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Announcing a new (free!) book, from Modernist Studio

Storytelling is a magic power: it’s the way we shape and drive product roadmaps.

I’ve written a number of things about storytelling in the past:

I’ve written how stories are the way to our hearts, and provided the ingredients for telling a good story. These include cognitive dissonance, immersion, transportation, sympathy, emotional contagion, and empathy.

I’ve also written how words—written, and spoken—act as secret weapons in shaping the way people think about user experience. Writing isn’t an extra step; it creates a foundation for empathy.

And I’ve provided a very, very detailed tutorial on how we use deep synthesis in order to leverage the stories we learn during research in identifying a foundational value promise.

Now, I’m pleased to announce the newest addition to our storytelling collection: a book that our team at Modernist has put together to capture the way we leverage field research in order to shape product strategy. The book is called This Chainsaw Cannot Fly, and here’s an excerpt of why we decided on that name.


It’s 10:00 am on a Wednesday morning at Los Angeles International Airport. The rain is pelting down outside but Matt’s warm and dry, deep in the bowels of the building. He’s watching Judith, a station control manager with a forthright manner, an impressive command of airport jargon, and in clear command of her three computer monitors, a hand-held radio, and two phones.

She picks up her radio. “Any available ramp supervisor?” she says. “I need a ramp supervisor down to the dungeon for some HazMat. Flight 1462 cannot go, the item cannot go.” Judith swivels her chair to face Matt. In a matter-of-fact voice, she says, “So, TSA called us and said there was a chainsaw, and obviously it can’t go on the plane, so I asked for the passenger and flight number. They’ll call the gate in a minute and tell the passenger they can’t board.” Next she’s on the phone with someone else. “TSA called and said 1462 has a chainsaw and they’re going to collect it . . . Yeah, she checked in a chainsaw . . . I don’t want to know what that’s about.”


If you were in charge of the TSA, would Judith’s experience prompt you to reconsider your messaging about what people can bring onto planes?

Stories are more fundamental to our lives than perhaps we realize. When we’re in the middle of hearing a story, we’re in a state of possibility, we’re open to new ways of thinking. This is important, because to effect any kind of transformation we have to want to make the leap between the way things are now and the way they could be in the future. What’s more, they help us to feel emotionally engaged with a problem, because facts and figures can only tell us so much and they rarely tug on our heart strings. That’s why we tell stories every day—to convince ourselves of something, to make a point to someone else, and to imagine new things to come. And it’s also why, as design strategists, we base our research methods on the gathering and telling of stories. Unlike fiction, our stories are based on raw truth.

You can get a free digital copy of this book by visiting http://www.moderniststudio.com/book. And if you’re looking to bring design strategy into your company, we’ll trade you a free physical book for 15 minutes with our creative business development group to discuss how we might partner.