Show, Don’t Tell

Show, Don’t Tell

You’ve probably heard the expression “show, don’t tell”. More often than not, this expression is used to guide writers, especially in the realm of fiction, who want to over explain everything through long passages of dull exposition. This technique is often aided by an everyman who has the same knowledge as the reader; they are new to this universe, and need someone to explain every facet to them. Reading the book becomes like reading an encyclopedia instead of reading an engrossing story.

When running an organization with many members, there can be lessons you want to impart on those in your care. As a teacher, you may want to tell your students how good study habits can improve their lives; as the Head of Human Resources, you might want to establish how creative thinking can help your employees have more productive, enjoyable days. Simply stating this to them, either verbally or through the much-maligned motivational poster, is insufficient. You want to show them why the techniques or thought-patterns are going to help them, in an exciting and engaging way. Once fully engrossed, they’ll learn the lessons needed organically.

How do you go about this in an effective way? Obviously, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hand them a book titled “Grand Organizational Narrative” with fictional characters undergoing a hero’s journey that will impact on your members the value of teamwork. One way to go about it is to really engage your members during their day-to-day. Ask them about how their day has been; try to glean from the stories they tell what their underlying motivations or frustrations are. For your part, illustrate to them how you’ve spent your day; include any activities you think they might benefit from. Did you take 10 minutes in the morning to meditate? Maybe you went on a jog, or treated yourself to a nice breakfast? Delve into the feelings you felt when you enjoyed a morning ritual or a good meeting; make it visceral, so they can delve into the physicality of it all.

We’d all like to be storytellers, orators with the gift of having anyone who listens to us experience our tales vicariously. There’s a couple of problems with the methodology outlined above; first, it’s not realistic to expect everyone to have a silver tongue – it’s also not realistic to expect someone to form deep connections with every single person in their organization. The solution is guest speakers. They know how to create a deep connection with a large audience, or they wouldn’t be doing well in the world of guest speaking. They’re also highly accomplished in their fields; the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. There’s another age old adage: “No prophet is accepted in his hometown”. You might have the skills, knowledge and oratory flair necessary to motivate most people, but within your own organization, you may always get a lukewarm reception. Finding a prophet from another land, so to speak, gives you an exciting way to create change within your organization.