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 early October heatwave and a working lunch in a pub garden? 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 working life defined only by what they say they do, who they work for and who they know.
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 ‘hairdresser,’ ‘mother’ or ‘accountant’ 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 but eventually fascinated by my explanation of these two teachers having lives beyond his 9 till 3 school day – that they had children of their own, houses and holidays. They became people to him.
Asking the right questions
And although we’re all far from being wide-eyed 5 year-olds, when you’re talking about yourself out networking or writing about your business in an article or on your website it pays to remember the back story stuff and bring some of it to the fore.
Because finding the answers to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions is pretty much 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 foster a sense of goodwill and compassion.
It was a ring with the legend “DAD” in gold capitals that changed how I looked at things.
Dads, boyfriends and delivery drivers
Many years ago when I lived in London, I was waiting in for a delivery – the driver was 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’d had an unavoidably late start that day as he’d seen his second child being born in the early hours.
And then I saw the ring and my frustration disappeared. In the years since, “DAD” moments have kept me in check.
People like us
The lesson from that small and simple long-ago experience was echoed in something that I listened to recently on Radio 4’s World at One. “A New Life In Europe: The Dhnie Family” was an episodic documentary of one ordinary Syrian family’s journey from a refugee camp in Jordan to a new life in Frankfurt. It not only brought the family’s struggle to life but showed, through the family dynamics, quarrels about teenagers’ behaviour and worries about the future, how these are people just like us.
Because 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.
Peeking behind words
Next time you’re skimming over some facts, spare a thought for the bigger story they contain.
I’ll leave the last word to one of my favourite novelists, Doris Lessing.
Finding the story
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, telling and getting your story across to the people who matter most to you, do get in touch for a no-obligation (and lots of useful advice!) chat.