How I Got Into This
Gimme a mic and an audience of 10,000, and THAT I can do–no prep. The crowd gives me everything I need–a constant fat pipe of feedback I can work with. It's one reason I design and often deliver education, and why I do shows and podcasts–I'm comfortable with an audience. Likewise, one to one, in a sales conversation, I can close–and do it without the manure.
But I could never tell a story at cocktail hour–still can't do it smoothly. In small social settings, where swapping tales is common currency, mine have always been awkward and poorly timed, with a lackluster finish. I've also struggled with fully expressing myself in fiction–it has been a lifelong challenge. That motivated an ongoing study. As a result, I've reached some milestones, but I also decided simply not to stop.
Sales Stories and Ill-Defined Problems
I spent a good chunk of my corporate career in B2B sales, weaving persuasive narratives around the responses of future clients. It was a kind of collaborative improv–participatory theatre that adhered to a mutually understood structure, just like a screenplay or a dance. I became so interested in the structure of a sale, that I made a special study of it, and began to teach it, training B2B salespeople for AT&T and Cox Communications.
Eventually, I became a roving Sales Engineer, which is a solver of ill-defined problems. The required skill set was spotting differences between the client's and company's narratives. All of an organization's missed opportunities and misunderstandings with the end-user came from differences of expectation–a different running story.
It wasn't a stretch, then, to one day analyze sales conversations and case studies, building marketing teams around the brand narratives of my own clients.
Zombies, The Night Stalker, and Stephen King
Of course, there's more to storytelling than the mechanics. There is also the imperative to pierce the psychological needs and longing that are universally human and are what we mean when we say humane and human-like.
As a kid, I was enthralled with Tom Swift, Ripley's Tales, Mack Bolan, and Star Trek, and I've always been a fan of the Chris Carter (X-files) type of fiction. Carter and I both grew up watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the 1970s TV series in which Darren McGavin, as an investigative crime reporter for a Chicago paper, sought the real story behind mysterious episodes shrugged off by law enforcement. As an adult, I felt a little of that childlike thrill when I wrote a little book on the death of aught-years style search engine optimization (SEO). I did it in the form of a zombie combat manual called "All Marketing is Dead". So I loved all that stuff, but always felt it needed to go deeper.
In recent years, I've eyed Stephen King's work with awe. His range is incredible. The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Hearts in Atlantis, and Stand By Me are mainstream masterworks. The Stand is a genuine epic. Carrie and The Shining are deep psychological horror. Cujo and Christine tap into primal, instinctive fears. And Salem's Lot stands out as iconic revisionism of camp legend. In all of it, King maintains narrative consistency. He constantly evokes the everyman hero, the rot beneath the surface of idyllic towns, and he's probably the rightful godfather of American magical realism–reflecting at once our skepticism and desire for transcendence.
King fulfills on what earlier forms were striving to penetrate but usually only scratched. His work juxtaposes our aspirations and conceits, attributing possibility to the reader's self-image. He utilizes and often invents the rules of a genre but consistently executes with depth and nuance. We could all wish to tell stories so well.
Pulp Gods and Gunslingers
But those pulp interests still held something. I started looking at pulp writers from the detective magazine era. If they didn't tell effective stories, they didn't eat. How's THAT for motivation? Standup comedians fascinate me, too–they stake everything on a few minutes in front of the mic. They stand or fall on content they have to test, refine, test again, and still, they have to perfect timing and delivery. They are the quintessential gunslingers of storytelling.
What I've learned is that when you execute on the basic formula for a story, the part of you that's human fills in the blanks with at least serviceable material and occasionally with flashes of brilliance. You can go as deep as you want. But the formula is everything. So that's where I focus–not on some magic confluence of exigencies that occasionally congeal almost accidentally into a compelling narrative. No, I leave that for people who tell you that only THEY can do this and YOU can't. Instead, I go for the sleeves rolled up, collar unbuttoned, works-every-time rubric for producing stories at a volume built for scale.
Where You Come In
I get my clients directly involved in that process. And I advocate for the widespread adoption of the basic methods, because story unites us. It is a repository of something we have always shared. It addresses the full range of needs (including emotional) of those our organizations serve. It holds the promise for aligning our organizations' members around our core missions.
Rather than leave the corporate story in the hands of specialists, The Corporate Story blog is all about sharing the fire, Prometheus-like, with those who set the goals in the first place. It's a blog for business leaders, sales teams, corporate educators, change agents and story advocates.