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

Using 'because' to get away with murder

In the late 1970s, Ellen Langer and some colleagues at Harvard University showed in a simple experiment just how powerful reasons can be.

At the Harvard library there was a single photocopier that always had a line of people waiting to use it. For the experiment, Langer’s colleagues would walk to the front of that line and ask to cut in. If they said it was ‘because I’m in a rush’, 95 per cent of the time the people in the line said yes. But if they gave no reason, only 60 per cent of those queuing said yes.

Interestingly, if the researchers gave a bogus reason but still used the word ‘


’, 93 per cent of the people in the line still said yes.

Human beings like reasons, and the the word 'because' is the hypnotic link to the reason. As sales people we need to use the word 'because' such as

"... I'm calling you


 I read an article about how you are ,,,"



: Harvard University


: Anecdote website and



Story Type

: Insight, Teaching


For Story Students

The Setting

: Late 70s at Havard University

The Complications

: Experimenters were investigatimg some surprising human behaviours in the photocopy queue

The Turning Point

: They noticed that even an irrational 'because' led to a compliant queue

The Resolution

: Humans need the 'because' to generate meaning in situations

The Point of the Story

: Humans need the 'because' to generate meaning in situations

How to use this story

: Useful for sales people in cold calling and many other scenarios