehend the value and remember what is happening as you experience using face time, so what scientists tell us is that life, life is a story. It’s not just about movies and consuming things. But life, walking down the street, your brain is looking for a story in that. Life is a story, and in that story, what’s key is that you are — you are the hero.

So what’s going on?What’s going on here? How does this apply to again, not just movies, not just photographs, but products and services? So the way that story governs experiencing using products and services, it happens on two levels. First, it governs how we think about a product or service, and then it governs how we use it. So I’m going to walk you through the mechanics of how it works on different levels.

[15:00]

It all starts with similarly architecture involves at the beginning, we have some kind of hero, so who is the hero? And you always want to ask yourself, what is the big goal? Then they have some kind of problem. What is the problem as it relates to your product or service?

Then, and this is the highest level conceptual model we’ve got here. So you’ve got a product name and some kind of market category. There’s always some kind of competition. There’s always some reason and this is where tension comes into play. Tension is an essential component for building effective stories. It’s an offense component for building effective products. There’s always some reason why people don’t want to think highly of your product or service when they first hear about it.

But how do you get over that? There’s some kind of competitive advantage that gets people over the hurdle and gives them the promise of solving that problem that they have early on. Then there’s some kind of takeaway, and you want to think about this, well, what do we want people to think about or feel when they first hear about how awesome this cool thing is and then at the end you have to have the big lofty goal or the promise of their goal being met. They have to think, oh, cool, if I try this thing out, I might be able to do X, and they walk you through how this works with a product that we’re all familiar with. I love to use this as an example, the iPhone, because it’s something that if you don’t own an iPhone, you probably own an Android phone or a Windows phone. Is Windows phone big in Canada? Is anyone on Windows phone? Not —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Blackberry!

Right! You might own a touchscreen Blackberry. Oh, man, I have developed products for Blackberry. So yes, it fits. You all have a device that is somewhat like this. Now, what happened in 2007, when this phone came on the market? It was a little bit something like this. So the story could have been that you were someone who listened to music on the go. You might have owned an iPod. Maybe you still had a CD player with discs and you brought your folder around and you stowed it in your backpack. You wanted also to make phone calls on the go. At the time, mobile phones started to become a huge market. Most of us had Nokia brick phones at the time, that did, you know, two, maybe three things. It made phone calls and it saved phone numbers. Maybe you could play a game. I had one that played the radio, it was pretty cool.

Maybe you had a smartphone, but there was a tiny, tiny sliver of the market. Most people did not own smartphones, nor did they want smartphones. There was really no market for it at the time. So what was the problem? Well, it did suck to carry two devices. If you were like me, a lot of my friends and I, we would joke well, what if we could have our iPod and just duct tape our mobile phone to it. That would make life so much easier, it sucks to carry two device,.

So how do you go about solving that? Well, the iPhone. It’s a smartphone. It could be a device that plays music unless you make phone calls. Because it’s a two-in-one device, simple problem? But why would you not want to adopt it? You might already own an iPod. You might own a mobile phone. It might seem like it would be difficult to use. It might cost a lot of money, which it did at the time, and something you don’t want to deal with. In the end, the big question is, would you really want a device like this? You know, but you could listen to music and make phone calls, all in one device.

Now, the thing about a story like this is if this happened in real life, if this is what Apple went out and built, and tried to sell to the world, it would have been — this is what we call anticlimactic.

[20:00]

There is no climax. A two in one solution would be a simple solution to a simple known problem. Two devices suck. In a simple solution to a known problem would have looked like this. This is a schematic for a device in the US patent archives. It was applied for in in 2006, the year the iPhone came out, and no one is really sure if this is actually a real device that Apple was working on or if it’s a joke patent. They’ve been known to patent joke things in the past. People say hahaha, wouldn’t that have been funny if they actually built that thing, so what this is is it’s an iPod that makes phone calls. This is what the public wanted. And if you wanted to dial the phone, if you remember the touch pad and the way you select numbers is you would have to go like this, select 3, 4, same thing with letters, right? So if it was in English, 26 letters. Now, this device not only anticlimactic, this would have been extremely difficult to use. And so finishing off, closing that story, people wanting this device, it just would not have happened. So what did Apple eventually release?

It wasn’t a story about getting a two in one device that does everything. It was a story about communication. And for those of you who were in my workshop the other day, we dug into this a lot, which is whenever people tell you that they want something, don’t pay attention. You always want to find out what they really need to do. So what do you really need to do if you want to play music and make phone calls on the go? If you dig deeper, as deep as you can go, you need to communicate with the world around you. So this is a story about communication. What’s the problem? Well, what Steve Jobs told us in 2007 in you his keynote address that announced the iPhone to the world, what he told everyone is that smartphones suck. Now, if you remember what I was saying a minute ago, smartphones were a tiny, tiny, tiny market.

People didn’t want smartphones, so if someone is telling you smartphones suck and you read into it a little bit. This story, it governs how we think about a product when we first hear about it, whether someone is just telling us, you know. At the coffee shop word of mouth and you lean over and you say, what are you doing. And this governs a two hour long keynote presentation, which is something Steve Jobs is really aware of not because he was really adept at making wonderful presentations and hired huge teams making sure that his presentations were bullet proof. But he had worked at Pixar for a long time and he was really attuned to narrative art. So this was the story arc of the keynote presentation, but also more important is the story of the iPhone itself. So smartphones suck, there’s a better way to communicate.

The iPhone it’s a smartphone. So what we’ve got here is we’re playing a little bit with that tension again. Smartphones suck, hey, I have a smartphone for you, and that’s OK, whether you’re in a two hour long presentation you’re trying to convince your boss or your client, hey we’re going to build in this feature and this is why it’s important for you to listen to me. So tension again is good. So why might you not want to adopt this? Well, again, same reasons, you might just not want a new device. You might already own a couple of devices, you, you know, might think it’s difficult, because when people saw this touchscreen, people started freaking out. At the time, the only touchscreen out there on a phone was a Palm Treo.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo!

I had one, too. What color stylus did you have?

Steve: It was silver.

[25:00]

Silver. Out of the box. I had a gold one. It was cool. There were other touchscreens, as well. I lived in Europe for a while, and Sony Ericsson and a lot of different options, but they were impossible to use. It was like using mittens to try to use these touch screens and so people were really — the press was just like, this is a disaster, Apple is going, you know, they’re going out of business, this is just insane. But how did they overcome all of these hurdles? Well, what the iPhone promised was a few things. So they promised this idea of, well, first and foremost, lofty, lofty, but this was something they stood mind, but this is “the” best way to communicate. It was a device that the company also claimed worked like magic and it was not a two in one device, but it was a three in one device. It is a mobile phone, it was an iPod, and it was this third weird thing that people were kind of — during the keynote presentation were like, a what? It was an internet communicator, something that nobody asked for. Nobody, nobody.

So what happens when people find out about what the value propositions are? Well, in the end, whether it happens that year or it happened over a period of many years, everyone wants a device like this. Throughout the world. This is still — in some developing country, it’s still a very Nokia brick phone text based but even cell phones are penetrating wherever they can. It’s usually power issues that end up being an impediment there. But this is something that eventually even your grandparents wanted a device like this.

And so the important thing to note here is that it’s not just — it’s not just the premise of magic and this internet communication thing. It actually has to deliver. Because I remember that the first time I ended up buying an iPhone, and I brought it home and I remember showing my dad this iPhone, and he saw it, and he started playing around with it. And he didn’t know what he was doing. He was just tap-tap-tapping, and at some point he just, you know, the words out of his mouth were, “This is like magic,” and he was a total technophobe, he could barely even work the VCR. But he was, you know — it’s like magic. And he was also a huge Star Trek fan so for him recalled many memories of wait a minute, I think I’ve seen something like this before.

And I go into depth about props in movies as being something that have clear story arcs behind them. But this idea of magic, it wasn’t until many years later that it was so important that this idea of magic resonated with someone who never even saw the keynote presentation. It’s because this story arc is something that has to resonate and has to be at the foundation of every interaction you have with the product, whether you’re thinking about it, or whether you start to use it. So unboxing, that has a story. There’s — there’s entire genre of unboxing and being sub genres of unboxing on YouTube. Clear story arc. The packaging designers know exactly what they’re doing there. If you watch it on YouTube it’s amazing, people freak out and oh, my God, it’s incredible. So unboxing is a story, but everything has to have — every key interaction people make and every key thing they do with your product has to embody that story arc, so if it’s a screen-based device, that user interface step by step by step has to echo the story structure.

Now, how might that work for something that, you know, seemingly mundane as a screen flow?

So I’m going to use an example of one of the most effective first-time signup flows ever in the — I guess the history of the internet it was a signup flow that Twitter played around with a few years ago when they were having this problem, which was that they were getting a lot of people to sign up for Twitter. It was starting to be — one of the fastest growing internet services out there, but people were signing up and they were not becoming active users, they were probably not using the service even once, and if they were, they were definitely not coming back a week later, two weeks later, and services like this, the way they survive is they want you to ideally use their service every single day. This is what their investors want, as well.

[30:00]

So what Twitter wanted to figure out is their first-time signup flow was really successful in getting people to sign up, but could they engineer it in a way that people not only just signed up and got through it, but they actually got some kind of value out of it the very first time so that maybe they would be more likely to engage with the service over timing.

And in the end, this signup flow was so successful that Twitter had to stick with it for many, many years. They could not — they could not get rid of it. It was around for about three years long, because it ended up working so well. So how does it work? It has a story at its foundation. So the beginning if you’re coming to the Twitter home page, that’s where this story starts. You’re someone that wants to be in the know. That’s what the copy says, start a conversation, be in the know? Now, what’s the problem? So the inciting incident here. It’s kind of boring, you could say it’s so boring because it’s a call to action, if you want to be in the know, great, sign up for Twitter. Nothing fancy there. OK. So then what?

Go through a series of steps. So first they teach you about what a tweet is. And then you click onwards and you learn, OK, this is what a timeline is, and if you follow people, and then you — you know, you get more tweets and follow people and get more tweets, and this goes on for a series of steps. It goes on and on and on and on to the point where you could be wondering, you know, what — heh-heh — what am I doing here again? What’s the point? I’m bored. What’s the value of Twitter? Is it really just Beyonce and Bill de Blasio? Like, I kind of don’t really care. If you get to this point and you just click one screen further, what you’ve got is a value proposition that is not what you expect. Because I’ve worked with a lot of businesses that try to ask to you authenticate with organism mail or Facebook and they have a lot of trouble, because they ask you and people say Photoshop, I’m not giving you my personal information, we don’t know who you are, we don’t trust you. More importantly, we don’t know what value you provide.

Why would we give you something if we don’t know what we’re going to get back in return? But with this signup flow, the value proposition comes at the right point. At point where you might be struggling so much that you might drop off but you don’t drop off. And their data Analytics tell them that when you come up with this flow you measure everything. But you make sure that this is testing properly, whether you test it with usability tests in person with people and you can watch their facial expressions. I talk a lot about that in the book, as well, or you can test this with Analytics, and make sure, nope, people went to the next step, and what you’ve got here is the value proposition of Twitter, a social network, so if you come here, you will be in the know, and you get Bill de Blasio and you get Beyonce, but more importantly, you get your friends, you get your family, you get people you know. You will be so in the know. So all right, people continue onward, then what?

So the following action here and the rule of thumb in general for stories, whether it’s storytelling or it’s something that is embodied in a flow, is that the idea is always again wrap tup. Wrap it up. We come to the climax, wrap it up as quickly as possible. So what happens is we have one more step but it’s optional. You can fill out some bio information, you can upload an avatar, you can skip it entirely. As quickly as possibly and now you are home. And just like in the movies, again what’s important here is that home is better than when you started. We call this logged in home and the rule of thumb for logged in home we talk about empty states a lot when building software apps, websites, you never want to drop someone on an empty state.

You never want to have them do all this work and there’s a lot of wisdom in that. You want home to be better than when you started so that value proposition of being in the know, it has to be echoed throughout. The climax, the high point, has to deliver on that value, and then coming to the close and coming to the end, you have to then see that value. And again, this flow. Worked.

[35:00]

People got something out of it and they ended up staying for and this ended up saving Twitter as a company for longish-shortish engagement, because now they’ve got to figure out, OK, now that you’ve been a member for seven years, how do we get you to return? But this was again one of the most successful signup flows ever. So what’s going on here?

So again we’ve got who, who is your user, what is their problem, incentive or call to action. This is where we’re getting more tactical. Not as much conceptual. We’re down and dirty, call, incentive, call to action. The idea of call to action, this comes from narrative architecture you call a hero to action and they go on a journey. It’s not a coincidence that we often call buttons calls to action. They kick start a journey and it’s important that you think about them as if you’re thinking about it as a prop in the movies. So then what?

Well, you’ve got a flow. Series of steps, and again, all that matters is that each step gets better than the last and provides more value than the last. Sometimes it means you need to rearrange your flow as you’re going and I talk about that a lot of this in the book, as well, there are a lot of ways to prototype different types of stories and flows and make sure that yes, OK, this is the one we’re going with. Then what? Well, there’s always an impediment and it’s important not just to know that these impediments exist, but to use them as a design material, because our goal again is to make sure that’s impediments don’t again in the way that we get people over this hurdle.

So what kinds of impediments typically exist in these types of interactions? It might it be something like, well, signup, you want people to sign up for something. It could be payments. You’re near the end of a checkout flow and now we need your credit card information or we need some kind of payment information. It could be some kind of funnel dropoff that you see in your metric suite or in your Analytics, owe blog posts about this, as well, and my website I’m going to have all that information at the end of the talk. But metrics, you can look at an Analytics funnel and see what the story is. So on step 4, people are always dropping off. Why? Why? That’s a cliffhanger, one that you can easily hypothesize solutions to, and test them as soon as you get a new flow live.

What else? People could be bored. There are always mental hurdles. That’s OK, humans we’re fickle and we have no attention span. We might be lacking value. Or something might be difficult to use. Know that you can always overcome all these just by providing value. People need to solve the problem that they know they have early on, and they need to experience the value of using your product. Then what?

Well, simply just finish — you need to finish the flow again, wrap it up as quickly as possible. And in the end, their goal has to be met. And this is really, really really important. Because first, the first type of story I was talking about is just how people think about your product or service. You think, oh, iPhone that sounds kind of cool or I’m intrigued, or I will try one out but I’m not so sure, but I need to try it out. Here you just finish the flow as quickly, quickly as possible. Get people to the end of their, it has to to be met. So if you tell me they’re going to be in the know, I can’t feel like oh, if I come back at the end of two weeks, maybe then I’ll be in the know. I have to feel in the know. So why is this all so useful and so apparent? Once you start looking for stories in products and flows and concepts, you start seeing them everywhere. Why is story such an essential material for building human engagement? Because you know, this could be — I could be talking to you about game mechanics, for instance, yes, if you build game mechanics into anything, it makes it better. But even game designers know that story is their essential design material. They’re well voiced in narrative starts. This is how you build engagement. So why does this work for things that aren’t just movies but for things that we experience?

[40:00]

The thing to remember is we’ve got micro-stories and habit loops that happen on tiny tiny levels so there’s this idea of it could be huge and it could be tiny. Habitual loops, games, the way our brain works, is we are looking for trigger points. We are looking for trigger points that follow a few key things. There is a trigger, an action, and a reward. It can happen on the tiniest level. So we’ve got the idea of the iPhone, we’ve got the Twitter being in the know. It could be something that happens over a period of, you know, days, weeks, months. It could be years long. The mechanic governs everything. Governs everything. Now, the key again is this idea, this idea of engagement, right? If you don’t need to engage people, there is no reason to use any of these mechanics. But why again? Story is one of the oldest ways our brains have to communicate with the world around us. Again it’s communication. It’s two ways. It’s outward and it’s how we tell people things and it’s how we glean meaning.

Now, the way this works, what’s key, right, so you need to just take this in for a second. There is no such thing as an actual experience. All our brains have, all we can perceive, are moments. Moments in time. So the moment from a moment ago when I said “moment” that first time. It’s gone already, and now I’m in this other moment, but that’s gone already. All we have are memories of what happened, and projections into what will happen. And story gives shape to these moments. It gives shape to experience, before, during, and after.

Now, there’s this idea. It’s call the peak end rule. We remember the highs of an experience and we remember the lows of an experience and we remember what came closest to the end of an experience, and so this narrative structure, if you want people to think fondly, get excited, this structure is very, very powerful, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists tell us that when our brains consume story, our brains are activated. They light up. We’re more likely to see utility in something, so it’s going to seem useful. We’re more likely to think something was easier to use than it was, and I’ve worked with a lot of companies developing a lot of really, really successful products that had some usability quirks. It wouldn’t always matter when the story was intact, and people experienced something that was story-like, people would just fall in love with these brands and services.

Often it’s a tool you can use to prioritize and project manage big complex projects when you realize OK, people are struggling but you know what, they love this so much and we’ll launch and a month later we’ll fix that weird quirk, that bug that we thought was so important. Desirability, when you see what you can do with a product or service, you’re more likely to want to engage with it. Value. You not only experience that value, but you remember that value. Because it happened as close to the end had of an experience as possible. And lastly choice, when your brain consumes story, anything story-like, again, it’s not just the movies, but anything that has that structure you’re more likely to want to choose to do it again. So the next time you work I want you to ask not what software should we use, what should our team look like, not what that button should say, not Photoshop or any of these things, these are all really, really important things, but I want you to ask, what is the story, who is my hero, what is my goal and how is this story going to play out? How are we going to help these people meet their goal? More importantly, how are we going to make things go boom for us, for our business and for people on the other end? How are we going to make things go boom and possibly last forever, and ever and ever — and ever. My new book, The User’s Journey, it’s just out. I’ve got a ton of information about it, I’ve got free chapter samples and a bunch of stuff on my website. If you sign up for my mailing list I’ve got some other goodies, workbooks, ton of stuff. Please stay in touch and I’ll be hanging around today, as well, and that’s, yeah, thank you very much.

Our sponsoring partners