Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Act Like You Mean Business Review

A book review
: "I'm Helping Build a Cathedral"

I read an entertaining and useful book over the weekend on communicating - Act like You Mean Business - Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen by Rob Biensenbach.

The author is an actor turned communications strategist. Where these two roads of his life intersect, he's written a book in which he creatively applies techniques from the theater to communicating off stage. As one might expect from a communications strategist, Rob's writing is very well organized and clear. Every three chapters he includes a numbered list of “X Ways to do Y” or “Seven super-hidden secrets about using comedy that the comedians won't tell you (unless you ask),” for example.

Probably most valuable are the anecdotes he brings from his careers in acting and PR: they captivate your attention in while you’re reading them, they demonstrate his points (i.e. “Show—don’t tell”), and they’re memorable.

My favorite anecdote comes from a section titled: “Don’t Settle for Rock Breakers.” It demonstrates how better communication can inspire and drive your workforce.


Back at the PR firm, we used to tell this story when talking about the employee communications practice:

A man walks pas a construction site and sees three people doing the same job. He asks each of them what they're doing.

"I'm breaking rocks," said the first.

"I'm earning a living," said the second.

The third one replied, "I'm helping build a cathedral."

That story has become a bit of chestnut (believe me, back in the day it was groundbreaking stuff), but more than anything else—more than diagrams and flow charts and bullet points—it captures the power of internal communications to transform organizations.

Cathedral builders are always going to be more engaged, more effective, more valuable than rock breakers.


As leaders—and each of us are—we need to know our own passions and those of our audience (i.e. coworkers), so we can summon them to action for cathedral-like causes. Reading this book made me realize there are many things I don’t know about my coworkers that would help me be a better communicator. Some of the questions the author suggests the reader asks themselves and others are: Who are your heros and why? Where does your job fit in the big picture? What makes you proud?

The book is full of thought-provoking questions and useful advice that ranged from specific—such as a reference to a software program (Bullfighter) that identifies and removes useless corporate jargon from typed documents—to big picture—how to create a cathedral builder. After reading the book, I added at least 7 items to my to do list on ways to improve my companies websites and relationships within the firm. But back to the story—

Why are stories so effective in communicating? Rob cites an interesting scientific study by Kendall Haven as “evidence that our brains are hardwired for stories.”

"The steady diet of stories that children experience modifies the brain to render it more predisposed to think in story terms" (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story)

This got me thinking…if I read my newest grandson Time Leadership every night for the next few years, will it modify his brain to think of time in 25-minute blocks?


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