The first time I saw Franz he was huddled in a corner of his office. He was a big man dressed in an expensive black suit. His long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. His face was downcast. He seemed to be looking at his flashy hand made boots but then I realized he wasn’t looking at anything. He looked depressed and he admitted that he was scared. In less than 3 days he would be face to face with the CEO of his company. And his boss had acquired the nickname of “The Ripper” because he was known to gut companies faster than a fisherman could gut a bass.
Franz was a brilliant Austrian car designer, who had developed an innovative idea that could help save his struggling company. I had been hired to help him deliver his idea to his stressed out boss and at the moment the odds of success looked dim.
The more nervous Franz became the more information he added to his slide deck. His talk was titled: The Reflective Properties of Luminous Electric Cells and their Integration into Vehicular Design and ran 50 minutes in length. He wanted to go longer but thought he should devote 10 minutes for questions He had amassed over 30 slides of charts and graphs. Here are a few of the more interesting slide topics:
* Demographics and Psycho graphics of Potential Users
* The Role of Luminous Light on Sight
* The Historic Roots of Light as Crime Deterrent
I told Franz that if he gave that presentation it was unlikely that he would succeed and he could get fired.
Then I asked Franz one question. "Where did you get your idea?"
Franz got defensive and said “it was not relevant” I challenged, cajoled and played the devils advocate until he realized that if there were any chance of success he had to tell his story.
Here it is:
“I was flying all night from Los Angeles to Heathrow. I arrived early in the morning and rented a car. I drove to an unfamiliar part of town. I didn’t finish until 10:00 PM. I was tired, hungry and disoriented. I had forgotten where I had parked my car and in fact I couldn’t remember what kind of car I rented. The parking garage was old with bad lighting. Lights flickered on and off at every level. I kept wandering around looking for my car. I got worried that someone was going to hit me on the head.”
“Finally, I found my car. As I was driving back to the hotel I got this idea: Wouldn’t it be great if I had a button on my key chain and when I pressed it my car could be illuminated in light. Not only could I find my car but I would know that nobody was hiding in the shadows near my car. When I got back to my hotel room I made a few notes.”
When the CEO heard Franz’s story he said “OK, what else do you have for me?” Franz was puzzled and asked did “OK” mean yes or no to his idea? The CEO smiled and said “Yes Franz” that’s a good idea and let’s move forward with it.” That OK meant that a $57 million dollar project just got a green light.
Franz’s story moved the CEO to take action because it allowed him to feel what its like to be in another’s shoes. He felt what millions of women feel when they’re tired and vulnerable at night and all they want to do is safely find their way home.
And that’s what a good story can do.