With storytelling, smaller is bigger. I recently met a screenwriter and he told me about a project he’s working on, a cross-cultural romance. In his story, a feminist from the West falls in love with a chauvinist from the East. He was having trouble creating the backstories of these characters, why they are together despite their differences. We kept coming up against sticking points and the story wasn’t working.
I asked him why he needed to tell this story? He said when he was 19, he met a woman who changed the trajectory of his life. He was what he called a ‘thinker’. He hadn’t seen much of the world and was very sheltered. He met a woman who was adventurous, what he called an ‘explorer’. They become very, very close. And because of her, he experienced a lot of things for the first time, going to clubs, meeting people from different sexual orientations and different worldviews.
She changed the way he lived his life. They were so close that they would spend hours and hours and hours talking. Their relationship was a platonic and yet closer than a normal friendship. He loved her, but he knew he wasn’t in love with her and that one day the relationship would end. Eventually, it did as they went their separate ways in life.
The story he wanted to tell was this process of getting to know her, of exploring the world through her eyes. He felt he owed her a lot and he would never forget her.
It was the story of a ‘thinker’ and an ‘explorer’ who fell in love but didn’t end up together.
His story wasn’t about a big culture clash and diametrically opposed worldviews. It was a coming of age story where someone learns new things about themselves. And through that process understands what they need in life and in a future partner. In this story, two people realised that even though they loved each other and grew together, they were on different paths. This is a big step in a person’s maturity.
It’s something that we’ve all experienced. We have all learned from a relationship that ultimately has no future. It’s a beautiful moment of growth. We go through our lives owing a lot to those people and experiences.
This is a universal moment, and it’s going to connect very deeply with an audience. One of his goals is to create a story that is cross-cultural. This hits the mark, many cultures around the world have these coming of age situations.
He went from telling a big grand story full of drama and tension to a beautiful contained moment in time that was authentic. One that many would believe and connect with because it is true and they had a similar experience.
How does this relate to the world of business stories? A very common thing I hear is, why would anybody care about my story? We tend to discount our own stories because they aren’t always a big grand adventure. This could not be more wrong, the power is in the small moments of authentic emotion someone else can connect with.
This is the power of empathy.
These small empathic connections transcend time, space, culture, everything. Moments of empathy are crucial to telling a story about a new product or service. Critical to telling a story to break down silos between different departments. The perfect way to explain a cultural shift or change within an organisation.
It’s small, not big. It’s real, not fantastic. This doesn’t mean don’t dream big. Create an ideal future state you want to inhabit after a new project or service has launched. Paint the grand vision of where innovation is taking us. But among the big dreams, there has to be small pinpoints of authentic emotion. Truthful connections are the glue that holds the grand vision together.
This is why narratives are so powerful. Stories are your day to day and the narrative is the future. The narrative is the future place that you want to inhabit together.
Good stories are a collection of small moments that add up to empathetic connection, to inspire, connect and build trust to bring your audience into your ideal future state.
Don’t be afraid of your own story and don’t be afraid of the small things. Even if the vision is grand, it’s the intimate emotions that build the empathetic connection you need to make your story something you can leverage to meet your business goals.
This is how culture is changed, built and created. This is how new products and services are launched. This is how innovation solves problems and propels solutions forward.
It’s through empathy. It’s the small moments. It’s the beautiful things.