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How To Grow Your Company Organically In This New World With Dr. Angus Fletcher
21st December 2021 • Business Leaders Podcast • Bob Roark
00:00:00 00:57:30

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  If you want to grow as a company, you have to do it organically, not by following trends. Ask your customers what they want and then build from that. Stop anticipating the next trend and just work on your core business. Be creative and original. Join your host Bob Roark and his guest Dr. Angus Fletcher as they break down how you can lead your business to grow organically. Angus is a Professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. Discover Angus's love for both neuroscience and storytelling. Come and join the conversation on how you can grow your company in a world that's so different from before. Be open to change and anomalies so that you can grow. Feed your creative brain so that you can grow. Grow organically today!


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How To Grow Your Company Organically In This New World With Dr. Angus Fletcher

Our guest is Dr. Angus Fletcher. He is a professor at Ohio State University's Project Narrative. He is a polymath with dual degrees in Neuroscience and Literature. He received his PhD from Yale, taught Shakespeare at Stanford, and published two books and numerous peer-reviewed articles. He has consulted with Sony, Disney, Amazon, and the Army Command and General Staff College. He is the author and presenter of the Audible Great Course Guide to Screenwriting. He was awarded the Rodica C. Botoman Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and Mentoring 2020. Welcome to the show.


Angus Fletcher, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show. Thanks for inviting me. I'm honored and excited. In the pre-interview here, I was doing homework. The more homework I did, the more I knew I was lacking. I talked to another good friend of yours, Ken Long. He had some input too and he says, "Maybe he has this." We will narrow down the discussion as to how it might apply to the business community and narrative. What I was fascinated with is you have literature and neuroscience. It's like chicken and egg. Which one came first? I started in neuroscience and that continues to be the bedrock of everything that I do as a young neuroscience researcher. I was in the lab where, like every other lab in America, everyone thought the brain was a computer. They thought that the brain is operated by taking on data, storing it into memory, and then processing that data to make decisions logically and that the brain program has this thing called emotion. That was how everyone was working on the brain. I started to notice the human brain didn't work as a computer at all. First of all, human brains are much worse at doing logic than most computers. Human brains can't take on the same amount of data. Even when we do, we are much more irregular in how we process it. Humans are a lot smarter than computers in certain situations. Humans are much better at low-data decision-making. We are much better at figuring out what to do when there's not a lot of information. That's a situation where AI goes completely haywire. Humans are also better at being creative. Even though AI can be better at predicting the future, humans can be better at making the future and making it in ways that AI can't predict. That got me thinking, "What is this secret thing that's going on in the human brain that's different from what is going on in computers? How is it that we can have these other kinds of intelligence?" That started me on this very unusual career, where I went to Silicon Valley and Hollywood. I have a PhD and all these kinds of names, which I'm sure your audience doesn't need to know about. It has brought me into working with the US military, traders, and other folks to bring out some of the insights in terms of how the machinery of the human brain can do things that are different and sometimes smarter than what computers will do. Part of the reason why I was here to talk with you is I think about the business community. They go to business school, get an MBA and start a business. You find that there are gaps. In the media-focused world, social media, video, LinkedIn, and all the others, I think about the challenge that the business community faces in either communicating properly with their existing client or ideal client. You have done screenplays and movies. You got three minutes to hook them in your video. What does a business owner do to take your skillset and apply it to media creation? [bctt tweet="If you want to build trust with your audience, you have to give them something about yourself, which is true and difficult to reveal." username=""] First of all, this whole thing about the gaps in MBA programs is true. Every business owner goes to an MBA where you have some of the smartest teachers in the world and they expect they are going to teach you everything. They are paid very little most of the time. Part of that is because so much of modern business theory is based on rational choice theory, economics, and all these kinds of things, which are logical and they are not creative. They are also general and not specific. The key to being a successful small business owner or getting a business off the ground is being specific and having a unique, original story that has not been told before but immediately connects and hooks people. I’ve got a story at the beginning of my career. I became fascinated with William Shakespeare for reasons that most people are not interested in. When I went to school, everyone was like, "Shakespeare is the greatest poet of all time. He is so wonderful." You read it and you're like, "This is hard and weird." It has taken me a long time and not a lot seems to be happening here. I remember the first few times I tried to read Shakespeare at school. I couldn't even get it good. I started to realize the history of what was going on. What was special about Shakespeare is he invented new stories. He was coming at the end of the Middle Ages and people had been telling the same stories over and over again. Those stories reinforced the way things worked in the Middle Ages. It's the feudal system. When Shakespeare helped start the Renaissance by saying, "You could invent new stories. When you invent a new story, that invents new narratives, heroes, choices, actions and everything," I started to think to myself, "How was it that he invented these new stories?" A simple example is Henry V, which is the genesis of movies like Die Hard or anytime you have a story about an individual who shakes his world as opposed to the world, shaking the individual. The idea that a person could change the world wasn't something that people thought in the Middle Ages or even in the ancient world but Shakespeare says, "Henry V changed history. He wrote history. History didn't write him." I said, "How do you come up with a new story? Even more than that, how do you get audiences to buy that story?" What was special about Shakespeare is he wrote new stories. Anyone can make a new story but then who listens to them? Shakespeare made up a ton of new stories and it got a big audience. This was when I was at Stanford. I was sitting at Stanford in this room thinking. I said, "How do you do that? That seems to me to be the secret to life, to create a new story and then get people to connect to that story." I was thinking and I couldn't make any progress on it. I realized across the bay for me was a little company called Pixar. Pixar at that time made a movie called Up, which I don't know if your audience has seen. It's a weird movie that won a ton of awards and made hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, it was a Shakespeare. It was a very original story that connected immediately with a big audience. I thought to myself, "They must know something. I'm going to go hang out at Pixar." I spent a lot of time hanging out at Pixar, talking to them about Shakespeare. I discovered that Pixar has this vault of unmade outtakes of Pixar movies, where they came up with different endings for Toy Story and they animated them. They tested them and it didn't work. This is a big experimental secret storyline that they have under there. I took away a ton of stuff and you can find that stuff throughout my research. The simplest core thing that I learned is that Pixar, at its inception, was founded by Steve Jobs. [caption id="attachment_6018" align="aligncenter" width="600"]BLP Angus Fletcher | Organic Growth Organic Growth: Storytellers always focus on themselves in the present. What they should be doing is reverse-engineering the user experience. Instead of asking "Who am I?" ask "What do I want to accomplish?"[/caption]   Steve Jobs brought into the company the same kind of engineering mindset they used to found Apple. At the core of that is this idea of reverse engineering from the user experience. You say, "What do I want to do? How do I work backward to do that?" In other words, what most people who are storytellers do, which is different from Pixar and Shakespeare, is they start by focusing on themselves in the present and say, "What am I? How do I tell people what I am?" That usually doesn't get you very far, whereas if you say to yourself, "What do I want to accomplish with this narrative? How do I work backward to figure out how to have that effect?" It's a simple example with Up. Up is a story. As the title tells you, it's about taking you up, making you feel good and optimistic. The simplest thing that the storytellers did was they said, "To get you to feel like you're going up, let's start by making you feel very down." The story begins famously with one of the saddest openings ever in a movie. It's the same thing if you are a businessperson. Your first thought when you are thinking about your story is, "What action do I want people to take? Do I want them to buy something, trust me or be surprised?" Those are all three different effects and they have different stories. If you want to build trust in an audience, you have to give them something about yourself, which is true and difficult to reveal. That's what builds trust. When you say something in public, it takes courage. There's the big I'm Vulnerable Movement. I'm presuming that fits into what you are talking about. The core of trust is being able to be open. That is true in a business setting. You don't build trust in a client unless they feel that you are authentic. That is the key. Everyone knows that. We have to be authentic in our relationships. People care about their friends. That's why we only make friends when we screw up in front of them and they realize that's who you are. If you are going to try and convince a customer to trust you, you have to be honest and say something in public, which is a little bit risky for you because it could make you look bad. It's scary. The main overall thing is to start backward from what you want to accomplish and then figure out how to do it. Don't start from where you are, and then try and spin that forward. The number one mistake I see people make in marketing is they focus too much on themselves rather than on the specific thing they are trying to accomplish. The military has the reverse planning sequence. I'm sure you are aware and you go, "Where do we want to go? We want to go over here. How do we go from here to there and work our way backward?" For the business owner, they are not marketing people by and large. They are inspired, motivated individuals that have insight and will pursue it. Some of them work out to be amazingly effective in what they do but the challenge for the business owner is, "How do I put myself in the shoes of my ideal client?" Going through Wonderworks, there's one story that started developing empathy in several other mechanisms and stories, where the tool is deployed and you think about for the business owner. What I was impressed with was the book that you developed for Leavenworth. That's Creative Thinking: A Field Guide to Building Your Strategic Core. That's on Kindle for everybody that's wanting to know. That to me was more of a how-to guide, "Here are some exercises and how you think about it." Who is the one that ringed an opponent with the 10-mile-long fence? They called in reinforcements, "That's fine. We will put another fence outside. We will find them on both sides." He goes, "I’ve got them right where I want them. They are over here." I think about that thinking, "How do you take and create that mindset to get there?" [bctt tweet="Creativity is not something you can summon on command." username=""] The first thing is, creativity is not something that you can sell on-demand. This is neuroscience. This is what is fascinating about it. Ninety-five percent of the creativity circuits in your brain are non-conscious. That's why creativity is different from logic. Most of the logic in your brain is conscious. If you want to sit down and plan your day, you can do that consciously. If you are creative, you will notice your creative ideas occur manually. You will be walking somewhere and have a creative idea. You will be focused on something, and then forget about it for fifteen minutes. You are eating lunch in the middle of lunch and you will have the idea. That's because your non-conscious brain is doing all the creative work. That can be frustrating because it would be nice if you could do all that work consciously. What it also means is you have to think a little bit differently about how to make your brain creative. You want to think about your creative brain as you think about your stomach. You want to think about feeding it the right stuff, and then trusting that it's going to do its job. When you feed your stomach, you are not micromanaging it and being like, "It's time to digest the proteins and break down the fats." You say, "If I feed it the stuff that my doctor tells me to eat and I don't eat too much of the stuff that I want to eat, as long as I put that stuff in my stomach, I'm going to get good, healthy energy." It's the same thing with your creative brain. You want to feed it the right stuff. What is the right stuff? First of all, the number one good thing to feed your brain are anomalies, strange and weird things. That excites your creative brain because the reason that your creative brain evolved is to handle emergent threats and opportunities. The reason that the human brain was created is that our ancestors were born into a very unstable world. In an unstable world, things could change. To survive, you had to be able to see the first sign of change and react to it. That change could be a negative thing. It could be a danger, a new predator coming into the space or it could be something positive. It could be a new opportunity coming into the space but what gets your creativity turning is that. In the modern world, we are trained not to notice strange things, to be honest. First of all, we live in this machine world where we all get caught in our schedules and workflows. In anything that doesn't fit evenly into what we have already decided is important, we push it to the side like, "I'm not focusing on that." You will notice this if you ever hang out with a child. The child will always be stopping and noticing stuff and you will be dragging her by the arm like, "I don't have time for that. We’ve got to move on." It's because we have trained ourselves not to notice interesting things. That's the first thing. The second thing is because we live in a world that's dominated by computers and logic, computers and logic cannot handle exceptions. They treat those as to be regressed to a need. They treat them as anomalies and they can't leverage them in the way the human brain can. The more you hang out in a modern business environment, the more you are taught not to focus on these kinds of outlying blitzes. If you want to be creative, you have to reverse that. You have to emphasize stuff that seems weird and actively re-energize your brain. The simplest way to do that is to constantly look at stuff that seems boring or routine, and then identify the one thing that's special about it. If you had to walk up and down your block and it's an average suburban block, you say, "What is the one thing that's weird about this block that no other suburb has?" When you start getting into that habit, it's like with your family from outside and you will be like, "It's just a regular American family," but inside the family, you know that everyone is nuts. There are all these unique, weird, and quirky things about them. You have to translate that same ability to notice the exceptional into everything if you want to feed your creative brain that food. You can watch it on YouTube or any other video deal. I'm a fan of reading odd books that don't necessarily follow. Sometimes it's a favorite from when I was a kid. Sometimes it will be a recommendation. The funny part that I see and maybe it's just me telling myself is I will get a book and read it. It seems to show up when I need it. [caption id="attachment_6019" align="aligncenter" width="600"]BLP Angus Fletcher | Organic Growth Organic Growth: The number one good thing to feed your brain is anomalies or strange things. Weird things that really excite your creative brain. Because your brain evolved to handle these kinds of emergent threats.[/caption]   First of all, the reason that book sticks in your memory are because there's something unique, special or distinct about it and it will stay buried in your mind. A lot of times, your deep brain remembers that. It pops them to the floor. The other thing is a book is someone else's perspective. On the most basic level, it's the way that someone else thinks. When you come into the perspective of logic, there's only one way to think to master it. From the perspective of the human brain, every brain is a little bit different and has unique insights. That's why when you are managing a team, you want to have a diverse team. You want to have people who all think a little bit differently. You, as the manager, want to be able to get that different thought out of all the members of your team. In any given situation, John might be better than Jane in handling that because he always has this unique angle and sees...