Gaining Access to Insights

How kicking off a storytelling project became a core part of our company strategy and culture.

Four weeks ago, I began a storytelling project for Leap.ai that would capture moments of impact, import and vulnerability from some of Silicon Valley’s most successful leaders. These stories, though largely from tech, span Product, Engineering and Design to Sales, Operations and HR. As a self-proclaimed expert on storytelling, I certainly had my work cut out for me. I’ve opened for artists as a poet, helped students find their voice as an educator, and have given storytelling workshops to leaders in tech… BUT, I’ve never had the opportunity to capture and share hidden, compelling stories of men and women who have carved out success from vastly different beginnings.

“People think stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around…” - Terry Pratchett

I’m Tony and I head up Business Development and Operations for Leap.ai. When I embarked on this journey, the importance of a diverse set of “speakers” was obvious to me. We needed “x” women, “y” engineers, “z” artists, etc. What I hadn’t accounted for, as I prepared to bombard my list of potential storytellers was the profound impact their stories would have on me (and our users). Our overarching philosophy for this project was to create access to narratives and insights that were previously hidden. I cannot overemphasize the importance of our values in this process. It was important to be approachable, knowledgeable, sincere, resourceful, and inspiring. By the time I had completed the 10 stories, I had been transformed. Our hope was that our users would be similarly moved by what they read and heard.

“People have a story to tell” - Anonymous

So I have this list of 100 names. CEO. CTO. SVP. VP. Director. And so on. The titles themselves carried the weight of importance in every tentative email I sent. Surprisingly, many agreed to tell their story. Through tedious scheduling and travel-acrobatics, we made the story-capture a labor of opportunism. “Tell us about a time when you had an epiphany — a moment in your career when you were deeply moved.” The goal was to capture a salient experience, exchange, engagement or activity that had a lasting effect on the person’s career. At that point, motivated by NPR’s “Perspectives”, I was determined to record all of these narratives. Snowball mic, pop-filter and make-shift echo-reducer (a.k.a blanket) in tow, I went from office to office, eagerly willing to listen. Here’s what I learned:

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing.” - Pele

Be true to oneself. One common theme I came across listening to these accomplished men and women was a persistence and adherence to “truth”. Jo talked of “bucking the trend” as she made decisions that others might view as contrarian. Melanie shared her incredible journey to product design by giving herself permission to explore. Now she works with tech giants in Silicon Valley and runs a nonprofit to give others the skills they need to pursue a career in design. Marlon took the road less traveled by standing by his goal of becoming a venture capitalist. And so on… Every storyteller mentioned the perseverance required for success. It didn’t happen overnight. It required a level of resourcefulness unseen or unheard of given their circumstances. And, the ROI has, undeniably, worked out in their favor.

Vulnerability = authenticity. Every one of the people I interviewed stepped outside their comfort zones. The raw and unfiltered moment I heard was both a relief for the teller as well as an absolute pleasure for me as a listener to witness something “real.”

People want to tell their story. The excitement from our participants was palpable. Yes, we were here to hear their stories. Yes we were eager to tell others about it. Yes, we thought it was valuable not just to us but to a broader audience.

Love what you do. As I reflected on the willingness of our partners, to share their stories, one word came to mind — love. They love what they do. They loved the idea that someone wanted to bring their story to others to both promote their own personal causes, but also to help others learn from their experiences.

“It is better to know how to learn than to know…” - Dr. Seuss

At Leap, we strive to be helpful, sincere, knowledgeable, resourceful, and inspirational. Over the past month, I’ve learned what these mean on an intimate level with each of our storytellers. The process of capturing, curating and sharing their moments has allowed us as a team to draw closer to our values and to create a space for others to do the same. As you read or listen to each moment — take time to reflect on what really matters- Community. Learning. Sharing knowledge. We recognize that everyone will have a different take away from these stories. Our hope is that you, too, are moved and inspired by them to want to learn more; to not rest with “knowing”. Until next time…

Tony Luckett is a long-time “Education Guy” who has dedicated his life to making others successful — first as a school leader in the Marshall Islands and most recently as a Business Designer at IDEO.org. He currently heads up business operations at Leap.ai, a professional development platform focused on helping students and young professionals learn about their own passions and abilities.