And Goodwill To All Men
How to mine for business storytelling gold
You live most of your life in those days that sit ordered, unlabelled and anonymous in the calendar.
You end up making something of them because life isn’t all Christmas Day or a summer Bank Holiday weekend, birthday or anniversary. Those days when there’s nothing much to prepare or hope for, can offer the most deliciously memorable moments.
Remember that unexpected single day of October heatwave and eating your lunch outside? That day when you could still smell summer and pretend that this is how ‘Montalbano’ (minus the murders) your workaday life always is.
On those days you’re subconsciously open to whatever happiness comes your way. There’s no pre-loaded pressure to make it a ‘good one.’ And in the same way that most days approach you anonymously save for their working week/day off/weekend monikers, people come into your life defined only by what they do.
Beyond the headlines
And that should never be the end of the story but just the beginning.
Looking beyond labels and cursory descriptions, being alive to the potential beyond the headline definition of ‘accountant,’ ‘consultant’ or ‘hairdresser’ is where you’ll find the real value and interest. If you can see that in others, you’ll find it much easier to write about yourself and your business.
Because there’s always a story and then there’s always more of a story.
No one is “just” or “only” something. We all weave multiple identities, interests and duties into our everyday lives, meaning different things to different people.
Of course it all starts from necessity in childhood. Those early readers when you learn words that define people from the simple “boy” and “girl” through to “fireman” and “teacher,” make it easier for you to know your place in the world and recognise others through neat labels.
I still remember vividly that moment of betrayal felt by my middle son when he was five and saw two of his teachers walking together through the retail park, shopping bags in hand, laughing and chatting. He was totally thrown by the fact that they existed outside of the classroom, “But they should be at school,” he said, “they’re my teachers.”
He was initially dubious about my explanation of these two teachers having lives beyond the 9 to 3.30 school day. That they had children of their own, houses, lives and holidays. But in those moments they became more than just teachers – they were proper people, just like him.
Asking the right questions
And although we’re far from being wide-eyed 5 year-olds, when you’re talking about yourself while you’re out networking or writing about your business it pays to remember the back story stuff and inject some of it into your narrative.
Because finding the answers to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions is always more interesting (and far better at keeping the conversation going) than stopping at the bare-bone fundamentals of ‘what,’ ‘when’ and ‘who.’
Becoming open to the possibilities contained within others’ stories also helps you foster a sense of goodwill and compassion.
It was a ring with the legend “DAD” in gold capitals that pulled me up short: Many years ago when I lived in London, I was waiting in for a delivery – the driver was well over an hour late and I was becoming increasingly frustrated at my lost afternoon off. When he eventually turned up I got set to launch into an angry complaint. He apologised first though, explaining how he was running late that day as his second child had been born in the early hours.
And then I saw the ring and my frustration disappeared. In the years since, similar “DAD” moments have kept me in check.
People like us
The lesson from that small and simple long-ago experience echoes through us when we remember that a refugee is never just a refugee, a victim of crime is never just a victim. Those descriptions define particular situations, circumstances and moments in time but cannot even begin to contain whole people.
So next time you’re skimming over some facts, spare a thought for the bigger story they contain.
Finding the story
I’ll leave the last word to one of my favourite novelists, Doris Lessing.
In “Love, Again” she puts this idea of there being a myriad of possible storylines rather beautifully. Here, her main character, Sarah ponders over how much everyday words and descriptions can conceal:
“…how could she, or anyone, know?…A pause in the run of a reminiscence can stand for some monstrous quarrel. Half a dozen words as ordinary as ‘We never got on, you know’ mark implacable and decades-long hostilities. ‘I’ll always remember that summer’ or ‘We always did fancy each other’ (and a laugh) remembers the most intense passion of a life-time.”
Finding Your Story
If you’d like to talk to me about finding and communicating your story to the people you’re trying to reach, do get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!
This post was originally published in December 2015, it was updated on 28 December 2018