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As President/Owner of Storlietelling Jean uses story-based techniques to design and facilitate highly engaging strategic planning, innovation, and team-building sessions. She also runs training programs in business storytelling skills for clients that span boutique consulting firms to Fortune 500 companies across a range of industries. Jean has facilitated innovation in consumer packaged goods, supplier, and direct marketing companies, focusing on building their innovation pipelines. She worked at General Mills for over a decade, where her knack for distilling complex content into compelling communications helped business teams drive business growth for consumer brands like Cheerios and Yoplait. As a child, she loved reading books, playing dress-up, and solving puzzles, foreshadowing the work she does now-solving problems with stories.
Mimi is the leader of Global Strategic Insights for IFF Nourish. She is responsible for inspiring and motivating creative teams by bringing actionable insights to life and facilitating end-to-end innovation. Prior to this, Mimi was the Principal and Owner of Sherlock Creative Thinking, a creativity and innovation consultancy that served a variety of clients and industries across the globe. Through her highly engaging and experiential approach, Mimi helped business teams in companies like Visa, L'Oreal, and Nestle crack the code on gnarly problems . . . and enjoy the process. She has been a leader and facilitation trainer for the Creative Problem Solving Institute for close to thirty years. As a natural ideator, if you give Mimi a challenge she's likely to spew out twenty-five ideas in under five minutes.
Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)
John: Mimi and Jean, it's a pleasure to have you both on the show. Thank you very much for being here today.
Jean: Thank you. Good to be here.
John: Okay, great. So let's just start with, because I think it's always interesting to find the twists and turns that landed people in kind of sensory and consumer science and I know Jean, you have a little bit of a different background than kind of typical sensory scientist. So, let me start with you, Jean. If you can take us through your path, you've worked with General Mills, maybe starting off when you were in college when you realized you had a talent for expressing yourself through stories, communicating complex concepts through stories. Can you take us through that process of that discovery?
Jean: Actually, I started my career as a registered dietitian, and then I got my Master's Degree in Exercise Science and this is way way back when that was a really odd combination of degrees to put together. So it was the early 80s, and with lots of enthusiasm and energy for the field of wellness, fitness, health promotion, I spent the first decade leading and designing programs in that space. Eventually, I found my way into health and nutrition communications, which landed me at General Mills. And actually, my love of stories and I kind of got into it way back when I was leading wellness programs and that I had a couple of experiences with clients where I realized that all my facts and information weren't going to help them change their lives unless they understand their story. I began to weave opportunities into the group programs that I ran for the clients to bring the stories of their successes and their struggles with changes and how they'd overcome various challenges in their life and take that wisdom and inspire themselves and inspire one another through story sharing. And I didn't even really know I was doing storytelling. It was just sort of intuitively what I found. And I didn't really find my way into this business storytelling space until after I left General Mills in 2012. And I discovered, "Oh, wow! There's this whole growing global movement around this" and I want to learn more about it, so kind of put myself to school.
John: Right. We should tell everybody that you and Mimi have a book that's just been launched. So can you take us a little bit about how did you end up writing a book with Mimi and maybe bring some to the present with that story?
Jean: Well, I'll tell the first piece, and I'll let Mimi jump in on it, too. But we met at the Creative Problem solving conference, and we really clicked in the cafeteria with the tray line clattering in the background.
John: What year was that? How long ago was that?
Jean: I think that was 2013 maybe. I don't know. We realized that we had all these things in common, that I live in Minneapolis, she'd gone to the University of Minnesota. She grew up in Nebraska. I grew up in Wisconsin, so we kind of had this Midwest background. She was a sensory scientist. I was a dietitian. But probably more than anything, we just had this mind melt that just magically happened, and we generated all these ideas in this 20-minute lunch with all this chaos going on around us on how we might work together. I'll let Mimi add her piece to the story.
John: That sounds good. Yeah. So maybe let's not go through your backstory a little bit because I think if you can take us through your process to find your way to sensory science, then eventually.
Mimi: Yeah, sure. So I was a food science major at the University of Nebraska, which I can kind of just landed in. I think because, at the time when I was in high school, I was one of those people that really kind of excelled in Math and Science. And I think at the time, especially with women, with girls, they were really promoting to get more women into science-oriented degrees and so I found myself winning this incredible scholarship to the University of Nebraska. So I thought, "Oh! That sounds good." Let me go to school and have that paid for. So I was in the food science department there and then from there, I went to the University of Minnesota, also in the food science area. And that's where I started working a little closer to the sensory science team and started kind of finding my way into sensory. At the same time, I had met a woman, Carol Christensen, who was at the Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis, and she had come to do a talk for one of my classes in Grad school and I was in this program. But I was always thinking to myself, like, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not quite sure what really interests me. And I was kind of having a hard time figuring out if I should continue or not. But after her talk, she talked about qualitative research and consumer research, and right afterward I went up to her and I said, Oh, my God, like everything you talked about, there's things I'm super interested in, probably from the more qualitative perspective. But she was a sensory scientist herself and then ultimately, I ended up having a great internship at Pillsbury Company and that's really what led to my career in sensory and consumer science and from there I ended up finding my way to New Jersey and getting a job at IFF and running Sensory Science and ultimately, what we called our aroma science program at the time which was really fascinating to me because it was really understanding the emotional benefits of taste and smell. Now this whole time, I was always interested in creativity, and I had been introduced to the organization that Jean was talking about the Creative Problem Solving Institute. And I had been attending conferences every year since I was in Grad school, and that was really just understanding everything about creativity, what is it, how to get more of it, how to nurture it, how to make it happen in organizations, what create a collaboration means, and all the different elements. As Jean said, we ultimately found ourselves at the same conference and had a lot of similar interests. And at the time, I was actually developing creative thinking techniques based on sensorial inputs because a lot of the deliberate creative thinking tools that are out there are very cognitive. And it's ways to solve problems and I thought, wow, everything is perceived through the senses, right?
Mimi: We're creating these new product ideas, but people experience products through the senses and there's not a lot of sensory-based creative thinking techniques. So I was working on that and I think I was running a workshop where I was also using visuals and pictures and photography for creative connections. And I think that's where Jean and I actually met. She was in my workshop at Sipsey, and that's where we connected. We realized that we worked pretty well together, and we bounced ideas on each other really well. And she was coming at things from a place of really understanding business storytelling. I was coming at things where I was really interested in developing different tools and techniques for creative thinking that went beyond just the more structural analytical processes and at one point, Jean said, hey, I'm thinking about creating a new workshop. Would you want to work on it with me? And so we started doing this workshop where we fused the tool of storytelling with the creative process. And that led to us working together and ultimately writing the book together.
John: I see, and that workshop, I guess, would have been now mid-2010 to 2015 or so to the workshop?
Jean: I think the first time we did it was in 2017, and then we did it in 2018. I don't know. We did it like three or four times in person before covid and then we were planning on doing it again with the launch of our book, and then we switched to virtual. So now we can do the workshop either way.
John: Right. That's really interesting. Actually, I got some questions to that. You mentioned your book, so could you please tell our listeners the title of your book where they can get it? Maybe just the basic details to make sure that your book is properly featured because I think that's important. So maybe Jean, would you like to...
Jean: Sure. It's called Once Upon an Innovation, a business storytelling guidebook for creative problem-solving. It's available on Amazon, both kindle and just the paper copy. You can get it straight from the warehouse, so it doesn't have to twice and all that. And if you go to our website, onceuponaninnovation.com, there's a coupon code there to get it direct from the warehouse 15% off. So you go there and pick up the code and there's links to all the different places you can buy. You can learn a little bit more about the book at the website, right.
John: So, then can take you through the process a little bit of the decision to write the book. I mean, is the book just basically an outgrowth of the workshop, or was there some new, so take us through that, please?
Jean: Well, I had actually started working on it before I pitch the idea to Mimi, and I'd already started writing. I'd written a few chapters and I had a prototype and I was getting input from different colleagues and then kind of circled Mimi into it. And then we sort of set writing the book aside focused on building the workshop pilot test all the tools that we wanted to create for the book, and then kind of came back to the writing after that. So what had happened to me was when you start a business, all these people tell you the things that you should do, like, oh, you should start a blog, oh, you should write a book.
Mimi: Start a podcast!
Jean: All of those felt so overwhelming. But eventually, I did start a blog and then I was five years into the storytelling journey, and I realized I had a point of view about the business storytelling movement that was unique from other people in that space. And I started to feel like, yeah, I am ready to write a book. So my first outline, though, was everything I learned about storytelling and the kitchen sink and I stuck on starting to write and I decided that all right if I were a business consultant, which I am and I were advising myself, what would I tell myself to do? And I'm like, I got to get some strategic focus. So I did a landscape analysis of all the books in the business storytelling space. I went to libraries and bookstores and looked online. I also did interviews with authors who are consultants. And the last question I asked at the end of those interviews was, if you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? And almost every person told me I would have written a shorter book. And that was a huge AHA and I realized that I'm so glad I didn't start writing from that first outline. I have, like, ten books outlined. And I needed to come really narrow and someone else had said, like, if you write one book, people will start asking you, when's your next book coming out and saves your material for should you want to do it again? So I began to think, well, not that I'm committing to writing a series of books, but if I were, what would be the different sequences and so then of the different ideas, the storytelling married to innovation was the one that where my passion was really pulling me. And then I'm like, I know the person who I want to have done this with me and that's when I reached out to Mimi, and then we kind of went from there and there was a lot of iteration. It was four and a half year journey.
John: Yeah, and Mimi, from your perspective, then can you tell your side of the story of how you got involved in your role in IFF?
Mimi: Yeah. I think Jean and I were kind of comparing the different aspects of deliberate creative thinking and innovation that we were interested in. And we kind of realized that I was interested in tools, and she was really very deep into the storytelling process and the power of storytelling. We started realizing that there's a lot of books and a lot of things out there that kind of talk about both things, but nothing really marries the two together and explains how and why stories can be so important in the innovation process. And so what was really fascinating to me and I think the role that I played, especially in authoring the book was really thinking about the different ways storytelling really is a tool and all the different iterations of that throughout the specific process of creative problem-solving. And we base our book on the foresight processes of creative problem solving and I think that it kind of evolved as we were working together, we were realizing, yeah, so you can use all these different story-based tools and techniques throughout the creative problem-solving process. But then based on our own experiences, we realized, well, there's also really important things that happen to make that process happen. And that includes getting stakeholders on board. And that includes pitching those ideas that come from that creative problem-solving process. And so I think my experience with Jean is that we were really able to think pretty holistically about all the different ways. Storytelling is important for success in being innovative and especially in this data-filled world where people are so overloaded with data. And how do you convey the essence of the data to people and realize how important storytelling was, but how important it will continue to be in the future as we're just overloaded with all sorts of data, you got to make a story out of it. You got to make it compelling. You got to tell the right story with it.
Jean: Well, what I think Mimi really brought to the process was two things, one, her ability to generate ideas and to see a challenge as an opportunity to just come up with all sorts of ways in to crack the code on that. So as a writer, you encounter these blocks where you're staring at the computer and you keep rewriting a paragraph or a page over and over and over again and I'm like being able to get with Mimi would just break through some of those barriers. And then the second thing is just really different and that was rigor in making sure that everything was really buttoned up. And I have scientific training as well and ensure that value but just having one other person, they're kicking the tires on the car before we let it out into the world to make sure that from all different angles, who might criticize this? And what will people be wanting to know that there's substance underneath the ideas and the stories and the examples and the tools that we had. And that was really great in having a partner to do that because when you're taking on a big project like this, it's so easy to get lost. The weeds of what you're doing and every once in a while, you just got to have someone Zoom you out and say, wait for a second, you're not making sense here. I'm not sure this whole top.
Mimi: And I think because of our background, we were interested not just in tools and techniques, story based on techniques. But it was like, what's the neuroscience of storytelling? Why is it that storytelling works so well? And so I think it was important for both of us to have a lot of neat behind the book. It's not just a bunch of values, use this technique. Try that technique. It's why do those techniques work and why should you choose these different tools and different parts of the process to help you meet your objective for innovation?
Jean: And then we had, like a challenge in how to put all of this together into a piece of narrative. And so we did go down a few rabbit holes, and we decided that we would create sidebars so that if someone wanted to go down into the neuroscience around creativity and play or the neuroscience on storytelling, that's there and then had many conversations and eventually landed on the decision rather than printing the tools in the book. They live in an online forum on the website and then owners can get the passcode to access the templates tools worksheets because we realized we're constantly changing our tools. That when could we ever like, say, this tool is perfect. We're publishing it. We're going into privileges and then also we could then organically add more tools to the toolkit over time and then just give readers another benefit of the book and then they can download the PDFs, and they're all interactive PDFs so they can use them as they want in their applications.
John: Yeah, it's fascinating. It actually makes me think that maybe shows some NFTs that you give out to your readers. Talking before the show with NFT's. Okay, let's just talk then about the key insights because we actually have ten minutes left so I do want to definitely get some of the key lessons. I mean, for me, I'm writing a book right now on Data Science for Sensory Consumer Science, so I can relate to, for example, the value of co-authors. I'm writing that with Thierry Worch and Julien Delarue, and they are really helping me to focus the book, make it shorter. A lot of things you're saying are really resonating. But also over the course of writing that book, I'm learning a lot. This inevitably happens. Right? And so what are some of the things that you personally learned as you were writing this book that you might have even been surprised by as you were writing?
Jean: Well, I definitely learned how to become a better storyteller. The editor of our book has a Ph.D. in Theatergy from Yale, which is a critique of theater. She was an excellent editor. But anyway, and also just disciplining myself to think about the principles of good storytelling and writing the story and then coming back and critiquing myself and just keep making it better and better. I learned a lot from Mimi. I learned about certainly any of those rabbit holes we went down. That was a lot to learn. I learned just a lot about the writing process and just how to work your energy to write and to stay on top of it. And I created a discipline, a habit for myself. There were various things like I moved and things happened that would make it hard. But I would say I have to do at least 20 minutes a week, and I have a very low bar like that. That even if 20 minutes, I could do doing a user interview or I could be revealing something and editing something I have already written. And like, who can say no to 20 minutes? But I didn't want to ever have a week go by where I wasn't engaging with the book, because then you can start procrastinating and too much time goes and I just felt like I needed to stay close to it. So anyway, just things like that about personal growth for a major part of the learning.
John: I definitely can relate to that. So, Mimi, you have some things...
Mimi: Yeah. I think from the book writing process, one of the biggest learnings is just how to edit because I think the quality of the messaging and the content of the book so much comes down to that because you can just write and write and write. It's really about making really good edits and figuring out the balance of the information so that was a process to kind of learn how to edit, and then you'd spend a month writing a section then you decide to let it go.
John: Leave it out as one of my sayings.
Mimi: That was really hard and then from a content perspective, I learned a lot again from Jean because she's the one that had the fundamentals of storytelling. She's the expert in that. I was more of a tools and techniques person. I learned a lot about just really the basics of storytelling, what makes a good story? What are the key elements? Some of the archetypes, universal plots, and archetypes that people can relate to when you're thinking about the stories to tell and which ones might resonate more than others. So both from a process and content, there's a lot of learning. And then you ultimately learn a lot about how Amazon makes all their money because you're not making money on writing a book. It's fascinating to me because I had no idea. I had never done this before. The actual processes are when you actually get to publish the book and sell it and how that all works. And it's interesting, and it's kind of quirky, and it's a learning process in itself.
John: I agree. Jean, can you add something.....
Jean: I was just thinking about infusing sensory details into the story to bring characters and settings to life. So when you were talking earlier about sense, that's one of the techniques that we teach is to try to imagine a character through all five senses. How does that character smell like? Let's say I was trying to describe an experience I had with an obnoxious lady on an elevator. Instead of just saying that I say the smell of her cheap perfume stung my nose as I heard her scream, "Daddy, hurry up."
John: That makes sense. So I do have one more quick question before we wrap it up because we're talking about creative problem solving, which might be more related to kind of the invention side and then you've got there's a lot of storytelling when it comes to building support for an idea if you're building a business, getting funding. For selling to consumers. But nowadays it almost seems like the story of a business is as important as what the business does. Right? Like, for example, there are many examples like this. The co-founder of Tinder started her own dating app, which is, I guess I don't know anything about dating apps. So kind of fumbling on this. It's called Bumble, I think and it went had a big IPO, and a lot of it was just a celebration of female entrepreneurs. She's got a child and overcame adversity with, I guess, misogyny at Tinder, and now she's made it big. And that story was as important as what the app actually does. I'm sure the app is valuable and useful. Right? But nowadays it seems like the story of the entrepreneur is almost as important as the business. So can we just quickly just kind of review the key points of where you see along the innovation pipeline, where do you see storytelling? Like, what are the different places where storytelling comes in plays a crucial role or at least some of the items?
Jean: Well, Mimi touched on this, but we really see that there's two tracks. One is the creative team coming up with the idea, and the second track is keeping stakeholders engaged and bringing them along. So stories work along both. So away from visioning that it's very difficult to help people imagine a future state that's different than today's reality to help them get there. So we have a whole chapter on that and then clarifying the problem to solve. I'm the big clarifier. The data that you do when you're immersing and trying to get your head around a problem or a challenge is so important. But the data tell you what a story tells you the so what. So coupling stories during that clarifying process, you're going to get deeper and richer insights, particularly greater empathy about your user. Then I'm going to put the next one to Mimi, her favorite one.
Mimi: Yeah. So using stories and ideation and just the power of story to think differently, really and think with emotion and analytics. A lot of times you have a lot of data around something that you're trying to ideate on or trying to take to the next step. And stories are really a tool that again blends that empathy and data together very well.
Jean: And also just bring play and find a little light-heartedness which helps people be more imaginative and then testing and prototyping and developing the idea.
Mimi: That uses stories and experiences and then figuring out how to implement it and selling it.
Jean: Right and then we also came up with a tool called the Strategic Arc, which is taking a story structure to structure a pitch and to bring more suspense and more intrigue and frame up what you're trying to sell as a story. And then it also is a tool to help you know what data to leave out. What to put in the backup. Because if the audience really wants to know that they'll ask you a question and we often think that we've got to take the person we're pitching to, they've got to understand our whole journey of developing the idea, and no, they don't. They just want to know what's the strategic context and the value and potential for that idea.
John: Okay. This is great. I mean, there's so much content there. So I don't know what you say for your second book. It sounds like quite a lot in the first book.
Jean: I'm more committing to a second book.
John: That's good. So quickly, just to kind of wrap up, we normally like to ask for advice for young professionals, so let's start with you Jean if you have some quick advice for young professionals.
Jean: I would say that especially with your audience being scientists is that data and analytical rigor are very important, but it also takes a wild imagination. So combining the two and stories are a way to get there. They aren't the only way. But just don't let the scientists that always want everything to be hard data to shut down our imagination and the quote that we have the Einstein quote that "Logic will get you from A to B, and imagination will take you everywhere," from Einstein.
John: That's great. Excellent, and Mimi?
Mimi: I just think tap into the power story because the story can help you all the way from building your career throughout your career when you're getting more entrenched in leadership. And it's one of the most important tools for leadership that we have. And I think the second thing is, as scientists, we really need to be stand up and speak out more than ever in this world of misinformation that's all around us and really help to tell the truth and give people good information from a science-based perspective and storytelling is such an important skill for that.
John: I totally agree with all that. Okay, this has been great. How can people get in touch with you? We'll put your link to the book website in the show notes, but LinkedIn, is that a good way for people to find you?
Mimi: You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org com as well or through LinkedIn is great.
John: Okay, great, and Jean?
Jean: Yes. Linkedin and then Storlietelling.com as well.
John: Okay, so we'll put all these links in the show notes. This has been great. Well, thank you both so much for being on the show.
Jean: Our pleasure.
Mimi: Thanks. It was fun.
John: Okay, that's it. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, please help us grow our audience by telling your friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes. Thanks.
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