The Spin Addiction

Who doesn’t love a great story?

Stories are the means by which we create order and meaning. We’re drawn to storytellers for the way they transport our imaginations into their world, out of our current circumstances and into what could be.

That’s a powerful responsibility for storytellers and those that use their words to influence others, a responsibility I have abused many a time.

I recently caught up with a friend who founded a well-known company. During our conversation I was surprised at how honest he was about his failures as a business owner and what he was learning. It made me think about the stories we tell people and how meticulously I strive to craft a narrative that positions me as someone better than I actually am.

It starts with a little spin, a tiny stretch, an editing out of a certain shame. The result is a biography with more swag n’ brag than full-disclosure. It’s all in the name of putting my best foot forward, not caring to admit that the other foot reeks like a rotten piece of cheese.

We all do this to some degree or another. I’ve seen my fair share of LinkedIn profiles from people who have worked for me that really do an excellent job of positioning their roles as bigger and better than I was ever even able to pay them for. I realize though, that as a leader, I probably unknowingly set a precedent for these people in the way I’ve chosen to publicly communicate my story as well.

Why is this kind of behavior such a natural, easy inclination? It’s faster (and far less vulnerable I might add) to stuff the mess in a closet in favor of a neat, tidy narrative than to invite others into a story that needs serious swiffering.

The danger of this is two-fold: (1) It accomplishes the reverse of what’s intended; and (2) it’s cyclical.

Let’s approach the first danger. When I frame my story to position myself the way I want to be seen, my desire is acceptance and community. In reality, though, the opposite occurs. Acceptance and community happen when we are able to say to each other, “Me too.” However, when we frame a story without any personal conflict or weakness the best we can expect from someone hearing our story is “That’s cool” rather than “Me too.” Admiration is an impostor of Solidarity. It never sticks around as long.

The second danger, the fact that story fabrication is cyclical, means that others who trust your story often become disenchanted by their inability to measure up, and thus feel the pressure to create a similarly disingenuous narrative.

If you are wondering if your story measures up to those you see in other people’s profiles and platforms, please know that more often than not there is a reason why these stories appear so polished. It’s because you’re only seeing the carefully contrived version sans the difficult realities. In other words, don’t be fooled! It may sound simple, but the kind of influential storytellers we are drawn to, are so, in part, because they are REALLY good at telling stories. Now, before you go unfollowing some of these folks on twitter, remember this practice has become so engrained in our culture we often don’t even realize we’re culpable.

So how do we reverse the cycle?

Lately, I’ve begun researching this idea of story hacking. Here’s a 30,000 foot synopsis of the idea: During uncertain times, cultures structure narratives to create meaning and order, even if those narratives are false. This often leads to fear, disillusionment, stagnancy, and a lack of innovation. Those that have mastered the art and science of story hacking understand what it takes to pop the false narrative bubble and insert a better narrative in its place.

So here’s my minuscule attempt at hacking the fabricated, all-too-polished version of the stories we create by attempting to retell my own professional one:

I own a small consultancy called Sounds Like A Movement that helps people and brands use their unique voice to make a difference. The company is only about 3 years old. Before that, I started a creative agency called Create Culture. During that time I took on way too much, hired people, fired people, learned a lot of rookie leadership lessons and made a ton of mistakes. Sounds Like A Movement is a more focussed idea though it seems to be taking a much longer time to scale. There are days I want to give up, quit, and drive a truck, but luckily, there’s still enough in the pipeline and happy customers to keep me going. I’m truly excited about the future.

That’s my elevator pitch. It’s positive but not perfect.. Looking for a few fellow hackers out there. Anyone else care to take a stab at the bubble?