The manufacturing industry is all about providing solutions. But before that, they need to tell the stories behind the scenes for people to connect with what they offer. Gail Robertson, the Chief Curiosity Officer at GailNow, identifies storytelling as one of the roadblocks among manufacturers. In this episode, Gail shows how she is helping them overcome this through curiosity. Having the curiosity to ask questions guides in creating a good story, particularly one that connects with people and achieves your goals. She shares her three-step process in this conversation. Join Gail as she breaks down why curiosity is a superpower in the industry and how we can apply that to the stories we tell.
Listen to the podcast here:
Curiosity Is A Superpower With Gail Robertson
[00:00:25] In this episode, I’ve got a real firebrand for you. Gail Robertson is joining me. We’re going to talk about curiosity as a superpower. I’m going to bring it right on. We are going to have a phenomenal conversation. Gail, welcome to the show.
[00:00:43] Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. I’m pumping up and ready to talk about curiosity as a superpower indeed.
[00:00:53] I’m going to do some shout-outs to Curt Anderson, Dan Bigger, the Manufacturing Happy Hour and everybody who is part of that. You and I met through the manufacturing community, which is an incredible community. They are so tight-knit. They help each other out. There is so much phenomenal stuff going on. I sat there and went, “I’ve got to talk to Gail.” Here we are. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. Let’s have a conversation. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you come from? Where are you now? We’ll then get to where we’re going together.
[00:01:35] I help manufacturers tell their stories. As a recovering journalist, I also use curiosity as part of my three-step process, which is to sign up, suit up and show up. Those are the things that I work with the manufacturers. It’s to help get them out of their comfort zone and start stepping into using social media and into this new digital age. It’s not that new but in the manufacturing world, it is seen as something that they’re not always comfortable participating in. You were talking about all of these exciting things that are happening in manufacturing, except a lot of people don’t know about it.
[00:02:18] It’s a great kept secret. I’ll tell you that much.
[00:02:20] Curt Anderson says, “Stop being the best-kept secret.” I take it from there and say, “I got you, Curt.” The next thing is, how do we do that? It’s a couple of things. One is we have to start pulling those stories out. Since I don’t come from manufacturing, I’ve been able to see things that they may not always see. There’s a term we talk about in the world that I’m in, which is mostly in mold-making, automation and plastic injection world. It’s the people that make things that make things.
When we hear manufacturing, we often think of the end product. People think about the cars rolling off and they see that. There are so many steps leading up to that final product. It’s exciting to see from the tools being made how much steel is needed. We’re facing the issues of the supply chain, but the supply chain is going to be an ongoing issue. How do we start getting more people to understand what that means?Be a Red M&M in a bowl of green. Click To Tweet
When we’re talking about issues at the border, that impacts all of us. It’s not just the people waiting to get the products crossing the border. It will mean a delay in getting the products on our shelves, getting cars. I ordered a new vehicle in the summer of 2021. It was supposed to come in November 2021, and it’s not coming in until February 2022. I got a note that it’s ready at the end of February. That’s where we’re seeing things behind the scenes. I can understand why that delay is happening.
[00:04:09] When I was younger, I dated the niece of the Rear-Admiral of the West Coast Fleet. We used to talk about the Sea King helicopters. They were known as 10,000 parts flying in close formation. We need to think that everything we make is made up of parts. There are very few things that we make and consume that are one true part.
A car has brakes, tires, wheels and seats. It has different levels of computers. Each one of those pieces has to be manufactured. They then all have to be brought to a certain location for assembly, and the car needs to be assembled. If one part, let’s say that chipset, is not available or if all of a sudden there’s a shortage of chipsets, all those cars can’t go off the assembly line. The 99.9% of the parts could be available but if that one thing is not there, the cars don’t roll.
Manufacturing and logistics are so intertwined. They always have been, but it has come to a head. It’s amazing that so few people understand what it takes to make anything. How do you get that story out of people with curiosity? If we don’t tell that story and get people to appreciate what the challenges and opportunities are, nothing gets done.
[00:05:49] You’re right about the parts behind the scenes and also the role of plastics. This is another area that I’m very focused on. We hear about the banning of plastics when people don’t understand that issue. It’s about the disposal of plastics, not that we want to ban plastics. Plastic is part of medical devices. It’s part of everything that we’re using all the time. That’s one issue that sparked my curiosity because before getting into this industry, I might have thought, “Ban some plastic.”
This is where curiosity is vital. We need to ask more questions and look around corners. This is a bit cliché but in any business, you have to look at things differently. I’m sitting on the board of the Canadian Association Of Mold Makers, which I chuckle at when I tell some of my friends. They’re like, “How did you get on that board?”
It has been the best learning experience. What I bring to that board is the outside perspective. This is where curiosity comes in because I spend a lot of time working with clients, sometimes trying to get them out of their own way because they are so close to the story and the world they’re in. They don’t think anyone will care about some of their stories or they think, “That’s too simple.”
When it comes to looking at how decisions are made from a sales perspective, it’s not only the engineer at the end of the process that may be searching and reading up about your company. It could be someone in marketing, someone in finance or even one of the owners or the owner’s children searching. You need to tell people the simple stories of your industry and explain what is happening.
The biggest problem at times with people in manufacturing is they don’t think they have a story. That’s the biggest roadblock. That is where I come in because I bring that new perspective. I bring to manufacturing a new and exciting approach to how we can tell stories. We still have to tell the stories differently and think about the different kinds of audience. It may now be politicians. It’s people making decisions about whether they’re going to open the border or not, and what is considered an essential worker?
That was a whole topic that when I was sitting on the board, we had a lot of discussions and did a lot of advocacy work. These people behind the scenes in manufacturing are essential workers. If you don’t have the tools to make the plastic products to get the items on the trucks and on our store shelves, we have a problem. It’s connecting the dots.
[00:08:57] That’s a big thing. It’s connecting the dots because the manufacturers themselves either feel they don’t have a story to tell, which they do, or they assume that everybody understands their story, which they don’t. We all know what we do very well. We’re in it every day. We’re sitting in the pocket. We’re doing what we’re doing. We get it. We have this horrible assumption that if we understand what we do, everybody understands what we do. Most people don’t understand the nuance of what other people do or why they should care.
It’s the big thing about, “Why I should care? How is what you do helping me achieve my goals?” If we can’t paint it in that picture and if we can’t enable people to sit there and say, “I have a problem. I’m listening to this person’s story. They can solve my problem because they’ve seen that problem before. I need to pick up a phone, send them an email, or get in touch with them to be able to sit there and say, ‘Can you help me?’” If we don’t tell those stories in ways that people can listen to understand and value, nobody’s going to come.
[00:10:20] This ties into also telling more of those people’s stories. When it comes to the world I’m in which is mold-making and making a tool, it’s like, “Here’s the metal and how the tool is made,” but the people behind the scenes are the problem solvers. What we all need to do is look at what the problem is and how we can provide a solution.
Part of providing that solution is telling the story of the people behind the scenes. It’s going to be the mold designers and the program managers that have had experience at a tryout and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. It’s going to be the sales team that also has their handle on the client and what they need. This can apply to so many different industries. I’m focused on manufacturing, but I’ve also worked in insurance and technology. The same rules apply.I may not be your cup of tea, but I may be your shot of Tequila. Click To Tweet
I was at a trade show working for travel insurance. Even though I wasn’t a broker and didn’t know a lot about all the details, I knew the questions to ask because we were a company that would work with home and auto insurance brokers. We would be able to sell travel insurance for them without them worrying about us stealing their lunch.
I would ask a question like, “Do you have problems sometimes with people being concerned about preexisting conditions?” They would stop and go, “Yes.” That would start a conversation, and I would hand them over to the broker who knew more of the background. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing. The people in that industry would have never maybe thought to ask that question because they thought, “Everybody knows about that.” I prove to them that maybe they didn’t.
They haven’t looked at it in that particular way.
It’s all about how you look at it. When you know too much, you can’t sometimes see how much people may need to learn from you. You have to break it down to basics. Twitter, for example. I know Twitter. I can help people with Twitter, but Madalyn Sklar also knows it. There’s enough room for all of us. She has a lot of expertise in that area, but I can also work on Twitter. It’s not that I have to say, “I can’t do it because Madalyn is doing it.”
It was from one of the guests in your show that I heard that we have to get away from this idea of worrying about our competition all the time. What we need to work on is our own strengths and what we can bring to the table. How can we bring our strengths, step up to the plate and show up? My three steps are sign up, suit up and show up.
When I show up, at times, it’s the easiest or the most difficult. It’s in your preparation. I’ve shown up even if I have not always felt ready. That’s where you need the curiosity to ask questions. In high school, I was asked to cover Junior B Hockey. I was taking a Journalism class. I knew nothing about hockey. I didn’t even have brothers and they want me to go cover hockey. This wasn’t even the little type. This was Junior B and it was a big deal in the town I grew up in. I said, “I’ll go cover it.” It’s amazing how I ask questions and soon, I was writing about hockey and covering those hockey games every Sunday night.
[00:14:11] You said something interesting about it being a people thing. Every company, customer, and vendor of yours is made out of people. When we can tell stories that affect and touch other human beings, that show them how you care about them and how you could help them, all of a sudden, they’re going to pay attention.
People have challenges and issues. They are scared, frustrated and need solutions. If you can tell a story that says, “It’s not about me and not about this widget that I create, but these are the wonderful people that I work with in my organization, and how they work to be able to help you achieve your goals,” all of a sudden, we’re at a human-to-human basis.
Unless you’re curious, you’re never going to be able to touch those stories and touch people’s souls. When you’re dealing with a new client and you’ve never met them before, whether it’s hockey, manufacturing or anything, how do you go about getting them to open up effectively and draw those stories out of them? It’s challenging.
[0015:35] Like anything, it does take time. It takes building up those relationships and trust. What I do is go back to what your goals and objectives are. You have first to start looking at what you want to accomplish. It’s not a matter of just telling stories for the sake of, “That’s a good story,” or having a good laugh. It’s about what the goals and objectives are.
When building out those stories, you can always connect them back to their goal. If their goal is to look at developing their brand and they want to get their name out there, it’s maybe about telling some stories about the company. Who’s behind the company? How can you personalize it more so it’s not just ABC company? It’s the people behind the name.
One of my great clients is Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing. They have nailed it in terms of understanding the power of the story. Brian Bendig is the son of one of the original owners. He has taken the company down the road of doing things differently and changing how mold-making is seen. He also has people in place on his team to continue to tell those stories as well.
They are willing to go out and do things a bit differently. They have taken some direction from me when they’ve done trade shows where it’s less about putting the product on the floor and more about what will draw people into the booth and how you can talk to people and communicate. They did one show in Germany. They were the only Canadian company so we did a whole Canadian hockey theme. People were coming into the booth. We had some Canadian beer there.
It was less about the tools and how to make tools and more about the people. All the staff were wearing hockey jerseys. It started these conversations and it got them noticed. With manufacturing, that’s where they can do something different. They stepped outside what may seem as the norm. It may not work for all companies. When I go in, I try to get a vibe on the personality of the company and what they’re willing to share because that may not work for everyone. That’s a key issue. There’s no cookie-cutter to this. It’s not like going to them and saying, “You should do this because it has worked at another company.” It’s about asking the right questions. If they weren’t comfortable doing that, it’s not going to work.Sign Up! Suit Up! Show Up! Click To Tweet
Being able to tell your story, you want to tell it in a way that you’re comfortable with that. My job is to help pull those stories out and put them in the context of their goals and objectives. Not all the stories should be about selling and what they want to sell. It’s about what does your audience need and what are their problems that you can solve? That comes down to how you can tell a story to show that you can help them with their problems.
[00:18:46] I love that you’re saying that there is no cookie-cutter approach. If there were a cookie-cutter approach, every company would look and be marketed the same. Every company would tell the same story, and they’re not. Every company is authentic unto themselves. We need to differentiate them. You talked about a red M&M’s in a bowl of greens. I love the fact that there’s one red M&M’s in a bowl of greens. I’m going to let you talk about that.
[00:19:17] I first heard that story, the red M&M’s and the bowl of green, from Damon Pistulka, who I cherish and crossed paths with. He talks about how you can stand out even if you may feel it’s uncomfortable and difficult. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. All you have to do is look at how many people are producers and consumers.
Most people are consuming content. If you want to just blend in and be like everybody else in manufacturing in particular, then just sit back, consume, and wonder why your competition is going to get ahead of you. This red M&M’s idea is that you want to stand out. If you’re going to go on social media, you have to be willing to step out and do something different.
That has been something that I’ve used in a few areas of talks that I give because I hope people can understand the why. That goes back to what your goal is. If your goal is to go on social and produce a checklist, I am not a checklist person. For people that want to work with me, it’s very individual. It’s also very much about, “Are we going to have success working together?”
If I don’t feel we can have success working together, then it’s not the right client for me. If you think social media and using digital is not going to work, we’re not going to have the best fit. I don’t know how else you can share your story without using the tools of the trade that are required to get your word out to a broader audience.
[00:21:11] It’s interesting that you said the majority of people are consumers of content. Somebody told me that less than 5% of people on social media create original content in any way, shape or form. That includes people that put out one piece of new and unique content a year. It is dramatic that the people who are putting ongoing, consistent and value-added content out there that speaks to an audience are probably less than 2% if you look at it.
A lot of that comes down to the fact that people are not curious enough about their audience on their social platform to have real conversations with them and push the boundaries to sit there and say, “You’ll assume that you’re going to keep doing what you’ve always done, but you’re going to get what you always got if you’re lucky,” or, “Have you thought of things this way?” When we can push those boundaries and enable our customers to be curious and question how they’ve originally done things where maybe there’s a better way, we can have better conversations.
How do you help your customers who are not comfortable with social media? Most manufacturers are not. Let’s be fair about it. How do you help and take them by the hand and say, “This isn’t so scary, and here’s how you can dip your foot in the pond in a way that gets you comfortable first before we start getting you uncomfortable?”
[00:22:58] I don’t necessarily look at taking on all comers because they have to be willing to recognize that they need and want help. That’s why my three steps are sign up, suit up and show up. The first step is to sign up. That’s the first discussion.
[00:23:18] They have to raise their hand and say, “Gail, I need help.”
[00:23:22] The next is to be willing to change how they have been doing things. That’s the suit up. That’s where curiosity comes in. I can come in with the research and show you how you can increase your numbers. I’m able to do that using Google Analytics and various social media metrics to show them that when you’re putting content out, you’re going to get more attention and develop your brand recognition. Your name will get out there.
The next question I get is, “How does this turn into selling my tools and product?” It is overtime. It is a bit like search engine optimization. It’s not something that you’re going to turn on a switch and within 1 or 2 weeks, it will magically happen. It’s going to be a layering process, but it’s like sales in real life. You have to get out there, talk to people and do some networking.
I usually encourage them to take part in various networking events, show up at webinars, and have conversations in the comments section. Some of that, I do help with to encourage them. I also saw something on LinkedIn. There was a discussion. I don’t know whose page it was but Greg Mischio commented as well. It’s about the idea of rejection. No one likes rejection. That ties into the whole fear idea. People think, “If I post something, what if someone doesn’t like it? What if they’re going to push back? What if they don’t like me?” It may happen but it’s also as in real life. If you don’t take a stand and let people know what your position is, then you’ll just blend in. You’re that vanilla.If we don't get people to appreciate the challenges and opportunities, nothing gets done. Click To Tweet
The best compliment I had was when someone said, “Gail, you’re not vanilla.” As my client once said to me, “It’s important to speak truth to power.” That’s something that I do well. I’ve been very blessed with having amazing bosses who encourage that. It taught me a good lesson that I want to work with clients who will accept that I’m not probably just going to say, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.” I will push back and I’m going to give another perspective. At the end of the day, they’re paying the bills so they can make the final choice. I get that. I’m not going to get into an argument with them. It’s important to recognize that I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, but I may be your shot of tequila.
That is something that I like to promote if someone is looking to get help to tell their story. They may even be listening and go, “We do not want that attitude. We do not need her energy.” There may be someone that goes, “I want someone who will tell me the truth, come to the table with a different way of looking at things, and be able to feel comfortable speaking up.”
I had this one boss one time. He was great. He knew me to be pushing back. I said, “Fine.” He says, “What do you mean by fine?” He was all worked up because I said fine. I said, “Here’s what I mean. I don’t agree with your decision on this, but it’s not something that I’m going to make a big deal about. I said fine because I’m going to do it. We’re not going to agree on everything. You’ll know if I really disagree, I wouldn’t say fine and go ahead. I was also not going to say, ‘That’s a great idea,’ when I don’t think it’s a great idea. I’m going to tell you what I believe.” It’s having that open discussion that’s so important.
That’s where I’ve been able to niche with my business and work with people. I will say, “I’ll go to the wild for you.” I am very excited about working in manufacturing and with people who want to embrace curiosity and my version of curiosity. If I’m not clear on something, they’re going to come back and ask those questions. I’m not going to run off and spend two weeks on something only to find out that that’s not what you’re looking for.
I’ve also used this with a young woman I was mentoring with. I said, “It’s a sign of strength to say I don’t know and I need help.” That’s what I don’t mind doing. When I was a manager of staff, I also encouraged them. I said, “Always know that I will see you as a much stronger dynamic part of the team if you come and ask me the question and not go and assume that you understand.”
[00:28:22] You and I both want clients that not only think that we are the red M&M’s or the tequila, but they want to be the red M&M’s and the tequila. There are 7.5 billion people in this world and 99.9% of them will never know I exist. I could care less. If I could deal with 1/10 of 1% of humanity and get those people to understand the value I provide and have a conversation, I could be a billionaire.
The reality is that there are so many people and opportunities out there. We need to find the ones that resonate with our message. To the people who are scared about being curious and putting content out there that may be a little challenging or provocative, realize that the people who push back are your greatest assets. Those are the people that you’re going to learn from. You’re going to say, “I hadn’t thought of that perspective before. That’s great.” You want to engage those people and say, “I love the fact that you’re challenging me on this. What did you mean by that, and how can we make this better?”
That’s where we get back to the curiosity. It’s that we need to care about our customers. We need to take a look, sit there and go, “What do they care about? What’s important to them? What do they need? What’s going to make their lives better? How can we do that?” You and I do this for the different clients that we support, but it’s up to them to turn around, push the mirror in the other direction, and be able to take a look, sit there and be curious about their customers. I love that.
[00:30:15] To anybody reading, I strongly encourage you to go back and read some of these earlier episodes. You have some amazing guests. I’ve learned so much. I feel extremely privileged to be one of your guests. There is so much to go around. It comes down to, “Do you believe that there is enough or do you believe that you have competition?” You can sit back and say, “There’s someone else. They’re going to do this work,” but no one can bring to the table your own specific energy, personality, drive and interest.
The next step is, “What is it that the audience finds important?” That’s something we both do. It’s not the stories we want to tell. It’s not what I think is important. It’s what does the end reader care about. That started in high school. When I was covering hockey, I had to think about the readers out there. I learned from some great mentors, including the publishers and editors of that paper, that it’s not only the hockey experts reading this. It will be some general public. It’s going to be the parents and people who may not know a lot about hockey as well.
Often when making decisions, sometimes people who are sitting around the table want to tell the stories they care about. I try not to say this in a rude way, but it’s not what you care about or how you are reading the article. It’s who is reading this. This is where Google Analytics and looking at your stats as to who’s coming to your website. Who are the people that may be interested in learning about your brand? It could be future employees, engineers or someone working in HR and marketing. There are so many different people that are looking at this.
It comes down to making sure you’re sharing the stories that will resonate. It’s also going back to your goal of telling those stories. It’s not just a vanity project. It’s not, “We have this new piece of equipment. Let’s talk about how great it is.” I’m always saying, “Why will the customer care? You’re telling me it works great and this is a great machine. I see that it’s going to reduce the amount of time.” Now you can get their product out to them.
You can get that tool made to go to the molder, who can then get it to market by a week or two earlier, which can make a big difference. Now, this equipment starts to make sense. It’s not just that it’s shiny and bright, and it goes at whatever RPMs. That’s nice if you’re out and you care about that piece of equipment, but most of the customers will want to know, “Why are you sharing it? Why did I stop to read this? Why am I on YouTube watching this video? What’s in it for me?” Meaning what’s in it for them because that’s what they care about.
[00:33:44] Let’s land this. You and I could talk about this for another hour. First of all, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you? If they’re in the manufacturing industry and looking to tell their story better, they know how to get in touch with you.When you know too much, you can't sometimes see how much people may need to learn from you. Click To Tweet
[00:34:03] Go to my LinkedIn. I do a weekly LinkedIn live show. It’s ShowUP with GailNow Live. It’s every Wednesday at 1:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. I interview people in manufacturing and also people outside of manufacturing who show up. We can sometimes learn from other people that are not in our own industry. That is the best way sometimes to learn.
My website is GailNow.com. If you google GailNow, you will find me in a few places. Twitter is another place where I’m fairly active. I’m also on TikTok, mostly for learning about the short-form video. I always like to know a little bit about all the platforms because of the world I’m in, but I don’t recommend my clients to be everywhere. Sometimes you have to choose your best focus. I do have all my previous shows on YouTube as well.
[00:35:13] Here’s the question I ask, and I ask this to everybody as they walk out the door. When you leave a meeting, get in your car and drive away way, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?
[00:35:31] I am someone who is a force to be reckoned with. I once was told that I could come in guns blazing. You’re either going to love that about me or not. I want them to think we need guns blazing. We need someone who is like the Gail force that will come in here and help us change how we’re doing things. She’s going to help us tell her stories. She is going to not only talk about her three-step process but also live, eat and breathe it along with us.
[00:36:06] Gail, thanks for being the red M&M’s and the shot of tequila. You have been a joy to talk to. I’m sure people are going to get a lot out of this interview. Thank you for your time and your energy.
[00:36:19] Thank you.
- Gail Robertson
- Manufacturing Happy Hour
- LinkedIn – Curt Anderson
- LinkedIn – Dan Bigger
- LinkedIn – Damon Pistulka
- LinkedIn – Greg Mischio
- LinkedIn – Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing Ltd.
- LinkedIn – Brian Bendig
- LinkedIn – Tim Galbraith
- LinkedIn – Gail Robertson
- Twitter – Gail Robertson
- TikTok – Gail Robertson
- YouTube – Gail Robertson
- Instagram – Gail Robertson
- Clubhousedb – Gail Robertson
About Gail Robertson
Gail Robertson brings an unfamiliar and fresh outlook to the more traditional Manufacturing Industry.
This (recovering) journalist knows how to use curiosity to celebrate innovation – and turn obstacles into opportunities. She helps transform businesses for extraordinary results.
Curiosity is the foundation of her 3 step process: Sign Up, Suit Up and #ShowUP!
Gail has always been curious, which led her into journalism. She now uses storytelling (developed as a journalist), in her manufacturing world.
Her transferable skills have assisted her as she transitioned from journalist, to bed-and-breakfast owner, to fundraiser, to Marketing Manager at an insurance tech company and now, “Chief Curiosity Officer” at GailNow.
She is a social media strategist and Keynote Speaker, who can help just about anyone exercise their Curious Brain!
She and many others have found that with curiosity, so much is possible: step out of your comfort zone, overcome fear, do things you’ve never done before, meet amazing people and ShowUP with joy, passion and enthusiasm.