Storytelling, Inspiration, Expectation

A very good friend of mine has decided “Leave a message after the beep” would not do for his phone mailbox. His is “After the beep, tell me something I don’t know yet.” Isn’t that how all of us are — not necessarily being aware of it — going through life? Looking for inspiration, new insight? The problem is, I don’t know what you know yet. And this is something that  makes it sometimes very difficult to tell a story that has the same persuasiveness to everyone.

Noreena Hertz has a TED talk during which she argues that experts are not infallible and we need to make more decisions on our own. The Domino Project, Seth Godins latest publishing venture, has a series of features on certain people telling their stories and what supposedly makes them special. And these are just two examples of stories that didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t like “Wow, this is great, I must tell my friends!”, it was more like “I wonder what kind of world you’re living in.” And it’s not because it was a bad or badly told story, but it just didn’t cross the chasm between my expectation and what was actually delivered. This is enforced by the standard that has been set, sometimes by the people themselves. I do expect TED talks to be remarkable, an I do expect Seth Godin to come up with a different view on whatever each time he posts.

And sometimes, it really works. Remember Jay O’Callahan? Or (the obvious example) Ken Robinson? All of the people I talked about this with were deeply impressed by those speeches. Obviously there wasn’t such a great level of expectation at work, and expectation, it seems, puts us at defense, where we are not open to a certain degree. Which then bears the risk that we’re missing that one tiny bit of inspiration that lies in every story, but not always it’s plain to see. My latest example is as follows:

After reading the story of Laurie Davis on SxSW Pokes (the unmodest tone of which is explicable by the fact that all participants write the stories themselves, and they might be published unedited), when the annoyance about wasting two minutes of my precious morning’s time was gone (“Duh, no inspiration! Useless bravado!”), it occured to me that the point I made in an earlier post obviously isn’t off. The paraphrase I found today is “Business is taking advantage of other people’s problems”, not meaning to hurt them on top of their problem, but benefitting yourself by solving their problem (through, say, getting paid by them). To examine a business idea this might come in handy by asking “On a per-person level, is that a problem big enough, pressing enough (in time and/or emotional respect) that people are likely to pay to have it solved? And how many are there?”

Sometimes, it seems, not the facts that we know make the difference, but the connections in between, and what happens in the aftermath of telling the story that incorporates these facts, and this is something you have little control over. But telling a good story or telling a story well won’t hurt either.


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