Constrained Storytelling


“Explain to me how photosynthesis works…

Great job. Now explain it to me in half the words…

Excellent. Now do it again.”

Call me Mr. Miyagi. After graduating from college, I tutored high school students. If you ask any of the students who I tutored, they would probably describe my style as “frustrating.” Any time they ever explained anything to me, I would challenge them to explain it to me again, only this time using half the words.

I had no prior teaching experience, but felt that if a student could explain a concept to me in a few words, then they would understand it well enough to succeed on a test. Lucky for me, it worked.

What I think the students didn’t realize is that this is still hard for me (though they probably did). They have no idea how long it took me to boil down the ReelSurfer or Napwell value proposition into one sentence.

Describing your company’s mission while you are still figuring out what your company does is a constant battle. To me this is “constrained storytelling,” and it is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.

My next and latest attempt to blog regularly and to further improve my constrained storytelling is by writing haikus for companies that explain their mission. I plan on sharing them on twitter (@njcar) and will add them to this post as I go.

To start, I tried this for McChrystal Group, a company founded by Gen (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal to improve adaptability in organizations:

An embrace of change,

Achieving a shared vision,

Every level leads.

If you have ideas for companies, please let me know!

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