Celebrate the Stuff You Already Own

The book

I never wanted to be a businessman. All I wanted was to do my craft … and climb mountains.
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia

Origin stories are vitally important for your business. They are vital for the way that your customers perceive and engage with you and they are vital for your employees. But the reason they are important is because they provide us all with a narrative that speaks to our sense of purpose.

Often when we think of purpose, we think of our “mission” statements – or our “vision”. But purpose goes beyond these often banal statements. Purpose speaks to our hearts not to our heads. If it is not a driving energy, then it’s only words on a page.

The challenge is that our “purpose” is hard to define.

And in many ways, this is why it is so important. It is what marks us out as unique or worthy of attention. It’s both an energy that propels us and a sense of gravity that attracts others.

Watching this video was an interesting experience. It’s not really a documentary about the clothing brand, Patagonia. It’s the story of the business’ owners and customers. It is brand storytelling at its finest. As Mitch Joel explains, this is how your brand should tell a beautiful story. And one of the things the video does well is that it shares Patagonia’s purpose. In doing so, it not only attracts an audience, it brings them into the experience of the story.

And while not all of us have the kind of budget that allows us to produce a 30 minute case study of this quality, every single business has an origin story. And telling that story can transform your business and the relationships you create around it. So I wonder, how are you telling your origin story today?

Don’t Bore Your Audience: Use the Pixar Pitch

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When I studied literature, I was fascinated by form. By the words. Arrangement. Layout. And narrative. I loved the way that John Fowles would create untrustworthy narrators that led the story in new, unexpected directions. And I loved Antonin Artaud’s dangerous writings. Or Christopher Barnett’s language that was so revolutionary it broke the words. I was intrigued and excited by writing that would break the language and our expectations and then reconstruct things completely new. It was a disruption to thought and expectation and it blew my mind.

But the best of these writers were not rampant destroyers of meaning. They were articulate explorers pushing the limits of language and the implicit bargain that writers make with their readers. Sometimes it would work and take us – together – on new journeys. And sometimes I’d throw the book against the wall and leave it to make its own way back to the shelf. The thing is, that the best of these writers were masters of their craft – and they’d work very deliberately to take us as readers on a journey – it just so happened that the by-product of that journey would be some form of collision or catastrophe of language. And in that way, the product of the writing was not the book – but the experience. Of reading. Co-creating meaning. Disruption.

So when I attend a conference, view a video or see a presentation, I look for something that is going to set my heart ablaze and send my mind wheeling. I wonder where I will be taken or how I will be surprised. And more often than not, I am disappointed.

There is no narrative. No journey to follow and become involved with. It’s just facts. Numbers. And opportunities for micro-naps.

It’s a slow death being hammered by statistics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, explains the formula deployed to great success by Pixar. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time <something happened>.

Every day <life went on like this>.

One day <something changed>.

Because of that <the world was never the same again>.

Until finally <a new world became the next chapter>.

Now, I am not going to say that this formula will change your world. Nor that each presentation needs to be a masterpiece.

But if your job is communication (and if it’s not, why are you presenting?), then do your audience a favour and wheel out the Pixar Pitch. You might just be amazed at the impact it has.

What’s in a Story? 50 Tips to Bring Sense to the Static

Moon child

Storytelling is hard work. It’s intricate, nuanced and can be expensive. But we crave it, know it and hold good storytelling and storytellers close to our hearts. After all, we all have books that we’d fight for.

But in this world of digital media, simple tools for content creation, video production, worldwide publishing and distribution, we are confronted by so much fog. Static. Unimaginative or unengaging material. There are words but fewer stories that we can get our teeth into.

When I was a child, I would voraciously read short history project books. They were text books for children much older than I, but they set out a world that was familiar but strangely different. I read about Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth as they explored the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. I read about Leichhardt and the heartbreak of Bourke and Wills. I read about bushrangers and the fear they spread through the isolated parts of New South Wales and Victoria. And on long car trips, I would look out the very same landscape that these people lived in. We would visit the towns that they passed through, and stood in the places that they too, had stood.

Australian history is, after all, a shallow pool. And there are echoes at every turn.

The amazing thing about these stories, is that they have stayed with me always. They resonated deep inside me. And these days, with all the static filling our digital communications, we need to remember and re-craft the type of story that goes deeper. For ourselves and for our audiences. And this great collection of insight from Adam Westbrookwas collected by Martin Couzins – and may just provide us all with a direction worth following.

Moon child Michał Koralewski via Compfight

Breathing New Life into PowerPoint with SlideDocs

The book

I have always been a fan of storytelling. But not everyone is keen to be a story reader. Or a listener. For in our time crunched lives, our own attention is our most limited resource. Accordingly, communication has been concatenated, shrunk, manipulated. We’ve got our 30 second, 60 second and elevator pitches down pat.

But a picture is worth a thousand words

As someone who loves language I have always bristled at the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sure a picture might be worth a thousand words, but they’d be indifferent words. They’d be rushed, debased, uneven. Or so lean that they lose the humanity, beauty and creativity that inspired them.

Fortunately, like so many things, words are a kind of fashion, and it feels like they may just be coming back in vogue. Witness the popularity of longer form writing like Snow Fall. And the growing popularity of newish text driven platform Medium.

From PowerPoint to SlideDocs

Nancy Duarte’s new Slidedocs book provides a great framework for us to reconnect with our love of text, storytelling and technology. And it does it using that old nemesis, PowerPoint. You can look through and download the book, interrogate its construction and authoring and apply it to your own needs. Sound like a plan? I’m hoping it’s the start of a whole new chapter.

The bookCreative Commons License Dave Heuts via Compfight

Hold Your Breath

Hassalien

Given that I have the lung capacity of a goldfish, this video of “freediver” Guillaume Nery, strikes fear into my heart.

Here he is diving into Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Watch in awe.

Guillaume Nery base jumping at Dean’s Blue Hole, filmed on breath hold by Julie Gautier from Umblu Liber on Vimeo.

And when you’ve finished, click on through to the Vimeo site and review the comments. One of the commenters explains that as the bottom is 663ft down, Guillaume is nowhere near the bottom. But the narrative, the frame and our own interpretation makes us believe that he did reach the dark, lonely depths.

So as you are planning your next campaign, storyboard or blog post, think about the story you’ll tell. Think about the depths that you want to trawl. And then take a deep breath and take us with you in your free fall.

Hassalien Hani Amir via Compfight

Pungent Granularity – Penn and Teller take on the Anti-Vaccination Conversation

Hungry? [Explored]

Social media has a powerful ability to stimulate and create conversation. But when you are planning your communications, it’s essential to know your audience. And these days, “knowing” your audience isn’t just about mapping, analysing and researching. It’s about understanding their “pungent granularity”.

Pungent granularity and the social audience

To survive in a world where consumers expect one-to-one marketing and real time business responsiveness, we need to move beyond the simple targeting of our consumers. This means responding to:

  • The three forces of self-segmentation: Before we take an action, make a decision or puts our hand into our pocket to actually transact, we make a quick personal assessment. We self-segment according to our needs (does this “thing” solve a need state that I have), behaviours (does this “thing” reinforce, challenge or shift my behaviour) and attitudes (how does this “thing” make me feel?). Marketers must understand the nuances of this self-segmentation and bring this understanding to their efforts
  • What we already know about our consumers: Whether we capture “big data” or just quickly trawl the social web, we can quickly amass a detailed knowledge of our consumers. The challenge with this becomes not one of data collection but of frameworks for making decisions and taking actions. This is where I quite love Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. Moving away from the MBTI mappings, he suggests that Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism can be easily assessed via our digital footprints. And in doing so, we can plan our communications accordingly

When we pull together all this information, we get a deep sense of our consumers. We know not just what they say they “like” but how this influences their actions and decisions. We understand their connections, social graph and the way that they operate in a digitally-connected world. And deeply buried amongst all this is the “trigger” – what motivates.

The “trigger” is the kicker

Take a look at this fantastic video featuring “illusionists and entertainers”, Penn and Teller. It’s on the subject of vaccinations. It’s forceful and NSFW (with a few F-bombs scattered throughout). The language is direct, the message clear and in your face.

But will it achieve what it is intended to do?

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will. The motivation here – not of the creator – but of the viewer is triggered by the same level of frustration shown by Penn. Those who are pro-vaccination will be keen to share and validate their own position. Those who are anti-vaccination will reject the facts, figures and approach outright. The frame is out of focus for the second group – and the argument will be based on the framing of the data as a way of disputing what is “true”.

This is why wheeling out big data will also be challenging. While the Mayo Clinic clearly states:

“Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven’t found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted.” Mayo Clinic – Childhood Vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers (here)

… many still view this sceptically.

But if there really is a desire to change the point of view (or point of belief), behaviours and attitudes of anti-vaccination folks, there is a need to more deeply understand them.

Hungry? [Explored] Riccardo Cuppini via Compfight

To Be Talked About Online, Be Hyper-real

The french mime Jyjou*

About a million years ago, when I studied theatre and movement, I was fascinated by what appeared “real” on stage and what looked like it was a person slouching across an open space. There was a real difference between an actor who was able to inhabit and own the stage and someone who seemed to shrink within its open space. For some actors, this ability comes naturally but many have to work on it. And it is these techniques that interested me the most.

For a while I studied with Leisa Shelton, a brilliant and patient teacher. We would spend hours in quiet, but intense, routines, learning to stretch our bodies, extend our arms from the shoulder to the fingertip, create difficult but beautiful arcs across our shoulders, and walking with fluidity. One of the core “figures” we’d work on was drinking a glass of water – amazingly technical and challenging to master.

Leisa had, herself, studied for years in Paris, working with Ecole de Mime Corporel Dramatique de Paris-technique Etienne Decroux (1983-89) and was a member of the Meryl Tankard Co (1990-93). As a result, she generously shared not just her abilities and experiences but her stories which brought her theory and theatre practice to life for us all.

But there was one particular story that has stayed with me. It was about the physical proportions of Rodin’s The Thinker. Taking into account the position of the viewer, Rodin had created his famous sculpture larger than “real life” in order for it to appear in-proportion from the audience’s point of view. Parts of the sculpture – especially across the shoulders and back, were significantly larger than they would be in real life. And the lesson for us in this, was to appear “real” on stage, we had to work to extend the appearance of our bodies on stage, not just to be seen, or for aesthetics, but to appear real.

The same principles apply in the digital world. In fact, we are seeing a greater blurring of the distinctions between the on and offline world – they are merging into what we call “life”. This is made ever easier by the five forces impacting the future of business – social media, mobility, big data, unified communications and cloud computing. As consumers we are ever more connected and connectable – and enterprises continue to struggle to keep pace with consumer expectation and business demand.

However, we DON’T need to be in all places at all times. We need to take a lesson from Leisa Shelton and Rodin. We need to be larger than life in the spaces that we do operate. We need to be hyper-real – 10-20% bigger than we are in real life. And now, more than ever, we need to be PRESENT. That means we must be hyper-real and IN LOCATION.

Take a look at this great video promoting the upcoming release of the movie Carrie. It’s 6 million+ views come not just from a great idea, but from brilliant execution. They captured a real world impact and amplified it into our digital lives. They put a physical experience into our consciousness through digital storytelling.

In a world where our experiences dominate our perceptions, businesses, governments and not-for-profits can no longer be satisfied with a DIGITAL ONLY presence. To be talked about online, you have to be remarkable in the real world. You must act with purpose. And serve with intention.

It’s time for leaders to step up and own the space.

The french mime Jyjou*Creative Commons License jyjou via Compfight

Telling a Data-Driven Story

Fingerprints

During the last election, I was constantly amazed by the way that politicians of all persuasions bored us to death with FACTS. It was as if they were following a mantra which was to wheel out fact after fact as though they would eventually convince us through the weight of their overburdened arguments alone.

We would hear about HOW many jobs had been created. Or HOW much debt had been accumulated. But hardly, if ever, would anyone dive below the facts to discover anything deeper. Once upon a time, journalists would have done the hard work of contextualising the facts – connecting the dots, explaining the WHYs and WHEREFOREs – and otherwise telling the story that the facts alone never reveal.

But in a world where journalism has been cut to the bone, telling the story or investigating the underlying realities is a luxury that media proprietors cannot afford. And worse, the public has been lulled into accepting the shrill, scant messages that flash across our Twitter streams as though it’s some form of dyslexic gospel. Hashtag #auspol. Hashtag #outrage.

But there is another way – and it requires a more comprehensive strategy than we have seen from our politicians. It’s also far more comprehensive than we have seen from the majority of the businesses vying for our attention and our wallets. It’s a strategy that puts a little joy back into the communications and the storytelling that we share. It reminds us that for all our grievances, aspirations and needs, we remain, resolutely and wonderfully human.

Inspired by another great Leslie Bradshaw presentation:

The data is useful, but only when it tells a story. What ever you do this week, don’t get lost in the digits of digital.

FingerprintsCreative Commons License Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Lead Your Life the Right Way, the Dreams Will Come to You

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One of the amazing things about the web is that we are constantly in a state of renewal. We read, consume, engage and move on. Great ideas, applications, innovations – and even people – come into our sphere of attention and leave. Sometimes without a trace. Or sometimes with only a line or two in our memory. A feeling. A sense of pride or loss.

I remember watching Carnegie Mellon University professor, Randy Pausch deliver his “last lecture” and being gobsmacked. I felt like this piece of content – this lecture from 2007 – would become “internet history”. I felt that it would somehow be automatically consumed by people as they engaged more deeply with the web, its abundant content and the bone achingly powerful stories that many share.

But I recently mentioned Randy Pausch’s last lecture and was met with a stony silence. I explained a little – to provide some context – about the world leading computer science professor famous for his work in human computer interaction. Still nothing.

In a world with an abundance of information, we continue to struggle to prioritise what comes into our sphere of attention. And in the rush to sort, file and proceed, we often – mistakenly in my view – prioritise the new in favour of the great. So today, I’d like to momentarily reverse that and suggest you spend an hour – yes a full hour – with Randy Pausch. It may just change your life.

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wil p via Compfight

 

Convergent Storytelling – or how to tell a mofo of a story

Convergent storytelling

When we think of convergence, we tend to think of the obvious – of like things coming together. “Convergent media” for example is often seen as a force for disruption – yet for me, it’s far from disruptive. In fact, I’d go so far to say that it is assertive.

But what happens when the technology of production and the technology of distribution are brought to the forefront of the experience? What happens when the gaming and comic genres forcefully collide to produce new narratives and modes of storytelling? What happens when music becomes a mode of expression and commentary, doubling in on itself? And what happens when the viewer is drawn into the total experience, emerging gasping minutes later?

That what you get with the Biting Elbow’s official video for their song Bad Motherfucker (yes, don’t play it in the office without headphones).

So now think, what can you learn from the techniques, craft and approach? How would a tamed down version of this drive engagement with your customer base? What would it mean – and would you be ready for a luke warm take on this?

Biting Elbows – ‘Bad Motherfucker’ (Insane Office Escape 2) from Ilya Naishuller on Vimeo.