A particularly contentious subject was being wrestled with on Radio 5 Live this morning. Two phone-in guests, on air at the same time, really disliked each other. They were on opposite sides of the argument.

The first guest was introduced as Brian (not real name). The second guest was introduced as James (not real name). Two different producers, off-air, gave each of them a pseudonym, so the two guests could remain anonymous.

All was well until, a couple of minutes in, the two guests realised that – quite by chance – they’d been given each other’s actual name as an alias. Brian (real name) was being asked to answer questions as James (not real name). And James (real name) was being asked to answer questions as Brian (not real name).

It was chaos. And very funny. The two guys ended up on each other’s side of the argument. Nobody knew who was being asked to answer what! Because the good intentions of the radio station, producers and presenter had caused an explosion of confusion.

In the end, the seriousness of the subject prevailed, but the crazy name-switch added an engaging layer of fun. The story stood out because it was awkward and clumsy. And the name swapping element actually amplified the subject of the debate. A win.

How strange it is then that, when almost all businesses tell a story, they choose boring. Polished. Anodyne.

When a business tells us their project went smoothly and their client loves them, the story is invisible. Such stories wash over us. Not least because they are not wholly true. To the business, it feels like they are marketing. But to us out here, because we ignore blend-in stories, it doesn’t. Stories are so much more engaging when they are unusual, surprising, funny, even – and real-world. 

It’s because we’re all human. We all worry and panic. Business can be awkward. Things go wrong. We doubt ourselves. We’re challenged. Our good intentions can be neutered by serendipity and coincidence. So these ‘human’ stories are the stories we humans relate to most. These are the stories we find interesting. These are the stories that stand out. These are the stories we notice. These are the stories we remember and pass on. So these are the stories to tell.

So mention the derailments. And how you recovered. Tell us how your good intentions were scuppered by serendipity and coincidence. Like the name-swap thing on Radio 5 Live. Such a great tale! Even though, on this occasion, because I was daydreaming on a long drive whilst listening to a particularly dull debate in the radio, I made it up.

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