What do you, dear leader, think makes a good story?
In the past two weeks, I have had the great fortune to experience three in three different media: the musical Hamilton, the movie Ford vs. Ferrari, and the novel The Goldfinch. My purpose here is not to describe or review these works, but to use these examples to discuss “story.”
Cast a net not far in the world of business, and you will ensnare someone talking about storytelling. A quick Google search will yield a million results- instruction, purpose, methods of storytelling- all in service of selling more stuff. Most of these examples, from TED talks to articles in notable publications to books about writing describe various methods, most fairly formulaic, and how to deliver the Just Right Message at the Just Right Time.
Story, in itself, is good. As humans, we thrive on them. We exchange information with them. We make ideas memorable with them. And for the purposes of business, story makes good sense as a means to communicate to the world about what your company does.
But, story can’t make a company’s brand stick if the company becomes some impersonal entity, for at its core, story is the process of conflict and change amongst people. If your company can’t understand this fact, story won’t work.
The three examples cited above work because they believe in the beauty of human relationships. The adversaries in all three exist externally and internally, the change inside happening because of the opposition outside. In relation to one another, the characters live in their orbits, the pull and push in directions sometimes controllable, most times not.
Sound familiar if you operate in business? Donald Miller, in his book Building a Storybrand, describes this phenomenon as the exact adversary to companies, the foe that prevents that message from emanating out and sticking with customers. That foe is Noise, and Miller points to story as the only way to defeat it.
I spent fifteen years teaching stories to children, and during that time I learned a few lessons I apply to my current work with my clients.
1. To understand a story, you must understand the human in the story. In the context of business and despite some messages to the contrary, corporations consist of people who have thoughts and feelings, concerns and beliefs.
2. To understand a story, the opinion of the writer is not nearly as important as the opinion of the reader. If it works for the reader, great. If it doesn’t, that’s the writer’s fault. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
In his book Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling, Philip Pullman, known for many novels including The Golden Compass, cites the playwright and screenwriter David Mamet asking the essential question for all storytelling: “Where do I put the camera?”
Think for a second about this question, and how you can use the metaphorical camera to explain your work to others. What does your potential customer see? What do you want that person to see?
Millions of stories float around us, the best told with energy and care. Hamilton, Ford vs Ferrari, and The Goldfinch all reveal the secret to a good story: someone must have something to lose, something to gain. If we want to tell a good story, we must tell it with our human heart.
Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment or question. I would love to read your thoughts.