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Why stories are so important

Sometimes you read books which has a profound effect on how you view the world, what you do and why you do stuff. Sometimes they can change the way you work, sometimes they make you understand why you do stuff the way you do. But the most interesting moment is when you’ve read a couple of books and their collective intelligence makes sense together. I just had one of these moments, finishing Made To Stick, which I’ve already mentioned here on this blog. The book is worth the read. Many times over. There are so many interesting things but one of the most breathtaking was the rule about the story. The reasons for this being of such importance to me is that it brings together Lance Armstrong with Mike Cohn. Isn’t that just amazing. Now, it’s not like Cohn has ever been part of Armstrong’s team or something. But still, here goes!

The authors state that one of the success factors of a message is that it contains a story. In the case of Lance Armstrong, what makes him so interesting? I posted the other day some Nike commericals with Lance Armstrong and they both reflects on parts of the Lance Armstrong story. Yes, he’s one of the most amazing cyclists in the world. But what makes it unique is that he,  the son of a single 16-year-old mother who busted her ass to make her son forfill his dreams to become a cyclist, became a world champion.  And when he was on top, he got cancer, less than 10 percent chance to survive. But he did and became the best rider in the world and a champion for the cancer cause. What a story! If you view the Nike adds with Armstrong you can see that they all play on him being all the time on the bike, pushing the limits all the time. He goes out in the morning, cycles through rain and comes home in the middle of the night. He goes through all those procedures. But he also takes the time to raise his hand to those cancer sick kids in the hospitals. The power lies in the stories. The commericals can be kept short because when you see them, you have the Armstrong story in your memory.

No wonder that Mike Cohn talks about user stories. Both words are important. There is a person and there is a story to be told. No wonder that the "Based on a true story" books are so popular. People like when there is some truth to a story.

Mike Cohn says that a user story is a place holder for a discussion and if you look at the Nike commercials, you can see the power of a story. You get context. You get emotions and you get a really sticky message. But one should not forget that all stories are not interesting and sticky. Just because you use the user story format (As a [user], I can [function] so that [reason]) doesn’t make it sticky and interesting.

Despite Armstrong’s long career, one moment has stuck in most cycling fans mind. The year is 2001. We call it The Look. His long time antagonist had been strong and Armstrong was sitting in the middle of the peloton all day. Not like him at all, so most thought he had a weak day. It’s the final climb of the stage. Alpe D’Huez. You can see in the film what kind of climb it is. But suddenly he’s in front and there is The Look. Armstrong looks at the face of his antagonist and the rest is cycling history. What a story! (And now I’m going to you rest from Armstrong stories for a while)

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