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Can We Stop Banging On About Storytelling?


Lets stop regurgitating buzzwords like we’re the new kid in school trying to impress a class full of strangers.

The buzzword I’m going to pick on, but not bully, is ‘storytelling.’

Lets Cut To The Chase

The last thing I want to come across as is someone having a rant. I believe that to tell everyone else to adopt a storytelling mindset (or any other mindset for that matter) is when you understand and adopt this within your own approach.

Seeing the word ‘storytelling’ at the moment feels like the interviews that I used to have when I was in my 20s and living in London. Trust me they were abysmal, truly awful experiences, not just for me but the companies participating in my company. For the majority of interviews I was part of, all I did was say to the person (or group of people) in front of me exactly what I thought they wanted to hear, in order to please them. I didn’t really understand it, or practice it, or experience a point of view, I just knew that my answers had to be what people were looking for and to repeat it with a warm nod of the head or saying ‘exactly, I know’ as an acknowledgement.

This is where we are today and the channels we indulge in and to tell others what they are supposed to do. Just because we share a tweet or cut and paste a point of view, does not demonstrate the knowledge we have accumulated. However, we are all guilty of jumping onto a practice as though it’s a discipline that started last week.

This Is Where The Answer Lies

It’s not in what you say; it’s the experience you gain. Rather than jump in feet first with everyone else and shout from the rooftops that storytelling is what we all need to do, lets put the brakes on slightly. Before we say ‘wow…you’ve got to do it or you’ll be out of business next Thursday’ we need to show that we have a deeper understanding rather than a superficial dabble.

Here’s an example of a local business that applies a storytelling mindset that is now becoming a route for differential advantage, whilst the industry still adopts a product/service based attitude.

Others Experiencing It

michael_grubb_studioMichael Grubb Studio are a lighting design consultancy based here in Dorset and their approach to lighting within public spaces is to make a connection with the people and the places they are part of. In turn, ownership feels part of the wider community, so if things start to become unloved and left, then it is the community who have a voice, not a company who dip in and out of a project.

For Michael Grubb Studio, storytelling enables a way to engage, think and make a message more poignant. The recent Westminster Bridge Road project (in London), gave a purpose for a locality rather than pulling out the box a ready-made lighting solution. Each of the four tunnels under Waterloo represents a story that creates a unified narrative for each bridge. This is from a digital/immersive world to the connection to the wilderness of Lambeth Marshes. All concepts are drawn from a story that is relevant and will remain relevant to the environment that they are part of.

The Deeper Understanding

This is what I mean by having a deeper understanding of the subject matter any business is prophesising. It is not just a case of telling people to consider and eventually adopt, but it becomes part of the overall business strategy, or the heartbeat of what a business believes in and stands beside. It becomes an approach that is adopted and practiced, not taken and then thrown all over LinkedIn like a box of confetti.

I truly believe that a storytelling approach creates value purely because it helps us make a connection with others and in turn build relationships. However will people still be shouting loudly that we should all be ‘doing storytelling’ in ten years time? It’s a bit like jumping in a time machine and seeing first hand that back in 2000 everyone’s new favourite band was Coldplay. Fast-forward to today, it’s not really a band that people want to shout about. Lets just keep last years Ghost Stories album on the Spotify backburner.

Explaining It

A story helps put us in the picture and strike a chord in a way that we can interpret, understand and remains relevant. When the iPod was launched in 2001, it was not about the 5Gb music storage capacity that looked like a pack of playing cards that stuck a chord. The feature that connected people was ‘1000 songs in your pocket.’

Have a look at the ad from 2001. This was the thing that everyone bought into. The buyer was now well and truly in control.

If businesses can demonstrate evidence for how a story telling approach works, then they have every right to showcase. Just telling people that they should be doing it, without a deeper awareness, just feels false.

Lets Bring Back In Another Analogy

A good way to sum the world up today and the persistence with the word ‘storytelling’ is to get back in the time machine and go back even further (perhaps) to the days when you were at college or sixth form.

I remember when friends were telling everyone else at college what sex was like. The step-by-step approach for what you had to do, every minute detail was told from someone else who had made that step into a more revered space ie. from virgin to full blown testosterone filled men. However, those people who were recalling what had happened, hadn’t actually ‘done it.’ I can count at least four friends who gained bragging rights, only to be cut down in their prime.

Coming To A Close

This is what is happening today where people are telling others to adopt an approach and to layout the steps when they haven’t really dedicated time and effort in understanding how it all works. My answer to everything here is simply to do it before you talk about it.

The only way to transform from a buzzword to a legitimate practice is to understand and immerse yourself within a discipline. When you can offer experience hand-in-hand with the theory (and remembering experience holds more weight) then the door is open to proclaim your space.

Image at the top of the article courtesy of Pascal

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