Telling Stories at the Heart of #SXSW2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.08.15 PMOur ETY storytelling series often includes tips and examples of good storytelling for healthcare leaders who wish to embrace the power of story to change healthcare for the better. At #SXSW this past week, I attended more than one session focused on the power of story in both brand building and filmmaking–all of which provided takeaways easily incorporated into the work of telling our healthcare stories. One such session was put on by the NYTimes Op-Doc producers. Op-Docs is a series of short films submitted by both established and up-and-coming filmmakers, covering health, the arts, science, world news, tech, sports, opinion and more.

One of the Op-Docs short films covers an interview with writer/director/lead actor Jon Favereau (@JonFavreau) for the movie Chef, which premiered at #SXSW. The film, which includes an all-star cast, inspires the audience to do what they love–one of my Top 10 Takeaways from #SXSW2014 to come in a post next week. In a #SXSW session dedicated to a conversation with the filmmaker, Favereau told the audience he used to work on Wall Street and was sadly uninspired, giving to the job only what he absolutely had to in order to get through another day. It was when he committed to a career in filmmaking that he found his passion, along with the desire to put all of himself into his work. As evidence of that commitment, he shared that he wrote the script for Chef in only 2 weeks, explaining how the story took hold of him and he couldn’t stop writing until it was finished. To hear more of his thoughts on the film and his own filmmaking process, view the NYTimes Op-Docs interview with Favereau at NYTimes Op-Docs Chef. And go see the film if you get the chance — it’s truly one of those “feel good” movies!

Check out NYTimes Op-Docs for storytelling ideas here, but beware…the content will pull you in, and keep you on the site far longer than intended.

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.

The Future of Storytelling — Big Screen and Small

Hugh Hart (@hughhart) recently wrote an article for Fast Company (@FastCoCreate), Movie Meltdown, $100 Tickets, And Dream Control: Lucas and Spielberg Forecast The Future Of Entertainment. In the piece, Hart shares eleven predictions made by the two storytelling geniuses, illuminating what the future of the big screen might, and might not, look like.

Becoming part of the movie, tapping into dream-tainment, games melding with movies and sensors taking the place of joysticks, controllers and devices insert audience members directly into the movie-going experience in the not too distant future. Big movies will garner higher ticket prices. Niche audiences will support indie filmmaking careers. I like the sound of this —

But what will remain unchanged is the need for good stories. As Spielberg says,

…show business, past, present, and future, depends on stories worth telling. “The thing I emphasize to everybody who comes to work at my company is, don’t play with the toys until you have something to say.”

As I prepare for a talk to be given at the National Quality Colloquium’s Innovation Track this September (Using Storytelling to Change Behavior), I have been pouring through reading on the topic of story, and how it can help change behavior. Having been part of the team that created the Tears to Transparency series, I am continuously reminded first-hand just how powerful patient stories are — to providers, as well as patients. Every time we share Lewis’ or Michael’s story–stories of harm at the hands of those entrusted to care for them–it is visibly apparent that medical students, residents, care providers and patient advocate audiences alike all feel the weight of the families’ loss. From the tears shed to the gratitude expressed for sharing these stories, a collective desire to do better for all patients permeates the room.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 10.22.22 PMMost recently, I’ve been reading Lisa Cron’s (@LisaCron), Wired for Story, which has not only provided a number of pearls for my talk, but also a reminder of just how powerful the brain is in creating its own, very real, physiologic reality when engaged in reading or watching a story unfold. According to Cron’s research, stories–when told by writers who understand how to create characters we can relate to, and then place them in a world that provides just the right combination of conflict, resolution and reward–supply a pure dopamine rush to the reader, an almost addictive reward in itself.

We have written about the “how tos” and “whys” re:the use of story in healthcare a number of times (see Storytelling Tips from the Pros,  Developing Storytelling Skills via TEDxEaling,  Storytelling and the Reality of Medicine, Using Storytelling…to Develop Empathy, The Power of Storytelling in Medicine). As a fan and student of good stories, I am not surprised at the mounting research and resources teaching craft. Research studies, mainstream authors and marketing gurus all point to the innate need we all have to make sense of life via stories. Stay tuned for more advice from the pros.