Looking vs. Seeing: Reclaiming our Understanding of Story (Part I)
Between dinner and bedtime last night, I received a similar message via two different mediums. One came from a Seinfeld re-run I was watching as the loudmouthed George Costanza (ironically) pitched NBC on a “show about nothing.” George cried out in his presentation to NBC execs: “The foundation of all entertainment is story!” An hour later, I was doing some bedtime reading from prolific blogger and writer Seth Godin, who suggests that “All Marketers are storytellers. Only the losers are liars” (the premise of his book “All Marketers are Liars”).
There is no doubt; story is an integral part of our human nature, woven into our very being. Just think, what are the series of questions you ask when you are introduced to someone…? What’s your name? What do you do? Where are you from? Are you married? Kids? All these questions are inquiring about one thing – someone’s story. We not only want to understand who someone is, we want to know how and why they do what they do
This reality is no different in business. Our interest and loyalty toward a particular brand is largely tied to the story they tell. This, of course, is where we come in. As designers and marketers, we must be great storytellers in order to appropriately and effectively represent our client’s brand. This is what we do. But, let’s be honest. Understanding story often takes a back seat to production. We gravitate towards the tangible and “story” gets gently pushed aside.
But story should be our starting point. As Godin (and Costanza) would suggest, “it’s the foundation of all branding, marketing, and design.” It should be vital to our daily routine. This said, it has been my experience that truly understanding and utilizing story in the workplace does not happen largely because we do not provide the space for it. And this makes sense. Work is busy. Life is chaotic. Something has got to give.
Allow me to suggest an alternative approach to the topic: a better understanding of story – its origins and developments – has the ability to not only improve our quality of work, but the ability to change how we see the world each and everyday. And we do not (necessarily) need to add something else to our plate in order to become better storytellers.
We’ve brainstormed a few helpful tips on integrating a healthy discipline of storytelling into our everyday lives. This is the first in a series of posts regarding.
TIP #1: Choose to “SEE” a compelling story-a-day.
I started my first blog in 2004. It was an experiment. I had been in an argument with a few friends over why certain people were compelling storytellers and some were not. My (oh-so-naïve) friends were suggesting that some people simply have an intriguing life, with extraordinary things always happening to them – encounters worth sharing about. I on the other hand, was (oh-so-correctly) arguing otherwise – that the difference between a good and poor storyteller lies not in a person’s particular life, but whether or not one is willing to see and recognize the stories that already exist.
Having suggested that there was a compelling story within every day, I was challenged to put the notion to the test and blog for 30 days straight on both the extraordinary and mundane events of my “normal” life. It was both one of the hardest and life-shifting commitments I have ever made. In short, life became way more interesting – the big events I processed differently, the little things, I saw (and processed) for the first time. Every day since has never been the same.
I am not suggesting everyone blog every day for the next year, but what if you simply made a commitment to reflect on and/or note a compelling story each day for the next 7 days? What kind of people watching could you do at the mundane places we visit (i.e. DMV)? What’s compelling about the person sitting next to you on the plane? How can we learn from watching how our kids see the world? What do we notice when we simply pause for 60 seconds in line for our coffee?
As our screenwriting friends in Hollywood would be happy to share, storytelling does not come easy. It takes practice.But developing a discipline around understanding and utilizing story does not have to be hard either. It’s a matter of posture. It’s a matter of perspective.
As the famed author, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau put it: “It’s not what you look at that matters, its what you see.”