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You’re walking through the woods and come upon something that you’ve never seen before. For as far as they eye can see, each tree trunk is wrapped with some sort of band. You wonder, “What have I stumbled upon?” Your mind races. What can it mean?

 

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Smokey and the Bandit, the screwball comedy about two bootleggers being chased by a crazy sheriff, is one of my favorite movies. At one point in the film, Bandit (played by Burt Reynolds) says to Carrie (played by Sally Field), “When you tell somebody somethin’, it depends on what part of the United States you’re standin’ in as to just how dumb you are.”

The line holds special meaning for me as a storyteller who’s lived in different places. Growing up in one part of the country and moving to another has given me ample opportunity to see how one person’s “normal” is another person’s “odd.” For example, a frappe in New England is called a milkshake in California. “Rad” in California is the same as calling something “wicked good” in New England. And while most of the country only has one form of bowling, New England has three: “10 Pin” (what everyone else calls bowling), “Candlepin” and “Duckpin.”

Storytellers know that “different” marks the beginning of any story. Whether your plot line tracks “a fish out of water,” “puts a stranger in a strange land,” or opens with mysterious bands around trees, storytellers know that violating an audience’s expectations is the best way to pique its interest.

 

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Massachusetts’ forests have been under attack for over 100 years. The aggressor? A harmless-looking, fuzzy insect. But don’t let the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar’s appearance fool you. This pest eats trees. And when I say “eats,” I mean, completely defoliates them. The state has spent millions trying to either eradicate the pest or protect trees from it. One of the best protection methods is the “tree band.”

During the day, Gypsy Moth Caterpillars use their silk to belay from the trees to the forest floor. As evening approaches, they climb back up the trunk for their leaf-fest. However, a century ago, someone figured out that wrapping a piece of burlap around a tree’s trunk blocked the caterpillar’s ability to return to the canopy. Ever since then, tree bands have become the most popular, pesticide-free way of protecting specific trees. And although today’s tree bands are made with different materials, the method is the same. Simply placing a band around a tree trunk keeps the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar from climbing up it.

 

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Stories begin when our expectations are violated. While tree bands are normal to New Englanders, travelers who’ve never seen them will demand an explanation.

So, what are your company’s “tree bands?” What’s standard operating procedure for your company that may be considered different or odd from an outsider’s perspective? Identifying corporate tree bands usually leads to the most interesting business stories.

Photo Credit: Miscellaneous Publications on the Gipsy Moth, Volume 2, pg 42. Published in 1913

 

 

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