The International Expert

The international expert

Alan Singer Square.JPG

For our first public story workshop I invited friends and past colleagues to come along. One participant was Alan, the brother of a family friend. When I called Alan about the workshop he was enthusiastic: ‘I truly believe in storytelling. I use it all the time!’

 Alan told me about his role as the only Australian representative for an overseas software company. ‘I had used the software myself in a previous company and loved it. So when I met potential clients I just told them the story of my experience; needing a solution, surveying the market and falling in love with that product.’

 Alan had no trouble creating interest, but he wasn’t able to run a trial or answer detailed technical questions, so an expert was brought in from overseas. As they worked together, Alan could see that this technical specialist was not connecting with his client’s technical people. His lack of English language fluency was making a bad impression.

That was frustrating because Alan knew his technical guy had tremendous, relevant experience. Alan coached his technical specialist to tell his personal story about how he became expert in that technology.

After the coaching they both told their personal stories and the clients shared their stories. Alan and his colleague had huge success opening up the market in Australia.

Extract from Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell


How one story, passed through generations, created Silicon Valley

(First published in SMART COMPANY - 13th December 2018)

Silicon Valley Splash Image.JPG

In the early days of the Hewlett Packard Company (HP), co-founder Bill Hewlett came to work on a weekend and found the equipment storeroom locked. He smashed the door open with a fire axe and left a note on the door insisting it never be locked again because HP trusts its peopleThat’s a values story, and one of the most consequential stories in business.

How did Silicon Valley become the most productive centre for business on earth? What’s so special about a tiny strip of US west coast that it can generate more wealth than most countries? Part of the answer lies in the values espoused by that HP story.

History of the Valley

Hewlett Packard was founded in 1939 in Palo Alto, in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco, well before the word ‘Silicon’ replaced ‘Santa Clara’. HP made electrical test equipment including one of the first commercial oscilloscopes. Their products became the tech equivalent of selling picks and shovels to Californian gold rush miners a hundred years earlier.

In 1956, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning co-inventor of the electronic transistor, moved from New Jersey to Mountain View, California to start Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory and to live closer to his ailing mother in rural Palo Alto. Shockley’s company was the first to commercialise silicon transistors.

A better scientist than he was a people manager, Shockley’s management style was described as domineering and paranoid. In 1957 a group of his staff, the so-called ‘Traitorous Eight’, left to found Fairchild Semiconductor and Shockley’s company failed.

Fairchild was the original silicon chip success story and its founders went on to start more than 20 ‘Fairchildren’, including Intel, AMD and National Semi-conductor. And the Santa Clara Valley became Silicon Valley.

Silicon chips powered the computer age which in turn spawned the software industry. Today the Valley is home to tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook, Cisco and Tesla. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak first met a 16-year old Steve Jobs when they were working at HP, by the way.

Managing creativity

In the years following World War II, command and control management prevailed. Workers clocked on and off each day and the manager’s role was to ensure compliance of workers that could not be trusted. HP was one of the first companies to appreciate you could not command creativity or control worker motivation. The founder of modern management Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in 1959 to describe ‘non-routine’ problem-solving that requires a combination of thinking modes.

The management style at HP was eventually codified in a pamphlet in 1975. ‘The HP way’ described the way HP people should treat each other, their customers and their partners: belief in people, freedom, respect, dignity, individual self-esteem, recognition, sense of achievement, participation, security, permanence, development of people, personal worry protection (insurance), informality, enthusiasm, shared benefits and responsibility were all featured. It’s important to recognise the stories came first, and then the document.

Forty years later, a 2014 survey by Accenture compared attitudes to work and success of 600 Silicon Valley workers to workers in mainstream America. Difference factors were grouped in ambiguous value-pairs with Valley workers being more laid back yet more ready for action, more committed yet more independent, more competitive yet more cooperative, more pragmatic yet more optimistic and more extrinsically motivated and yet more intrinsically fulfilled.

Stories create the values

But company and industry values cannot be merely mandated. Values must be demonstrated. Leaders are watched closely and the stories of when they surprise us travel like wildfire. A story that shows how a leader behaves when tested is worth more than any number of corporate values statements because employees and customers are influenced by what leaders do, not what they say or write.

Taglines and mission statements mean nothing. A true story means everything. When a leader demonstrates the values of their company through storyable action — we call that story triggering — those values become part of company lore and employees and customers follow.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the fire-axe story helped create HP, one of the greatest companies of the 20th century, which in turn spawned the technology powerhouse of Silicon Valley.

The Financial Wizard

One of our early clients was Jeff (not his real name), the part owner of a financial services company co-founded with his brother. Jeff invested a large sum of money in developing bespoke software and a business model to manage the financial affairs of high-net-worth individuals, people with a complex mix of business and personal finances.

After a few years of development, the software finally worked, but Jeff couldn’t attract and convert enough new clients. There was a serious risk the investment would be a complete financial loss. And Jeff’s inability to find new clients was causing strain in his relationship with his brother. His brother was CEO and had always been considered the ‘salesperson’ of the team. But the new service and software was Jeff’s baby. Jeff had to sell it but selling was way out of his comfort zone as one trained as an accountant.

Jeff came to us in 2014 and asked us to review his business development approach. We assessed his methodology and I gave him a sales conversation screening test. To say Jeff’s approach was lacking is a huge understatement. He was 100 percent analytical, relying on long-winded technical emails to approach new clients. On the rare occasion he secured a meeting he spent 95 percent of the time talking. The concepts of building rapport and consulting with questions seemed to be unknown to Jeff.

My first inclination was to propose he hire a salesperson. I didn’t think Jeff could succeed at sales. He was open to that idea but insisted we first train him to sell. He was determined to prove to himself he could do it.

The development plan created for Jeff included individual coaching on telephone calling and consultative meetings. We taught questioning, listening and story skills. Jeff is the best student I’ve had in twenty years of helping salespeople. He followed the plan to the letter. He devoured everything we gave him, practised relentlessly and slowly started to win business. He was motivated. As he gained customers we helped him obtain testimonials and success stories, and his clients became raving fans.

Then, calamity. There was an acrimonious falling out with his brother. For several months they fought, eventually agreeing to go their separate ways. Jeff would take over the business, the staff and the new software code and manage on his own.

But Jeff was a changed man. Gone was the lack of confidence and fear of failure. Now he knows how to sell and how to deliver value to his clients. He’s doing well on his own, master of his own destiny.

From Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell


For Story Students: (Success Story Framework)

The Setting: 1988, 2015 Australia

The Client: Jeff a co-owner of a financial services company

The Problem: Cannot sell new software service

Meets a guide: Meets Mike's company

Provides a Plan: Had a sales evaluation and put on an extended sales training program

Avoids Failure: Breakup with CEO brother

Achieves Success: Business going great now

The Point of the Story: You can achieve success with our services


The Helicopter Crash and Insight Stories

I've spent a large part of my career working in the oil and gas and mining industries where safety is always a primary concern. A significant issue in safety leadership is getting people to appreciate the importance of preparing for rare but extremely dangerous events. The following anecdote is a perfect example of the importance of preparation and training and is applicable to many situations.

As a young field engineer in March 1988, I was transferred at short notice from China to Australia. I had been expecting to take a helicopter from Tanggu base to my oil rig in Bohai Bay, Northern China but in a rapid turn of events, found myself heading for a rig in the Timor Sea off Darwin as a result of a shortage of Australian engineers.

The company engineer that met me at Darwin airport was sporting two spectacular black eyes and as we drove to the Darwin helicopter terminal, clearly still in shock, he related his story.

"I was the last one out of a helicopter that ditched into the Timor Sea and I was kicked in the face while trying to get out."

"We were a 100 miles out over the sea, cruising at about 5000 feet, when the engine exploded and we started falling from the sky. Incredibly, there were two helicopter safety experts on board and as we auto-gyrated down to the ocean they gave us a helicopter ditching training lesson!"

"They told us to expect the helicopter to land hard and then tip upside down and fill with water. They said they would open the door and we would need to swim down to get out and they also told us to remove our headsets and tie up the cables before impact because in the last accident they investigated, people had become tangled in the headset cables and drowned."

"Everything happened exactly as described, I was the last one out and got too close to the person in front of me, so was kicked in the face. We inflated two life rafts but both had holes them. So we were in our life jackets swimming in shark infested waters holding onto a deflated life raft."

"Fortunately, there was a US/Australian joint military exercise going on and a rescue helicopter winched us all out of the sea about an hour later."

The obvious safety lesson and insight from this story is that you may not be so fortunate!

Wouldn't it be better to be prepared rather than hope there is an expert there to teach you in your critical moment?


In the last few years, I've been teaching sales people how to collect and deliver stories to help them connect with and influence their customers. I counsel my students to always tell true stories (See "

The Ponytail and why your Business Stories should be True"

) and that got me thinking about my own favourite stories. So I resolved to check the veracity of the ones that did not happen to me directly.

I made the effort to track down the engineer that met me at Darwin airport. I couldn't remember his name but I did remember another engineer who was in Darwin at the time and through the wonders of LinkedIn and Facebook tracked down John Patel. John located the

air safety accident investigation report

and we compared our memories of  an event that he had tried to forget.

A few months later John attended one of our public story telling workshops and we got to tell the story again.

The Author (Left) with John Patel at a Selling with Stories workshop in Sydney this year.




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Insight


For Story Students:

The Setting: 1988, Darwin Australia

The Complications: Helicopter ditching

The Turning Point: Safety experts on-board the chopper!

The Resolution: Safe ditching in the Timor Sea

The Point of the Story: You  may not be so lucky! Be prepared instead.



Short notice transfer.

I got the phone call to transfer to Australia at 1 am in the morning. At 11 pm

on the same day

, I was on an oil rig 200 km out into the Timor Sea. That is a short notice international transfer.

Title photo credit:

Sell your People with Story

If you work in a company of more than one person, your work colleagues are a critically important to your sales success.

Potential customers don't buy your products and services they buy the expertise of your company to ensure an outcome.

By expertise, I mean the skills of

specific individuals

in your company, not amorphous 'corporate expertise'.

When I was selling for Siemens in the mid-2000s,


sold a pre-paid charging system to a telecommunications company for well over $10 million dollars - a deal which took several months to negotiate and close. I was the sales person but


sold it, as you will see.

When a deal is closed and celebrated, the sales person usually moves quickly to the next opportunity but I wanted to be sure the buyer was satisfied and I really wanted to know why our company was selected.

We were not the front runner in the early stages and the customer had many choices of supplier, it was a competitive market. So why us?

I met with the main decision maker and we spent most of the meeting discussing the project implementation, which was going well, thankfully. Then, as the meeting drew to a close, I asked:

“Out of curiosity, 

you had several choices for partner in this project, 

why did you choose us?”

The response was instantaneous,

“Voon Tat, your technical expert. 

He took the trouble to understand our technical requirements

And he showed us how we could achieve what we needed. 

He was the difference”

Our technical sales guy was the winning factor, it wasn’t my brilliant salesmanship! Hmm, that’s a blow to the ego.

Back in the office, I reflected on that answer.

When we decided to pursue the opportunity I was concerned that our company didn’t have technical expertise in Australia. In contrast, our main competitors had supplied similar systems in Australia and almost certainly had local experts.

Fortunately, I had worked with Singapore-based Voon Tat* before, so I knew his story and the quality of his work. I recalled telling the customer, “We’re bringing over our best technical expert to work on this", and then I told a story about how Voon Tat and I had worked together on a previous project and how good he was.

Pumping up our technical expert with a story, probably made a difference. Maybe the sales guy played a part afterall?**

End of story.

In fact, it makes a big difference if your potential customer knows about your key people, and stories are much more potent than assertions for delivering that information.

You could assert that your technical expert is highly qualified and brilliant – but everyone says those things - those assertions are

barely heard

. A story, on the other hand is heard and accepted almost at an unconscious level.

We love to hear stories.

Some things to reflect on

1. Everyone has an interesting story. To be able to tell someone’s story you will need to respectfully ask for it and then listen! Then you need to arrange the relevant and interesting parts into a narrative. A great way to learn this skill is to participate in a

story workshop


2. Telling stories about your key people early in an opportunity primes the engagement for a trusting partnership

3. Don’t forget to prompt your customer’s key people to tell their stories - that is just as important as telling your stories. When you have shared stories with your customer, you are no longer just a vendor.

Now, whose stories do you need to collect in your organisation?




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Key Staff


For Story Students:

The Setting: Mid-2000s Australia, after winning a deal

The Complications: Won the deal in unlikely circumstances

The Turning Point: Mike went to find out why we won

The Resolution: The technical sales guy was the key reason for winning

The Point of the Story: There are key staff in your organisation - you must position them!


** Photo: Top Left: Voon Tat Choong, technical master. 

*Many other people that contributed significantly to winning and keeping this deal including but not limited to (left to right, Top to Bottom) David Adams, David Huck, Peter Barfod, Peter Simms, TeeMeng Foo. My apologies to anyone that I've left out.

Desert Storm - Mohamed's Story

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you

----- From ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling  ------

In 2011, Mohamed, one of our Story workshop participants, was asked to travel from Egypt to Iraq to represent his company in a dispute meeting with a major Iraqi telecommunications company. 

The Iraqi Telco was experiencing serious network failures and the main suppliers, including Mohamed's company, were all pointing the finger at each other.

It was dangerous to travel to Iraq and company security policy required Mohamed to travel by armoured car and dress in full military protective clothing including bullet proof vest.

Alone inside an armoured car en route to Bagdad, Mohamed lifted a bottle of lemonade to his lips to quench his thirst. As the armoured car bounced on the potholed road the lemonade went down his wind pipe and he started to choke.

With the bullet proof vest strapped tightly around his chest, Mohamed panicked. He couldn’t unstrap the bullet proof vest, he couldn’t get the attention of the driver and he couldn’t breathe.

As he fought for breath, Mohamed had a sinking desperate fear that he would die alone inside the armoured car. He even thought to send a text message to his wife with his last few seconds of consciousness.

But eventually he wheezed some shallow breaths and recovered just as the armoured car reached his meeting destination.

Entering a room full of angry, antagonistic suppliers, Mohamed was oblivious to the commotion. He sat calmly and luxuriated in every breath of air, so happy to be alive.

Suddenly accusing voices rounded on Mohamed’s company. It was all his company’s fault!

Wordlessly, Mohamed stood up and went to the whiteboard. The room fell silent. As he sketched the configuration of his company’s technical solution on the whiteboard, Mohamed calmly explained how the network fault could not have been caused by his company’s equipment.


“Ok! So it’s not their fault, it must be …” and the room descended back into acrimonious argument.

Mohamed walked back and sat down next to the local manager who turned to him and exclaimed “how did you do that?!”


Of course it was Mohamed's newfound existential perspective that allowed him to calmly manage that heated situation. 

It's a great story. We could just enjoy it for its perspective and humour but we could also retell it in a similar fractious situation to help gain agreement.

There is no chance of agreement when the opposing sides are highly emotional and it is the role of a sales person to persuasively shift the emotional landscape to a positive one. We call this type of story a 'sales process' story because it can be used to move a sale forward.

Great stories can be re-purposed and it is not necessary that the events happened to you.


Company: Large Telecoms Supply Company


Told in a Growth in Focus Story Workshop 2017

Story Type:



For Story Students

The Setting:

Iraq after the second gulf war

The Complications:

Mohamed nearly choked to death

The Turning Point:

Mohamed recovered and was calm and composed through a vitriolic dispute meeting

The Resolution:

Mohamed resolved the dispute in is company's favour

The Point of the Story:

Perspective makes a difference

How to use this story: This story can be used to calm a situation where disagreements are getting out of hand. It is an example of a sales or business process story. Here is 

another example

 of a personal story that can be re-purposed for a business situation.


Rejection Antidotes

Pushback (n):  a negative or unfavourable reaction or response.

Mismatch (n):  a failure to correspond or match


In 2009, while working for a major international supplier of telecommunications equipment, I arranged to meet the CTO of one of Malaysia’s largest mobile network providers. I was accompanied in the meeting by one of our technical sales specialists.

As the meeting warmed up, I asked the CTO how many mobile base stations his company had deployed.

He responded,


Before I could ask my next question, my technical specialist, jumped in with,

“No, you only have 4911!”

Gently kicking the technical guy under the table, I steered the conversation back to my next question.

What just happened?

This was an example of push back, or mismatch. It occurs, often as an automatic response, when a fact or assertion is delivered. In this case, the CTO delivered a ‘fact’ and my technical sales guy pushed back with his own 'adjusted fact'.

While not always verbalised, push back is happening in the minds of all of us when we are presented with ‘facts'. I won't delve into the psychology but it is one of our natural truth and identity processing reflexes.

This automatic push back is often perceived by sales people as rejection of them and their message, when really it's just an automatic response. The trick is to try and avoid making assertions.

In his sales classic, “The Secrets of Question-Based Selling(2000)”, author Tom Freese also describes the

“instinctive tendency of individuals to resist, push back or respond in a contrarian manner”

when sales people make assertions. Freese calls this push back ‘Mismatch”.

Freese goes on to explain that you cannot push back against a question and proceeds to describe a questioning strategy with ‘type’ questions to facilitate the buyer’s journey.

Indeed, it is difficult to push back against a question but it’s also difficult to deliver your company’s insights and positions with questions. Questions are great for demonstrating credibility and exploring and understanding a potential customer’s situation but they are not so great for delivering content. Something else is needed, stories.

Stories are flanking manoeuvres for assertions. With your insights and assertions wrapped in a story you can place the information in the back of your customers mind and avoid automatic push back.

Questions and stories; the persuaders feint and roundhouse kick.




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Teaching


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2009 in Malaysia

The Complications: A disrupted conversation

The Turning Point: Re focussed conversation and realisation of what has occured,

The Resolution: Meeting returned to questioning

The Point of the Story: Questions and stories are the two dialectic tools for avoiding push back and rejection.

How to Re-Purpose a Story

Do you know what it feels like to really help someone but they don't realise you helped?

In our business story workshops, we ask participants to

tell a story about when you helped,

 this is a preparatory exercise to help them construct business success stories (not to be confused with marketing case studies).

Most people tell business stories in this exercise but occasionally there is a memorable personal story:

Nick, a successful marketing manager, told about taking his then three year-old daughter to the beach to teach her to swim in 2011. Nick took her into waist deep murky water and kept her close and firmly in sight as she tried to swim.

Nick felt a brush against his leg and at first thought it was his daughter touching him, but realising that it couldn't have been her, reached down into the water and pulled up a young boy who was drowning on the sandy bottom.

The boy spluttered and recovered as Nick carried him to the beach.

When they reached the beach, the boy's mother came up and exclaimed "oh! There you are!". She took the boy by the hand and led him away before Nick could explain what had happened.

I recently told this story in a discussion with an IT company that was struggling with customer service. Even though the story is not about customer service, the emotions it evokes are universal which makes it a generally useful story if told in the right context,

If you get in the habit of collecting your stories you'll be amazed at how versatile they can be.




Source: Nick Horton personal experience

Story Type:


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2011 beach in NSW

The Complications: Nick discovered a drowning child

The Turning Point: Nick brought the child to the shore but the mother didn't notice

The Resolution: The story is unresolved! which is exactly the feeling it induces

The Point of the Story: Good stories can re-purposed

Disrupting Telecoms - Norwood Systems Company Story

Invention and entrepreneurship are in the blood for Paul Ostergaard. Paul’s start-up company, Norwood Systems, is named after his grandfather, Arthur Norwood, who invented processes for extracting gold and silver from ore bodies in the 1940s.

The first incarnation of Norwood Systems listed on the ASX in 2001 with a concept and technology to extend the reach of fixed telephone networks to mobile phones using Bluetooth communication. Instead of leaving a voicemail on the office phone, a caller would be transferred to the recipient’s mobile phone if they were within Bluetooth range.

In the heady days of the dot com boom, Norwood was wildly successful, winning the first ever tender for a large telco company to supply dual-mode converged telephony. Norwood was ranked by Time Magazine as one of Europe’s hottest tech firms in 2001 and 2002.

Norwood partnered with a major handset vendor to commercialise their technology but the idea conflicted with the financial interests of the mobile carriers who preferred to carry the call over their networks (and charge for them). The project foundered and Paul sold the company in 2004.

The Apple iPhone launch in 2007 changed the balance of power. For the first time consumers could choose their own phone services via the app store and the position of mobile carriers changed to merely transporting the data.

Paul saw another opportunity for his fixed and mobile convergence patents and in 2011, with David Wilson, relaunched Norwood Systems.

Now taking advantage of Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth, Norwood launched ‘Work Phone’ as a smartphone app that could extend the range of an office phone. When they upgraded this technology to support multiple Wi-Fi networks it was obvious that the technology was applicable far beyond the geography of the office environment.

But Work Phone required modifications to a corporation’s PBX and that was a barrier to fast adoption of the solution. A lighter version was needed and in mid-2015 a consumer app called “World Phone’ was released.

World Phone, offered significantly reduced mobile roaming fees and easy access to local phone numbers while travelling internationally. With more than 4,000,000 downloads, World Phone is a leading app in the Travel category on both the App Store and Google Play. Underpinning World Phone is a federation of high quality fixed Telco networks which carry the voice signals using internet protocol but with high fidelity.

Norwood did not forget its original mission to provide low cost converged telephony for businesses and in 2016, using the lessons from the Word Phone and inspired by the success of ‘Uber for business’, Norwood relaunched a corporate version of World Phone  called 'Corona Cloud', which avoids the need to integrate with a customer's internal telephone exchange (The PBX) but still offers control and manageability of work phone usage regardless of whether its a company or personal phone.



Norwood Systems

Source: Mike Adams conversations with Paul Ostergaard, Steve Tot and Nick Horton

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: The early 2000's when fixed telephony is being seriously disrupted by mobile telephony

The Complications: A business failure due to entrenched market forces

The Turning Point: New technology that allowed a re-entry

The Resolution: A booming business that is disrupting the Telecommunications industry

The Point of the Story: Get on board with Norwood Systems, you can improve your company's productivity and pay for the improvement with the telecom spend cost savings

Schlumberger in Russia

I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.

Schlumberger was formed in 1926 when Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger invented a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. The invention was an instant success and within a few years, Schlumberger deployed their technique all over the world. They revolutionised the Russian oil industry to the extent that a portrait of Conrad Schlumberger was hung in the Oil and Gas Gubkin Institute as a pioneer of Soviet industry.

But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s, when Stalin nationalised Schlumberger's assets in Russia.

In the mid-1990s, when Russia was opening up again to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision whether to re-enter the market. The CEO, was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russian re-entry; His answer was “$200 million”.

With that, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were startling; using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies doubled production while their competitor’s production fell.

I've told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable.

The power of stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey: the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation, the story would not have the same power.

Today, Schlumberger is a company with revenues of $35 billion, dominating the oil and gas services business - and generating nearly $2 billion per year from Russia alone.




Source: Mike Adams experience and conversations with Schlumberger people in Russia at the time


"The Schlumberger Adventure"

, Anne Gruner Schlumberger

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Schlumberger in Russia 1930 to present day

The Complications: The company's assets were nationalised by the Russian state

The Turning Point: Schlumberger's successful re-entry into Russia in the 1990s

The Resolution: A massive successful business

The Point of the Story: How an interesting story says more about a company than marketing claims

How to use this Story: We tell this story as an example company Creation story and to illustrate the persuasive power of stories.

Innovation Downunder

In the early 2000s, Matt was working as a geophysicist at BHP Petroleum. He was also adjunct associate professor of geophysics at Curtin University in Perth. Keen to start his own geophysics software business, Matt saw in PhD student Troy a potential partner with a brilliant mind who could ‘do anything’. Matt and Troy were working on software techniques to ‘invert’ seismic acoustic survey data to a quantitatively useful parameter such as the probability of hydrocarbon. In late 2003, Matt left BHP and together with Troy, founded Downunder GeoSolutions (DUG).

Processing seismic data requires banks of computers to perform parallel computations on terabytes of data. Matt and Troy installed a network of PC computers in a shed they built in Matt’s backyard. They immediately encountered an overheating problem with their massed PC computers. The solution was to stack the PCs on their sides, fit the shed roof with an array of exhaust fans sourced from the local hardware store, and drape a curtain from the window to direct outside air up through the PCs to cool them. After about three months, the processor boards started turning green from the humid air and within a year they fell apart, but the first DUG supercomputer had done its job.

The company struggled to make money in the early years, surviving on grants and piecemeal consulting projects. Then in 2006, Matt and Troy had an opportunity to apply their technique to a data set from Western Australia for US oil and gas giant Apache. Three dry holes had been drilled in the licence area and Apache had an obligation to drill one more well before they could relinquish the licence.

Matt and Troy took on the job with more bravado than confidence, and after six months of processing they produced the world's first hydrocarbon probability volume map. Their interpretation showed why the initial wells had failed, and Apache used their results to drill the first discovery well and a further 18 accurately predicted oil and gas wells. The Julimar oil and gas field, which now supplies gas to the $30 billion Wheatstone liquid natural gas plant, is the result. This success launched the company, allowing Matt and Troy to open new global offices and invest in new supercomputers, expand their processing capability and take on new customers.

Today the company has outgrown the shed! DUG has grown to 350 employees and is the third largest seismic processing company in the world, and the largest land seismic processing company in the United States. They operate a network of massive supercomputers in London, Houston, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, each cooled with DUG-patented oil cooling baths, and service the seismic processing needs of oil and gas companies around the world.



Downunder Geosolutions

Source: Matt Lamont and Troy Thompson discussions with Mike Adams and Sue Findlay


Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Early 2000s in Perth, Western Australia

The Complications: Struggling to succeed as a company

The Turning Point: A successful interpretation that discovered a gas field

The Resolution: DUG operates supercomputers in Perth, Houston, London, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta serving oil and gas companies all over the world.

The Point of the Story: DUG is great compay

How to use this Story:  Used by DUG customer facing staff and a great example of a company creation story

The Accidental Sales Person

Growth in Focus is a Sales consulting company, but our Managing Director Sue Findlay does not consider herself a sales person. In fact, Sue shies away from sales activities, preferring to leverage her technical expertise in procurement, buyer psychology and winning tenders.

Company Director Mike Adams is also a technical person, but has long experience in sales and managing sales teams across several industries, and so helps Sue with sales activities for her territory in Western Australia.

Mike attended an industry conference in 2015 in Melbourne and met a Perth-based managing director of an international company that he though would be a good future customer. Mike had a brief conversation with the MD at the conference, and agreed to meet when he was next in Perth.

Unfortunately, each time Mike went to Perth on business, the MD was somewhere else in the world. It seemed likely they would never meet. After about five attempts to schedule a meeting, Mike emailed the MD suggesting that he meet Perth-based Sue instead.

Mike received a one line reply:

"Ok I will meet her, but we're not buying anything"


Hardly a response to motivate an already nervous Sue.

Mike setup a meeting practise session with Sue and encouraged her to tell the story about

why she founded Growth in Focus

- that story is about Sue's frustration with sales people who are unable to supply critical intelligence for the tender submissions she works on - such as the underlying reasons for the tender and the competitive situation.

Sue went for the meeting while Mike waited anxiously in Melbourne to hear how it went.

Sue called after the meeting and excitedly told Mike that she had told her story about her frustration with sales people and the MD had said:

"Welcome to my world, lets go to a whiteboard ..."

We are happy to report that this company is now a Growth in Focus customer where we are supplying a range of sales consulting services.


Company: Growth in Focus

Source: Sue Findlay and Mike Adams experience


Story Type: Insight, Personal


For Story Students:

The Setting: Perth, 2015

The Complications: Sue did not feel competent or able to have a sales meeting with a prospect customer

The Turning Point: Sue was encouraged and trained to use a purposeful story in her first meeting with the prospect

The Resolution: Sue created rapport and interest with her story and it is now an important Growth in Focus customer

The Point of the Story: The right story can win a sale

How to use this Story: We use this story to underline the importance of stories in the sales process

Software for Life - The Pronto Story

Pronto Software Managing Director Chad Gates tells the Pronto Story

The seeds for what would become Pronto were planted in 1976 when Dave Nolan formed Prometheus while consulting to an Australian computer hardware manufacturer called CMAD.

By 1983, CMAD was in financial difficulty and its directors decided to sell the ‘non-core’ software division. Dave Nolan purchased the rights to the application and system software and acquired six CMAD software developers as part of the deal.

The software Prometheus acquired was written in an old programming language called COBOL and would only operate on CMAD hardware. The company wanted independence from both hardware and software providers, so set about developing a fourth-generation programming language which was used to rewrite the entire code base into a product called Pronto.

CMAD went out of business but many of their customers continued using Pronto software, and some are still valued Pronto customers today, more than 30 years later.

Over time, customers began using ‘Pronto‘ as the company name and in 2001 the name was officially changed.

By the late 1990’s, Dave Nolan was looking to sell the business and retire. There was a major falling out between directors when Dave accepted what the others considered a very low offer from Sausage Software. However, the deal was accepted and Sausage took ownership in July 1999.

Sausage was an over-hyped ‘dot-com’ business which used its pumped-up valuation to buy ‘real’ companies like Pronto and SMS Management. When the dot-com bubble burst in the year 2000, SMS Management did a reverse takeover of Sausage and set about cleaning the balance sheet. Pronto did not fit SMS's business strategy and was put up for sale by tender.

This was a critical time; there was a risk that Pronto would be subsumed by a competitor or mismanaged to extinction. New CEO David Jackman saw an opportunity for a management buyout, and with a cohort of Pronto staff members and some reseller staff, successfully acquired the company.

There were mixed feelings for the new owners - exhilaration at being in control of their destiny again, and anxiety and concern about the next salary bill and over extended personal finances. Many Pronto staff investors had been advised by their accountants against investing, but put trust in the management team. Their investment has been repaid many times over.

Today Pronto serves over 1600 customers across Asia Pacific with 380 staff. The company has grown at an average rate of 15% per annum. It is a company in control of its destiny and confidently navigating the cycles of the software industry in the best interests of its customers and staff. In 2016, David Jackman retired and Chad Gates took over as CEO.



Pronto Software

Source: Mike Adams and Stefan Crisp discussions with early Pronto staffers


Story Type: Company Creation

Labels: Control; Change Management; Persistence


For Story Students:

The Setting: Melbourne from 1976

The Complications: A failing hardware company, changing technology, company sale and a management buyout

The Turning Point: The management buyout in 2002

The Resolution: A stable successful company

The Point of the Story: Pronto has the experience and resources to support its customers through the cycles of the software industry

How to use this Story: Pronto people use flavours of this story to connect with their customers. Its a nice example of a company creation story.

Kinky Performance

Today I decided to clean the upstairs balcony floor at our house. This is the type of procrastination activity I will undertake when I’m avoiding a more important task…

We have a permanently connected cleaning hose on the balcony which hadn’t been used for a couple of years.  As I hosed the balcony I was immediately disappointed by the low water pressure but I reasoned that it was due to the tap location high on the second floor wall.

Twenty minutes later after some energetic scrubbing and feeble dousing, I noticed a kink in the hose. Freeing the kink produced instant good water pressure and suddenly the job was much easier.

A couple of minutes later the pressure dropped again but this time, of course, I knew straight away what to do.

I reflected on the fact that I had been labouring away accepting poor performance but the instant I saw what good performance was possible, I knew what to do and no longer accepted poor performance.

This is exactly what we experience day to day with the sales teams we work with at Growth in Focus. Identifying and modelling what good performance looks and feels like and allowing sales people to experience that improved performance is the path to mastery for individuals and teams.



Source: Mike Adams personal experience


Story Type: Business Purpose

Labels: Values; Beliefs; Control; Personal


For Story Students

The Setting: Mike's House in 2016

The Complications: Poor water pressure while washing the balcony floor

The Turning Point: Locating the kink in the hose and realising the metaphor potential pf the situation

The Resolution: Kept the hose free of kinks and cleaned the floor

The Point of the Story: Kept the hose free of kinks and cleaned the floor

How to use this story: This mini-story is a good example of how you can use everyday experiences as a metaphor to serve a business purpose


The Bus

When we practise ''who have I helped' stories in our Growth in Focus story workshops most attendees tell business stories but occasionally a personal story is told which entrances the group.

Here is an example from workshop attendee Warren:

At various times in Warren's life he has taken up running to maintain his fitness.

While still living in South Africa in the late nineties, he determined to get up at six each morning and go for a run.

Part of the route that Warren ran each morning was along a wide but quiet two-lane straight road.

For comfort, he avoided the uneven gravel next to the road and ran on the tarmac edge. Warren ran on the opposite side of the road so that he could see approaching vehicles.

In the distance Warren saw an oncoming bus.

Since the oncoming two lanes were wide and clear, Warren assumed that the bus would move aside to give him space as he ran along the edge of the road.

But the bus did not move aside. Instead it passed so close that Warren was almost hit by the mirror and he was forced onto the gravel to avoid being run over. As the bus passed, Warren angrily turned around and raised his finger to give the driver the "bird".

As he continued running, Warren thought about what had happened and his own reaction.

He thought it likely that the African driver, who had no doubt struggled to make a living through the Apartheid era, resented having to move over for a young white person who could afford the luxury of running on the road for fitness.

Furthermore, Warren reasoned that his own angry reaction would in no way change the driver's attitude.

In an instant Warren resolved to not be that angry person.

The next morning, 6 am, Warren was running down the same stretch of empty road when in the distance appeared the same bus, obviously on a regular route. Warren maintained his position on the side of the road but as the bus approached he smiled and waved to the driver.

Again he was nearly run off the road.

Next morning same thing, Warren smiled and waved and the bus nearly ran him down.

But the next day when Warren smiled and waved there was a slight wave of one hand from the driver, and the bus didn't pass quite so close.

After that Warren and the bus driver would smile and wave to each other each morning and eventually the bus steered so far from Warren that it was almost in the oncoming traffic.


Company: Personal

Source: As told by Warren Nel at a Growth in Focus Story Workshop 2016


Story Type: Values; Personal; Who have we helped

Labels: Values; Beliefs; Control; Personal


For Story Students

The Setting: South Africa when Warren was on one of his fitness kicks

The Complications: The oncoming bus neartly hit Warren

The Turning Point: Warren decided not to be the angry victim, rather to be a smiling friend to the bus driver

The Resolution: Warren and the bus driver became waving and smiling friends on Warren's morning runs

The Point of the Story: Warren and the bus driver became waving and smiling friends on Warren's morning runs

How to use this story: This is a story about personal values and how setting standards for your own behaviour can positively influence others. As Warren says it is about reversing the HAVE --> DO ---> BE sequence

Deciding what you want to BE influences what you DO which in turn leads to what you HAVE


Evaluating Sales People

In mid-2015, Steve was one of six candidates for a head of sales position at fast growing Telecommunications software start-up. The company had engaged Growth in Focus to assess candidate sales conversation skill which was done using a simulation. Of the six candidates, Steve was outstanding and was offered the role.

Fast forward 10 months and Steve, now Head of Sales, contacted Mike about performing a similar evaluation for two sales candidates that he was considering. Mike performed a skill evaluation and neither tested too well.

When Steven watched the simulation video he was shocked. In Steven's words words it was "...sobering to watch".

Steven had met and interviewed these candidates and thought that they would be suitable but the simulation showed significant weaknesses in the core sales skill - conversation skill. This is a significant insight.

You might think "an interview is like a sales meeting, I can evaluate their sales conversation skill in an interview"  - and

you would be wrong

. It is necessary to analyse a well structured sales situation to properly evaluate sales conversation skill.

In response to this insight, Steven is now evaluating recruiting candidates and current team members to see what the training requirements are.

Steve continues to grow his international team and the company is going from strength to strength.



: Telecommunications Software Company


Mike Adams consulting experience with this company assisting them to hire the best sales people

Story Type:

Insight; Business Purpose


For Story Students

The Setting: Mid-2015 Steve applied for a head of sales role with a Telecommunications start-up

The Complications: The start-up needed to ramp up fast and hire head of sales and sales people all over the world. Steve was one of six candidates to be assessed via a sales simulation run by Growth in Focus

The Turning Point: Steve got the job and then started building his team. Eight months later Steve was considering two international candidates and decided to use Growth in Focus again to evaluate them/ Steve was shocked a the results

The Resolution: Steve resolved to simulation test all sales people including current hires

The Point of the Story: Steve resolved to simulation test all sales people including current hires

How to use this story: We use this story as a reference story to build our sales recruiting business


The most expensive dry hole in South East Asia and practising safe questions

A few years ago I accompanied one of my sales people on a customer meeting in Indonesia. In the pre-meeting briefing, I was informed that the person we were meeting, the exploration manager for a mid-sized oil and gas company, had famously just completed drilling the most expensive dry hole in Indonesia. That is, they had spent more than $100 million dollars and failed to find hydrocarbons.

We were selling software that had the potential to avoid a repeat of that failure, so clearly, we would like to discuss the recent dry hole and the reasons for it.

My sales person, however, was nervous about asking, fearing that the topic would be embarrassing for the exploration manager. So I explained a specific question type which is safe for this sort of situation.

The question is: "To what extent is


an issue in ...."

When you ask to "what extent is" you are not making any assumption about the answer, so its a safe way to ask.

As we were selling software that could have imaged the target better our question was:

"To what extent was target imaging an issue in your recent non-discovery well?"

Note that this is safer than an alternatives such as:

"Did you have trouble imaging the reservoir in you recent ...?"

With this question the listener is likely to hear " have trouble ..." and take offence.

We asked our "to what extent is .." questions, and had a constructive meeting - to the relief of my local sales person.

Learning to ask the right question in the right sequence is critical to sales success and something we teach in our Diamond Dialogue conversation training.

Read more about sales questions at:



: Mid sized Oil and Gas Company


: Mike Adams personal experience



Story Type

: Teaching


For Story Students

The Setting

: In 2010 I was working in Halliburton as Head of Sales and I had a meeting with an exploration manager who had just drilled the most expensive dry hole well in SE Asia

The Complications

: I needed a way to get the conversation onto the topic of the dry hole without embarrassing the exploration manager

The Turning Point

: I called on my question skills training to devise a safe way to ask about the dry hole useing the "To What Extent ...?" quesion

The Resolution

: We had an engaging conversation and were able to position our software products to prevent future issues

The Point of the Story

: We had an engaging conversation and were able to position our software products to prevent future issues

How to use this story

: We use the story in our sales conversation training and to show the benefits of the Diamond Dialogue questioning framework


When to walk away from a big deal

In the late 1990s, One.Tel tendered for the provision of an Australia-wide mobile phone network. The multi-billion dollar tender attracted aggressive bidding from all of the major multi-national telecommunications equipment companies.

One.Tel was a group of Australian-based telecommunications companies established in 1995, soon after deregulation of the Australian telecommunications industry, with high-profile backers such as the Murdoch and Packer families.

The Australian CEO for Siemens we'll call him Joe, led the bid for Siemens Australia, which was a front runner to win due to its advanced and proven technology.

As the tender negotiations proceeded, Joe became increasingly concerned about One.Tel's requirements for unsecured vendor financing - but approval for Siemens to provide this financing had been received from the Siemens board, and Joe was under pressure to "close the deal".

But something didn't feel right to Joe, he was concerned about the security for the financing and One.Tel's prospects. Despite the financing having been approved by Siemens's notoriously conservative commercial management cadre, Joe decided to pull out of the deal.

Joe's managers backed his decision and the main competitor won the tender.

A year or so later, when One.Tel went into receivership, Joe's competitor lost nearly a billion dollars and his brave decision was vindicated.



: Siemens


: Mike Adams conversations with the main players and Wikipedia



Story Type

: Teaching


For Story Students

The Setting

: Tendering for a new mobile phone network in late 90's Australia

The Complication

s: One.Tel required the vendors to provide unsecured vendor financing

The Turning Point

: Australian CEO made a gut decision to pull out of the tender process

The Resolution

: Siemens competitor won the tender and lost nearly $1 billion AUD when One.Tel collapsed and went into receivership

The Point of the Story

: Going with your gut feel when something feels wrong about a deal is often the best course of action but it takes courage.

How to use this story

: The story shows the importance of sticking with your convictions


The Zambia Malaria Outbreak Story

In the mid 1990s, Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the World Bank after a long and distinguished career in the banking industry. Instead of the job he wanted, he was given what he considered a 'poisoned chalice' -  a role to implement knowledge management at the World Bank because the organisation operated all over the world but seemed to be repeatedly making the same mistakes.

It was the early days of PowerPoint and Stephen made what he thought was a compelling presentation full of rational argument and moving slides about why knowledge management was important. He took his presentation on a global tour but was unable to persuade any country to take on in his knowledge management initiative.

One day, back at the World Bank HQ in New York, Stephen was having lunch in the staff cafeteria when he overheard a story being told by some field workers:

A health worker who was part of a project to build a school in a tiny town in Zambia went to the Web site of the Centre For Disease Control and got an answer to a question about the treatment of malaria. This was in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and it was in a tiny place six hundred kilometres from the capitol city. 

Stephen included this story in his presentation and there was an instant change in his audience response. The Zambia story connected with his audience and his quest to implement knowledge management finally started to gain traction.

Stephen Denning calls the Zambia story a "springboard" story because it was told and retold countless times and was the catalyst for organisational change



: World Bank


: Stephen Denning "The Springboard" How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations, 2001



Story Type

: Business Purpose; Insight


: Knowledge Management; Change Managment


For Story Students

The Setting

: Mid 1990s Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the world bank

The Complications

: Stephen was given the task of implementing knowledge management and found it very hard going

The Turning Point

: Stephen overheard a story about a malaria outbreak in Zambia and decided to use that story in his presentations

The Resolution

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

The Point of the Story

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

How to use this story

: This is a classic change management story. Use it whenever you need to talk about implementing change