Staying True to the Mission: One Key to Good Storytelling

Last week at the National Quality Colloquium, I had the opportunity to share research and ideas around the use of stories and storytelling to change behavior. The audience’s engagement and the lively discussion that followed gave evidence to the growing number of healthcare professionals openly looking to embrace the power of stories in their daily work. As a result, many are looking to learn how to share stories in a meaningful way, so that their healthcare improvement missions become contagious. One way to accomplish this is to borrow the secrets used by successful CEOs and filmmakers, and apply the intentional structure they use to weave what often feels like magic beneath their words. Peter Guber, film producer (Rain Man, The Color Purple) and author of Tell to Win, lays out a simple plan to craft stories that both move and captivate listeners in a Harvard Business Review article from 2007, “The Four Truths of the Storyteller“. Simply put, good storytelling requires:

  1. Staying true to the teller
  2. Staying true to the audience
  3. Staying true to the moment
  4. Staying true to the mission

Following is a video example of how TOMS CEO & Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie, not only thanks his customers, but shares his mission in a way that captures the heart. For those who don’t know TOMS, it is a philanthropic-driven, hip shoe company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. Storytelling is so important to TOMS mission that they have an entire section dedicated to their stories on their website. Click here for more examples of stories that stay true to the TOMS mission.

Healthcare providers have been traditionally trained to distance themselves from the potential heartache of delving too deeply into each patient’s story, but that appears to be changing as medical humanities and narrative programs are growing across the country. As we search for ways to make the culture of medicine more inclusive, inviting patients to partner in their care includes a better understanding of their stories–who they are and what matters to them–as well as a willingness to step outside the comfort zone for some. Writers and filmmakers understand all too well where our comfort zones lie, and push us to those limits in ways that often leave us begging for more. Whether or not you saw the 1998 movie, Patch Adams starring Robin Williams, based on the experience of physician, Hunter “Patch” Adams, MD, the screenwriters deliver a fitting line of dialogue for this storyline:

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

Interesting to note that the real Patch Adams was seen as an outlier for staying true to his mission–patient-centered care–long before its time.