“You should have seen the size of this thing!”
It seems to be woven into the fabric of our human nature to gather around story. As a student of culture in various locations and contexts, I’m hesitant to assign the term “universal” to cultural and human characteristics. However, storytelling might be one place where I’ll leave more room for a universal of shared humanness. Campfires invite storytelling, as do: the pub (each story and detail with greater embellishment as time goes on); our spiritual traditions; long overdue visits with old friends; the human connection of shared experiences, though independent from the other. Those who hunt and fish tell their stories, each time telling about “the one that got away” with greater length, or more tines on the antlers, or adding 50 pounds each time the big grizzly turned to run as it caught his scent. We create stories for things we experience but can’t explain, to assign and give meaning, to understand. Nor does it need to be grand or notorious events; even the small and mundane draw out a penchant for telling of the events. Our housemate was working building a retaining wall, and told with varying degrees of excitement the variables to lay the block, the challenges he and his brother-in-law faced as they maneuvered the 100+ pound blocks into place. How as I watched them finish, the hand truck tires squashed under the weight of the rock, and I feared the tire would blow right off the rim. Their painstaking work to flatten the soil on the hill side, using a spade and gloved hand to eyeball the blocks’ bedding into level. They checked each block -about the length of my arm- with a level to be sure that the eye was indeed telling a true story itself.
What is becoming more apparent in our cultural psyche is that organizations are made up of individuals. No longer [quite as] distant and cold, we have begun to understand that someone is on the other side of the screen, at the end of the phone, responding to an email. When we visit a company’s Facebook page or complain to them on Twitter, it becomes quickly apparent how human they are. If at all. Bot’s and canned responses keep our organizations distant, increasing the outrage of their clients. There are scores of stories on this: the risk management nightmares or successes, those org reps who threw gas on the fire or turned their critics into brand ambassadors. Just yesterday (September 26th, 2013), Barilla Pasta’s Facebook page is lit up over it’s recent public homophobic statements about their closed-ness in advertising. (Even his follow up apology was a disaster.) My point is this: people connect with each other with story, and your organization is made up of people. Stanford professor Jennifer Aaken put together this brilliant piece for the upcoming Future of StoryTelling conference in New York. Take the next 5 minutes and watch this; it’s quite powerful.
In a dramatic shift in culture -starting with Gen X’ers and brought to full bloom with Millennials and Gen Y’ers- affect has become tantamount over rational thought in many areas of life. Or, at the least, much more influential than before. Modern business and organizational goals are often founded and driven my numeric (read: logical) measurements. But is that how we make decisions? As Jennifer herself said:
We used to think it was our rational brain that makes decisions. Now we know that it’s emotion driving decisions, and that we rationalize the decision afterwards.
Next week we’ll be looking at how to tell your story. The “Now what?” follow up to this piece. In the meantime, what has your expereince been with organizations who tell their stories well? Have you been a storyteller; how has it affected you and your clients relationship?