The shopping list: Story Safari

I found this fabulous story in Lawrence Wechsler’s Vanity Fair piece about the great writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks encountering a shopping list left by his housekeeper:

“The other day,” Oliver tells me, “on the list was the word ‘fail.’ I figured this was some prodigiously self-deprecatory detergent and set about looking for it. But no stores had it. I decided its name must have been self-fulfilling.

“Only, my housekeeper subsequently corrected me: ‘No, no, you idiot—foil!’ ”

Another great story bagged on a Story Safari. Now, how might I use this?

How to mount this Story Safari trophy?

At the simplest level, it could be a story about how doctors’ famously unreadable handwriting. This doctor was undone by his housekeeper’s handwriting.

But, really, we can do much better than that.

We might use it in a story about someone too ready to see failure.

Or, playing off the fact that most of us fear failure entirely too much, we might write a story about someone with so little fear of failure that he thinks a consumer product company would name a product “Fail.” Can you imagine a company doing such a thing? I certainly can’t.

In any case, stories like this in Wechsler’s article humanize Sacks. The article made me like the man even more than I already did. And that’s one of the primary purposes of using stories like this, especially in a business context.


Learn to tell your story powerfully. Join me for my free webinar “The Courage to Communicate: Write Right to Lead”—Saturday October 29th at 12 noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific.

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