A few years ago a colleague and I did a competitive pitch, something we are rarely asked to do at IDEO, but because it was for a sector that we believed in (healthcare) for a condition that my colleague’s mother had recently suffered from (cancer) in a market that at the time was fairly flat (Europe) we decided to do it. When we got to the client’s headquarters we discovered, much to our dismay, that the various agencies were being asked to pitch in front of each other, something I had never seen before, nor have ever had to do since. IDEO, we were told, were the last of three to present.
The first two presentations were somewhat similar, both boldly outlining heavily statistical research methodologies, one company proudly talking about how they were going to synthesize thousands of “data points” into a “compelling proposition” and how their “proprietary methodology” was going to win “market share.” I was impressed with their scale and hubris, convinced that we were going to lose this, as one guy brought out an enormous printed collages of images – advertising they had created I think – to woo the client.
When it came to our turn, we did what we always do, which is to not talk about anonymous numbers, statistics or data points, but to show a simple human story, one that hopefully everyone in the room could relate to. I pressed Play on a shaky video that a coworker in our health practice had given us permission to show, where she had, for sake of confidentiality, shot an old lady, crippled with pain from a skin condition that she was suffering from, talk about herself, her fears, how embarrassed she was to be such a burden to her family and her doctor. In this video, you see absolutely nothing but her withered hands and her badly blistered knee, but you cannot help but feel everything important about this person, their frailty, their anguish and above all, their humanity. She cries in pain, both physical and emotional. It is frankly, quite difficult to watch.
The video played for about a minute, and I pressed Stop. There was a silence in the room. I was convinced we were going to get a polite “Thank You,” and that would be that. Then the most senior client, looked at us, visibly shaken, and said, slowly: “This reminds me of why I come into work every day. I never want to see anyone in this kind of pain when we can help them.” My colleague, clearly deeply moved by his reaction, quietly said: “My mother has just been through cancer and is, I hope, in remission. The most important thing I learned through seeing her go through it is that everybody in your system is still, and wants to continue to be seen as an individual, a person.”
We won the project, and went on to do great work together that I truly hope made a difference.
I am not telling you this story to laud one process over another – both clearly have their merits. What amazes me time and time again in business is how quickly we forget the power of the simple, singular human truth, a truth that can shake us out of our day-jobs where we deal with vast statistics and margins and averages and remind us to be people, to think: “How does this person’s story make me feel?” and “What can I do to make this better?” We find that often one simple story can do the work of a thousand average ones.
This is, to be honest, one of the recurring comments raised by others about IDEO and our work - that we tend to prefer to talk deeply with only a few people rather than talk broadly with many. But experience has taught us that the answer lies in listening deeply to the spaces between the words, the unseen and unheard images and sounds, not the blatant and the obvious. Less, but heard more. Seeing nothing but hands on a video can reveal the soul of the person that they belong to. We firmly believe in the power of a simple human truth, that we as people can relate to, that we as humans can discuss, have personal empathy for and are, like my colleague, able to tell a personal story about, or like our client, something to motivate them to go to work every day. Sitting in the room, actually listening, then talking about how you felt and hopefully passing that on to others, is ironically, statistically the best approach, as prominent American psychiatrist William Glasser says beautifully:
“We Learn …
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.”
To the power of the simplest human truth.