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By definition, there’s a feel-good element to a hero.

They overcome obstacles on their way to a positive outcome.

And if the hero starts out as an underdog a la “David versus Goliath” there’s even more of a reason to have a rooting interest.

The same concept holds true in business storytelling.

While we tend to think of a hero as bigger than life – Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, Shrek, etc. – the hero in the context of a business story can bridge theory to reality.

A recent New York Times piece by Steve Lohr called “Making It All Compute” does exactly this under the umbrella of National Computer Science Education Week.

Before jumping into the NYT story, it’s worth rewinding the tape to the original news release:

WASHINGTON, D.C.—December 7, 2009— The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and its partners are launching Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) to uncover and remedy the inadequacy of the nation’s computer science education system at the K-12 level.  While 5 of the top 10 fastest growing jobs are in computing-related fields, the percent of schools with rigorous high school computing courses fell from 40 percent to 27 percent from 2005 to 2009.  The last 60 years witnessed an extraordinary burst of innovation and talent that have produced a nation where most can scarcely remember life without computers.  Yet this innovation-based society is at risk if students are not learning fundamental computing knowledge in our nation’s schools.

Nothing particularly riveting or new about the fact that American kids continue to tune out science and math.

Is there a worse acronym than the Association for Computing Machinery, affectionately called ACM? The word “machinery” conjures up the image of a restaurant-grade mixer, not exactly an attention-getter for the under-20 crowd.

But Lohr uses the ACM news announcement as a springboard into the need to better package computer education, with three heroes showing the way starting with the chief information officer at Harvard Medical School:

Growing up in the ’70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar… Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking

Like the oxymoron, “cool nerd.”

Mr. Halamka-Business StorytellingHard to miss the photo of Mr. Halamka wearing a hip black shirt under a sports coat. It’s not quite Steve Jobs with the mock black turtleneck, but in the same category.

We also learn about Kira Lehtomaki, who parlayed a love for art into a gig at Walt Disney Animation Studios where she draws on a computer with specialized graphics and modeling software.

And the story closes with high school senior Mario Calleros who jumped from playing computer games to an internship at UCLA where he helped build a smartphone application for navigating the campus.

I was particularly encouraged by this last vignette. There’s still hope for my own son to get more out of Madden than the ability to mimic sports announcers.

It’s these three “heroes,” Halamka, Lehtomaki and Calleros, who bring the NYT story to life. That’s what justifies the piece being on the front of the business page above the fold.

For stories with complexity, customers can often play a similar role in humanizing the content and, again, bridging the theory to reality.

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