A Story Teller’s Choice

Last week, at the annual Next Gen conference, I delivered a presentation about the history of Sustainability Accounting to the young professionals of the New York State Society of CPAs.

Scintillating stuff, eh? Well, believe it or not, it’s actually a fairly engaging tale. It begins in northern Vermont on a Ben & Jerry’s dairy farm, segues over to the Alaskan shoreline on the doomed Exxon Valdez oil tanker, and then ends in the present with characters as diverse and colorful as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Charles, the Prince of Wales in Great Britain.

But that’s a tale for a different day! Today, I’d like to convey an anecdote about a key choice that any story teller must address while planning to regale an audience. Namely, the decision is: do I describe the climax of the tale at the beginning of the story, or do I wait until the end?

The traditional approach, of course, is to tell a story in chronological order and then describe the climax at its conclusion. Most theatrical plays, films, television shows, and books flow in this conventional manner.

And yet certain authors have enjoyed great success by beginning with the denouement and then “flashing back” to earlier scenes. In the Oscar winning film Titanic, for example, it makes perfect sense to begin in the present and then flash back to earlier times because the audience already knows the fate of the doomed ocean liner. And in other works, such as in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, the flash back technique is effective because it grabs the audience’s attention immediately with a dramatic burst of energy.

Nevertheless, there are times when a story teller’s intentions are betrayed by his own audience. William Shakespeare, for instance, undoubtedly wanted viewers of Romeo and Juliet to be stunned senseless when his young lovers struggled and persevered right up to their moment of imminent freedom and bliss … only to be slaughtered by their own foolish misunderstanding.

That moment of astonished shock would have been impossible to convey if Shakespeare had revealed the ending in the first scene of the play. But regrettably, over the ensuing centuries, the public’s growing familiarity with the work has forever ruined the Bard’s final horrible surprise.

Fortunately for me, though, my Sustainability Accounting audience had relatively little knowledge of the history of the discipline. So did I lead off my story by discussing His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales? Or did I end with him?

I decided to play it safe and tell my tale in traditional chronological order, beginning with dairy cows and ending with the British Crown Prince. And my presentation was fairly well received, although a member of the audience did subsequently observe that I “could have grabbed the attention of the crowd immediately” by beginning at the end of the story.

Which approach was the correct one? Even in retrospect, I’m still not sure what decision I should have chosen. And yet I have no doubt that the choice itself wielded a dramatic impact on how the audience perceived the story.

Accounting Games And The Next Generation

Today is Labor Day, the social conclusion to the summer months. It’s time to pack away our beach sandals, close up our summer homes, and turn our sober eyes toward the worlds of work and school.

So what did the sensible and pragmatic folks at the New York State Society of CPAs decide to showcase during the week leading up to Labor Day? Accounting games! No, not the shenanigans that companies play with their tax returns, but rather the activities that make us laugh and cheer as we compete to win our contests.

I’m a contributing writer for Next Gen, the professional development guide of the New York Society, which has developed a sizable following among millennials who are working as accountants or who aspire to become accountants. Last week, they published my posting entitled Oh, The Accounting Games We Play.

It describes how games can be utilized to enliven the process of professional learning and education. And, in particular, it presents an illustration of a game that I co-created, entitled Audit Experience!

Believe it or not, the design process of an educational game is actually a very serious endeavor. Like any other communication media based service, it must carefully consider factors like the attention spans of the learners, the entertainment value of the content, and — most importantly of all — the ability of the game to convey knowledge in a sustainable fashion.

If you have any curiosity about the design of such games, you’re welcome to click over to the Next Gen blog posting. In fact, even if you’re not particularly enamored of educational games, you might wish to peruse the Next Gen platform of online media content to see how the New York Society is addressing the interests of the millennial generation.

And if you ever find yourself struggling to maintain your interest in a tedious training or learning exercise, please don’t give up on the material! Instead, try searching for an approach that makes a game of it.