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Story is Data

Story is Data

Data. Data! Our culture is so obsessed with data!

More and more of our clients are asking us to provide data about our projects working on leadership development and cultural clarity projects.

  • “How is this work actually changing things for the better?”
  • “How do we know if we are getting our money’s worth?”
  • “What is really working?”

All important questions, but tough because new thinking is required to arrive at the answers. What data do we measure? What data is there?

And a lot of us in the leadership and culture space get hung up on an understandable aversion to using cold hard data to measure cultural and personal “work.”

I am, however, eager to experiment and learn how to bridge feelings and rational thought and demonstrate the relationship to each other.

Sasha Dichter, in his recent blog, “Uncorrelated Impact Understanding,” gave me a hint. I think the quest might be to figure out how seemingly tangential things begin to evolve, grow, or change when the culture and leadership tools start getting practiced and embedded — “part of the water supply” as one of our clients likes to say.

Maybe it’s not just about the evaluation data, but in identifying the brightspots — the stories of places where someone uses the new tools to successfully lead through a situation of change. Details about what worked, what didn’t, and what people are eager to try again. (Thanks, Heath brothers.)

To use one of my favorite songs from Rent to tell the story:

“How do you measure a year?”
“In daylights? In sunsets? In Midnights? In cups of coffee?”
Or “in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes?

Is it traditional data? Benchmarks, engagement surveys, rankings?

Or, is it the stories of the ways culture and leadership tools and practices create stronger, more impactful teams?

Maybe stories of the way a cultural clarity or leadership tool attracted a great new team member, empowered a cross-team solution, or motivated people to reach further than they thought they could are the data.

Story is the data.

One Giant Puzzle

One Giant Puzzle

People are like puzzles, made up of lots of little pieces, each piece representing a story.  The frame of the puzzle is made up of all the little stories, the easy ones.  Just like a puzzle, the inside is harder.  The inside is made up of the heavier, more impactful stories.  When those pieces are put together they give us full a picture.

If I described the frame of my puzzle, I would tell you that I grew up in a small town in western Kansas.  My high school class had 42 people in it.  I’ve worn glasses since I was 6.  I went to a Catholic elementary school through 6th grade.  I was not athletic back in the day.  I was a lifeguard who loved spinning the whistle and who only halfway paid attention.   I went out for volleyball and track because all my friends did.  I remember running the half mile in track and literally coming in last place every time.  I didn’t even care because my friend Janell and I giggled for two laps.  I remember the time I dropped my lunch tray in elementary school twice in one lunch period and was so upset I went to the library and sat by myself.  I remember throwing up in the entry way of Wal-Mart and having an employee literally box me in with carts so no one would step in it.  I remember dancing on the bar at the Sandbar in college.  Those are the easy stories that make up the outer edges of the puzzle of me.

If you asked me to tell you about the inside of my puzzle, I would tell you the story about my grandma passing away a couple of years ago.  She was one of the kindest, sweetest women I have ever known.  She never said a bad word about anyone.  When we were little, she would let us have a tiny bit of coffee with cream and as much sugar as we wanted.  She made cornflake cookies.  She let me go get her mail through the little path in her back yard. 

As I got older, went to college, and moved to St. Louis I didn’t see or talk to my grandma as much as I should have, making her death that much harder.  When we traveled the nine hours to western Kansas for her funeral, we saw family that I had literally not seen or talked to in twenty years.  When I say “family,” I mean aunts, uncles, and cousins, not distant relatives.  I was flooded with memories from my childhood.  My family was never included in “their” family dinners or “their” family vacations or “their” family gift exchanges. 

As I stood in the funeral home and at the funeral, I could feel the tension.  They didn’t say a word to me or my family.  I felt like they were waiting for me to come to them.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think it was up to me to engage with them.  They didn’t want anything to do with me as a child, why would they want anything to do with me as a grown-up? 

On the way home, I had nine hours to think about my grandma and family and I realized that perhaps feeling rejected by that side of the family for my entire life was at the core of why I never really felt good enough. 

That is one of my stories, one part of my puzzle. 

The thing about individual and personal stories is, we don’t get to tell someone that their story is wrong.

It’s their story.  Not yours. 
Their perspective.  Not yours.
Their experience.  Not yours.

It’s like moving an end piece into the center of the puzzle because you think it goes there.   Or worse, taking a piece of your puzzle and forcing it into theirs.  Let’s stop trying to change someone’s story, or worse, completely taking it away because it’s different than ours. 

Stories have always been and will continue to be a way that we connect with each other as human beings.  I have no doubt that you have a story around family that is probably totally different from mine and I bet we could also find things we have in common.  That’s the beauty of the humanity puzzle.

What happens when you come up against a story that is so completely different from yours and so far outside of your experiences that you can’t wrap your head around it?  You want to believe that it’s not true. You can’t even accept it. 

I’m going to ask you to extend yourself here.

Our homes, communities, work places, schools and neighborhoods are filled with humans made up of hundreds of puzzle pieces.  Their puzzle.  Their stories.  There is room for all of them regardless of what the news tells us. 

Extend yourself.  Go talk to someone and listen to their story. 

If you’re interested in what it means to Extend yourself in leadership, download Finding Time To Lead and check out the EXTEND chapter.

Reflection Questions: 

  • How might my personal story impact me now?
  • What would it look like if everyone could tell their story?
  • How do I make room for people to share their story?

Shingles…And Not The House Kind


Shingles…And Not The House Kind

As I sat waiting for my prescription to be filled at Walgreens, I really couldn’t believe it.  How did I get here?  Did I really let it get this far? 

That’s right, shingles.  From stress.

For those of you who know me, you might be thinking to yourself:

But Jami, you are always so happy.
But Jami, you’re always smiling.
But Jami, your kids are so beautiful.
But Jami, your kids are so happy.
But Jami, your work looks awesome. 
But Jami, you love your job.
But Jami, you’re always so positive.

All of these things are true.

However, I’m realizing that the only side of me I let anyone ever see is the happy, smiley, joyful, upbeat, positive side. 

A couple years ago, I had just finished up a two-day work event and arrived early to pick up my kids from school.  I was exhausted and quietly sitting on the couch waiting for them.  Another mom walked up to say hello and when I didn’t respond with enthusiasm, or “full-on Jami” as I describe it, her response was, “What’s wrong?”.  When I told her that I was just tired from work, she responded, “I don’t like this Jami” and even waved her hand in a circle in front of my face to show me exactly what she meant by that. 

In the moment, I was too tired to really care what she thought, but after reflecting on it:  I was mad.  This happened about three or four years ago, so it’s clearly stuck with me. I don’t need anyone’s permission to show this side of me and if you really were my friend, you wouldn’t care that I was sitting quietly on the couch.  

“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war in yourself” is one of my favorites quotes, it has new meaning for me now. 

It turns out that when I avoid conflict to keep the peace – when I show up only as “full-on Jami” even when I’m not feeling it – I start a war in myself.  For me that war looks like…shingles.  It’s like the parts of myself that I don’t let people see are finding their way out into the world in the form of ugly, itchy, painful bumps.  Maybe the universe is telling me that it would be better to let the ugly, itchy, painful parts of myself be seen so that they don’t have to erupt on my hip.

Clearly, the Universe is calling me to explore the other sides of me...

  • What’s it like to speak up and not just default to what others think, say, or do to avoid conflict?
  • Can I change my deeply held story that engaging in hard conversations doesn’t make me unkind, needy or selfish?
  • Is it possible to continue to see the good in the world and not feel like I’m ignoring the obvious hurt and pain in our world today?
  • How can I choose to be in places and with people who like all of me, not just the happy, smiley, joyful Jami?

Getting shingles was a wakeup call for me.  My entire life I’ve been told that I’m fun and nice.  That has served me well and will continue to serve me well in many ways.  My lifelong work will be knowing those moments when it’s not serving me well and stepping into or leading conversations even when they’re hard.  If I don’t do this work, the Universe will just keep sending me signs and I’ve had enough of ugly, itchy, painful bumps!

If you’re interested in exploring some of the “stories” you’re carrying with you that may be holding you back (or giving you shingles!), download Finding Time To Lead and check out the EXPLORE chapter. 

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the side you let people see?
  • What are your other lesser known “sides?”


The Tyranny of the Org Chart

The Tyranny of the Org Chart

Org charts are tailor-made to KILL new ideas. Think about it. Picture an org. chart. The org. chart is all about channels up and down. There aren’t even any lines between departments or business lines. It is a tyrannical master – in both perception and in practice.

Leadership in La La Land

Leadership in La La Land

Have you seen the movie La La Land? Did you like it? I did. I liked it for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that there is a scene in La La Land that could have come straight out of Finding Time to Lead. Yes, really.