To play on the words of Karl Marx, deconstruction has become the opiate of the marketer.
Or slightly more practical, we marketers have become drunk love with criticism.
And as I dig into WHY that might be, I think it all circles back to Darwin >> We’re all fighting to survive, believing that if we can just tear down the walls, break the wheels, step out of the box, and reinvent a new way of thinking in order to obliterate the old, then we’ll crush our competition and come out on top.
It’s no wonder so many of us are disillusioned and burned out. The game of survival is always exhausting.
It’s also distracting us from what really matters.
Pick any marketer, and tune in to their message for just seven seconds. In the time that it takes you to snap your fingers four times, you’ll be able to put that marketer into one of two broad brush buckets.
Bucket #1: “I’ve found the new formula for XYZ. Follow me and I’ll teach it to you!”
Bucket #2: “Hey there! I’ve lit a campfire. Come sit with me and let’s make a plan for helping you become more YOU.”
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, then you know that if you forced me into a bucket, it would be Bucket #2.
I believe that experience is the frontrunner of all stories worth telling and that lofty ideas like identity and core values and authenticity are worth talking about and worth chasing. I believe that most of us get stuck because we haven’t quite figured out our worldviews (why we’re here, what’s gone wrong with our worlds, and how we’re going to fix it), and I think that business and marketing – for all their worth and wonder – have grown stale as a result of identity-finding paralysis.
We’ve simply forgotten the disciplines of seeking and finding.
But before you throw me head to toe into Bucket #2, you should also know this: Because I believe we are a nuanced creation who need equal respect for heart, mind, and soul in order to show up as fully human, I’d go into Bucket #2 kicking and screaming.
I’d also make an impassioned argument for you to join me in another bucket >> Bucket #3.
I’ve learned that when you’re a marketer, advocating for a Bucket #3 can be a hard platform to stand on because it isn’t the sexy, practical bucket that everyone wants to dip their hand into.
Choosing to live in the center of Bucket #3 prevents you from tearing down all the walls or poo-pooing someone for thinking too deeply about a hot-topic item.
It requires you to question your own thoughts and make bigger spaces for the thoughts of others.
It pushes you to protect and elevate the brave minds who dare to question the status-quo without burning down the whole house.
It urges you to expand conversation instead of constricting it – because you don’t believe that humans have the capacity to ever arrive at knowing all there is about a single topic of interest.
At my deepest core, I’m an academic nerd who belongs more appropriately in a woods alongside Mary Oliver and Thoreau than she does in the loud and busy digital world.
But I’ve landed here in this marketing megalopolis as an outlier who believes that it’s time to go deeper. Not to deconstruct, tear down, and reinvent, but to peel back our layers bit by bit to understand more deeply and more clearly who we are and how we move through this world.
As my friend and client Suzi Sands would say, our world is too big for one way to be right and too small to ignore the needs of others.
It’s undeniable that we all share different missions, different callings, different goals, different lived experiences. But all those differences show up thanks to just .1% of our human DNA. (And that’s the percentage that turns us into the greatest, most inexplicable scientific experiment in the entire universe.)
The truth is that the DNA of our humanity is 99.9% the same. Let that sink in for just a moment. We’re nearly a duplicate on duplicate on duplicate set of 8 billion identical twins walking around the globe.
Yet even still, there’s a sliver of something inside every single one of us that gives us an edge, makes us different, hands us a golden invitation to leave our indelible mark on the planet.
This is why the greatest storytellers (of the modern age, at least) fascinate themselves with this .1%.
They obsess over finding it, lose themselves in chasing it, work tirelessly to expose it, and they do it because they know the secret that most marketers want to gloss over: If you want to be a storyteller who creates something worth reading, you have to become something else first.
Storyfinding is the treasure hunt for the .1% of story that has covertly camouflaged itself among our humanity – finding refuge in the hidden, unseen, and nearly imperceptible moments of our lives.
It is the bedrock of all dogeared stories – the deep dive look at identity, the hours of silence in order to hear, the sifting and sorting of belief and conviction, the self-awareness that unravels self-perception, the meeting of the Other in order to challenge the Same.
It is Moses on the top of the mountain, the Buddha under his tree, Jesus at Gethsemane, Muhammad in the cave, Frankl in the concentration camps, MLK in the jail cell, Rosa Parks on the bench, Mandela behind bars.
Their lives, their experience, their heartbreaks, their victories – those were the stories written long before their tellings came into existence, the .1% that no one else could know or understand or even live.
And when their work of storyfinding was done, they set it free to converge with the science of storytelling – taking the shape and form of the 99.9% in order to change our entire world forever.
It’s proof, isn’t it, that although we need science and form and formula and structure, story cannot move and breathe with any sort of significance, any sort of meaning, any sort of compulsion unless we first begin with the .1%?
This is where tellers go to find stories worth sharing in the first place – because we cannot have a story worth telling unless we’re willing to commit to the work of finding it.
1. Know your own story first: Stories are like seeds in my belly. And this seed is going to germinate and become the book. All those seeds are connected to something that has happened to me. Either it’s an obsession, or it’s something that I have lived, experimented, or a memory of some kind. If it’s not one of the seeds that I have inside, if it’s not connected to me very strongly, I can’t write it. (Isabel Allende)
2. Remember why you’re here: The writer’s privilege is to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. (William Faulkner)
3. Step into the opportunity and the risk: [Writing is an] opportunity to be and to become the Other. The stranger. With sympathy, clarity, and the risk of self-examination. (Toni Morrison)
4. Observe, empathize, and listen: Get into someone else’s head for a change . . . As a writer, you should not judge. You should understand. . . Watch what happens today. Listen now. When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. (Ernest Hemingway)
5. Don’t get stuck on form(ula): A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you. Of course, the more you write, the more you will realize that the form is organic, that it is something that grows out of the material, that the form of each story is unique. A story that is any good can’t be reduced, it can only be expanded. (Flannery O’Connor)
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