Why Reps Matter When It Comes To Storytelling

Two weeks ago while on a family trip to Winter Park, my wife introduced Angela Duckworth's new book Grit to me. If you haven't read it, the short, short, short summary is: Grit is one of the most consistent ways to tell if someone is going to be successful in whatever endevor they choose.

While the book is well worth a read, for the sake of today's post, I'm going to focus in on some themes around the power of reps and persistence. Similar to Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, Duckworth spends time on the transition between natural-born skill, learned skill and developed skill.  

While I was reading it, I thought back to all my friends who were natural writers and how it felt when I would be graded on a curve with them. They could literally sleep in, write the paper two hours before class, and still kick my ass. My paper on the other hand took forever to write. And it wasn't because I wasn't naturally talented per se, but it was because I didn't have enough writing under my belt to quickly structure and formulate my thoughts.

As time progressed however, I found myself starting to compete more and more for the top end of the curve and eventually I got a few high marks on my paper. (Very few though. Very few)

And it is the same thing for anyone learning how to tell a story, let alone their story. Just think about it. When you're starting out as a leader in your career, you're figuring out how to make the transition from rockstar, to a leader of many who's cumulative success is now your success.

The story you're used to telling -- look at me and what I'm capable of -- turns into more of a story about 'look at us, and what we are capable of.' In the immediate the story seems similar and many parts are,  but the more and more the leader tells it, the more it changes and morphs into a new story that redefines who they are and leads people to the action.

In business these transitions can be expected to happen quickly. Almost over night in fact, but the fact is they need time to work their way out.

Which is where we come back to Grit. One of the things I loved most about Duckworth's philosophy is that once a skill has been learned, it's through experience that the person with the skill becomes a master. 

She also discusses that the degree of growth slows down as more and more time is invested. She writes a lot about how athletes practice intentionally on small skills that they spend thousands of hours to hone. They do this after they have the basic ability to be good, but need to refine how to be great.  

And then that's when it struck me: This is my 80 / 15 / 5 rule. When creating a story it's easy to get 80% of the way there. Most of the time that's where people stop in fact. The next 15% can take 2-3X the time it took to get to the first 80%, and it can feel like it doesn't make a huge difference. Then there's the last 5% which can be 5-10x the amount of time if not more than the first 95% all together. And this is where you find people like Steve Jobs.

So don't forget that if you're trying to pitch your company, be a better leader, or make the transition from employee to leader, to give yourself time to learn and refine your story. Because if you don't, you'll never fully get to where you want to be and you'll be trapped in the 80% forever.

Upcoming Workshops

Want to learn more? Check out the workshop I'm doing with Pitch Lab at General Assembly on November 13. We'll be focusing on how comedy can help you be a more engaging storyteller!

* Thanks for reading. I didn't do this in the past, but it's time to just admit it-- I'm dyslexic, can hardly spell my own name at times, and miss basic grammar every once in a while. So, please forgive me if there's a typo. What I do know is how to tell a story, which luckily for me doesn't always require writing.