This article is the first in a groundbreaking series on The Storytelling Matrix: a subtle field of energy at the heart of all business matters.
You’d think that a problem makes for an interesting story.
And often it does…If George Clooney and Mark Walhberg didn’t get caught in “The Perfect Storm” who’d care about watching the movie? In the world of drama and entertainment, all storytelling requires a problem.
But when it comes to telling the story of game-changing innovation, the “problem/solution” model is broken. This is why so many brands and causes have a hard time telling their story.
When it comes to business, you want to introduce a paradox, not just a problem.
Lets take SuperheroYou, an exciting global initiative led by my friends Jim and Alexis Kwik. We were talking through the SuperheroYou story the other day, and I noticed Jim and Alexis were telling the typical story we’re all used to hearing. It went something like this…
There are so many problems in the world…and most of them can be solved by becoming better, faster, more empowered learners. In fact, we need to discover the superhero powers within each of us, because the world needs us now more than ever before.
While this might all be true, it’s not the most effective frame. In a matter of minutes, we reframed the story like this:
Brain science and technology has led to many breakthroughs about learning, productivity, and living better lives. We can now live up to the potential of who we’re really meant to be. It’s an exciting time to be alive. Yet despite all the possibilities, most of us are struggling with information overload, attention-deficit, and just managing the overwhelms of life. How do we reconcile the promise/potential with the reality?
By turning the problem into a paradox, you turn your story into a mystery that people want to help solve.
People will feel excited about exploring and finding the answers with you, versus the subtle self-righteous pressure in the first story structure that often leaves people uneasy. Unfortunately, most of us have been taught the first model — which is the perfect set-up for a disengaged audience.
Traditional Model: Problem/Solution Story
The “problem/solution” story is what we’re taught to do in case studies, marketing campaigns, and fundraising pitches.
We’re taught to appeal to reason, fear, and the logical mind. The challenge is this makes for a poor story.
By declaring your problem in full, scary and vividly complex detail, you just remind us that things can kind of suck. If you lead with doom, chances are you’ve already lost.
- 13 million hungry children in America are suffering right now
- Our CRM system is broken and is costing us $20MM in lost sales
- The environment is approaching a tipping point and we’re going to destroy the earth
We already know the world is full of problems. So many that we often go through our day trying to tune them out as best as possible.
“Don’t pile one more problem on my plate of overwhelm,” says a friend.
If you start with the problem (and all its negative emotion), you’re far less likely to inspire your audience to care about the story.
Negative emotions and topics cause us to feel smaller — to collapse and pull inward in self-protection. By the time you introduce the solution (part 2 of the story), your audience is totally beat up or just plain numb — and less willing to trust you. At an energetic level, you’re causing your audience to disconnect and disassociate before you’re even off to the races.
They also know you’re trying to convince them of something: “Look, I know the problem sucks, BUT I’ve got the answer. Trust me…no really…”
You’re now fighting an uphill battle in telling your story. Because you made them feel like crap to begin with.
That’s never a winning way to tell a story, is it?
New Model: Possibility/Obstacle Story
When it comes to the Storytelling Matrix, you want to flip the script. We’re a species that dreams with fascination about the world of possibilities and potential. We want to know something is possible. Odds are you’ve already glimpsed or experienced an example of the vision in action. So tell that story. Start by describing the positive truths about what already exists and what you know is possible.
“The future already exists, it’s just not widely distributed.” — William Gibson
- Social media is transformating the flow of information and power
- Brain science teaches us how to optimize the body and our lives for peak potential
- The internet has democratized the process of learning and entrepreneurship
Speak to the truth of what you already know is possible. You’ve seen it, you’ve experienced it, you know that it already exists. Speak from a place of conviction. Describe what you know is possible and how that aligns with a life-affirming message.
Then, and only then, introduce some obstacles that stand in the way.
Lets look at some corresponding examples:
- …most people still don’t know how to use social media mindfully and purposefully (it’s the new digital divide)
- …despite all the latest science, most of us struggle to stay focused, get things done, and live fulfilled lives
- …yet this free flow of knowledge (e.g. Wikipedia, Google, etc) means we don’t know who to trust and what to believe anymore
Overcoming the obstacles is what then makes your story interesting. Hopefully you even have a solution to propose in this regard. Or a call to arms to come together to figure out the solution. That’s ok too, as long as the promise of what’s possible and the obstacles that stand in the way are enough of a positive emotionally motivating narrative. It all starts in framing the possibility story first (that’s the carrot).
The Power of Paradox
In the rush to state the problem and sell the solution in the first model, you’ve lost the opportunity to build up creative tension (what fuels any good story). You’re simply trying to sell people the cold hard sober facts and the confident assertion that you have the answers for solving this problem.
But if you start with the dream of what’s possible — and invite people along on the journey, suddenly your story comes alive with potential and excitement. And you’ve started a collaborative movement towards the solution.
Can you see how when you look at it this way — why so many business proposals, innovation initiatives, or change campaigns fall flat on their face?
Add Your Voice to The Conversation
This article is the first in a groundbreaking series about The Storytelling Matrix: a subtle field of energy at the heart of all business matters.
The humanization of business is about telling more expansive life-affirming stories.
- What’s the mindset or frame you’re trying to shift?
- Where do you get stuck in old patterns of communications and storytelling?
- What additional topics would you like to see covered in this article series?
Please add a comment or question below.