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This is not just a story about storytelling.

It’s personal.

Because it’s about your storytelling.

A Difficult Truth.

The way that you tell your business’s story is very likely to be nowhere near good enough.

This is a difficult truth.

It’s because most business leaders don’t value storytelling enough.

So they don’t invest in storytelling enough.

Which is strange.

Because it is one of the single biggest reasons that businesses don’t maximise.

Storytelling.

I am fascinated by how world-class storytelling actually works.

And I want to drag you into my world.

Just for a moment.

I want to expose you to my curiosity around world-class storytelling.

So I have explored one of the most sophisticated and difficult kind of storytelling possible.

Storytelling without words.

No Words.

TV and film Scriptwriter (and ANGELFYSH team member) Debbie Owen is currently (amongst other things) creating stories and scripts for BBC flagship, CASUALTY.

I have listened to Debbie talk about her TV and film scriptwriting experience for years.

And I know that Debbie has worked on lengthy scenes and sometimes entire productions – as a scriptwriter – that have no words at all.

I wanted to find out more.

Debbie Owen

Scriptwriting is storytelling.  And story doesn’t have to be told verbally.

Every story will have characters who need a journey, with actions, motivations, purpose, emotions. Whether those characters speak or not doesn’t matter.  We must still feel for them and care what happens to them.

As a scriptwriter, I write the words the actors say… but I also write how they deliver those words.  I write the pace, the pauses, the tone, the emotion.  I write how they feel, where they move, what they wear.  I write the atmosphere, the style of the space, day or night.

I visualise every aspect of the scene on the page, so that the director and the actors know exactly what I have in mind.  Then they can accurately interpret my script onto the screen.

A script without dialogue, is still storytelling.  And it still has to relay all of the above.

Here’s an example:

ACT ONE – PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL WARD. DAYROOM. DAY

A sparsely decorated room.  No ornaments, the pictures are screwed to the wall and have Perspex fronts, the TV is housed inside a wooden box with a Perspex front.  Chairs, too heavy to throw, are arranged in social groups.

At the back of the room are 2 doors: 1 internal, with a spy hole, leading to the rest of the ward.  1 external, with a small window, leading to a courtyard.

Around the outside of the room, a track is worn in the carpet – someone walks the same path, over and over.

DOUG sits, nervous.  He stands, he sits, he doesn’t know what to do.  This is all new to him.

He moves to the internal door and tries the handle – locked.  He looks through the spy hole, but he’s on the wrong aside to see anything.  He knocks.  Listens.  Nothing.

He moves to the external door – locked.  The outside world is so near and yet so far.

OFF:  from beyond the internal door, a scuffle can be heard getting closer.  Heavy breathing and fighting coming from unseen, unknown people.  DOUG’s terrified.  Are they coming in here?!  He backs as far away from the door as he can… and waits.

That’s storytelling.

Storytelling.

Your business has a story.

Or if it doesn’t.

It bloody well should have.

And you need to find it.

Then tell it.

Beautifully.

Because an impressive story told badly.

Or a bad story told impressively.

Is just as bad as no story at all.

In all these circumstances.

Your business is treading water.

Connect.

Debbie shows that it is possible to connect and evoke deep emotion and connection without one word being spoken.

So what a shame it is that almost every business I see is not maximising as a business because they are not connecting.

They’re just using (normally far too many) words to tell me what they do.

And there’s no story.

It’s bland.

Unsurprising.

Forgettable.

They sound the same as everyone else in their category.

And the business owner is surprised when nothing changes.

Rewarding.

There is a really important reason that I have taken the time to write this story.

It’s because great storytelling is transformational.

It is endlessly rewarding for your business.

And everybody in it.

So please.

Focus on and invest in beautiful storytelling.

And if you cannot do it yourself.

Call me.

As a very young child.

I never accepted.

That toys can’t fly.

I used my imagination instead.

Imagination. 

I’d pick up a toy.

With my little hand.

And an outstretched arm.

And one achy shoulder.

And I’d lock my eyes on the scaled down aeroplane.

Or rocket.

Or Pterodactyl.

For hours.

Because I never accepted that toys can’t fly.

Vision.

My eyes edited out my hand as it supported the tiny aeroplane’s flight.

And my young mind edited in the clouds.

And the engine noise.

And the other aeroplanes that were chasing me.

At four years old I was good  at visualising.

At four years old I was good at focusing.

And at four years old.

You were great at this kind of thing too.

Toys Can’t Fly.

So why is it that.

As adults.

Such fanciful ideas – born from visualisation and focus – are harder to muster for most people?

You see, I am still imagining.

I am visualising and focusing on growing a brand that creates the best hand knitted jumpers in the world.

I am visualising and focusing on evolving my Brand Collective to become one of the UK’s first to only work with contributive businesses.

And I am visualising and focusing on developing a publishing brand that encourages people to tell their own story, too.

And just as I edited out the hand that held the aeroplane as a child.

I edit out negativity.

And naysayers.

And all the other things that can potentially hold me back.

Age.

Strangely.

It’s a bit harder to believe at 51 years old.

Harder than it was when I was 4 years old.

But it’s just as magical.

And that’s why I do it.

Many great tunes start very, very quietly.

They build.

Great brands are like this, too.

Lean in.

Great  brands slowly draw people in.

They get you to lean in.

To listen.

They take you with them.

Patience.

Great tunes show restraint as well.

They’re not showy just for the sake of being showy.

Just because they can be.

We know that Christina Aguilera can hit and hold the high notes as well as anyone in the whole wide world.

But in ‘Say Something’ by ‘A Great Big World and Christine Aguilera’

She doesn’t.

We wait for it, of course.

We lean in.

But it doesn’t come.

And that’s as it should be.

Because great tunes.

And brands.

Show restraint.

And they are doing it on purpose.

So we lean in.

Brands.

So.

Brands.

Be brilliant.

Be really brilliant.

But show restraint too.

And go slow.

Because if you re worth waiting for.

We’ll wait.

And in the meantime.

Make us lean in.

And before you know it.

And before we know it.

You’ll have us.

Go here: https://www.50odd.co.uk/lean-in/.

If I were a cat.

I’d not be a House Cat.

I’d be an Outdoor Cat.

Outdoor Cat.

It’s because I think that’s what cats are made for.

Being outside.

Adventuring.

Buggering about.

Nearly dying 9 times.

Exploring.

Being creative.

Taking risks.

House cats.

House Cats, it seems to me, stare out of the window.

They stare at the world.

Through half-open eyes.

Blinking slowly.

Purring randomly.

Burping.

And all that punctuated by jumping down from the window ledge.

Sauntering into the kitchen in slow motion.

And dropping their big tummies down onto the kitchen floor.

Next to their reliably filled food bowls.

To graze.

Outdoor cat.

Whilst outside.

The other side of the window.

Outdoor Cat is going bonkers.

Successfully climbing trees.

Or successfully falling out of them.

Stalking the early bird.

That is stalking the unsuspecting worm.

Where sometimes the food chain clicks in and everyone is full.

Or sometimes the food chain fails and everyone goes hungry.

That’s the way it is with Outdoor Cat.

Cats.

So.

What are you in life, then?

An Outdoor Cat?

Or a House Cat?

And are you happy where you are?

If not.

Pop to the door.

Go on.

Give it a little shove.

It’s open.

I used to think that there could not be anything worse than having nothing.

Feeling unfulfilled.

Empty.

Sad.

And alone.

But nowadays.

I think that there is.

It’s having everything.

Yet feeling unfulfilled.

Empty.

Sad.

And alone.

Choose.

Choose what success looks like for you.

With great care.

Because chasing the wrong everything.

Is worse than chasing nothing.

There is a way to be virtually recession proof.

And that is to be excellent at what you do.

Excellence. 

Not just quite good.

Or one of the best.

The best.

By your own set of measurable, of course.

You have no choice but to come up with your own set of measurable.

Because ‘best’ is subjective.

Its your job to make ‘your excellence’ as objective as you can.

For your target audience.

A target audience that you will, of course, understand like the back of your hand.

So they can see.

And agree.

That you are the best for them.

That’s the way to be virtually recession proof.

Just be excellent at what you do.

OK; you have to choose.

And you can only choose one.

One of these two things.

The first is one of the finest.

Most considered.

Well executed.

And most efficient manufacturing infrastructures in the whole world.

The second is one, solitary, 5 letter word.

And it’s your choice.

Choose. 

Your first choice is Dyson’s manufacturing infrastructure.

As described above.

Your second choice.

Is DYSON.

The brand.

So.

Which is it?

Which is most valuable?

Which holds most power?

Which would be the harder to recreate from scratch?

Brand. 

Brand is powerful.

Brands build communities.

Brand makes people spend money on things they’ve never seen before made by people they’ve never met before.

Brand makes people tell other people about a ‘buzz’ they sense is occurring.

Brand means that the change someone is trying to make is so compelling to people that they get involved and get others to get involved too.

Great brands matter.

Decision time. 

So what’s it to be?

The infrastructure without the brand?

Or the brand without the infrastructure?

What would be harder to rebuild?

What would be easier or harder to get people to rally around and help you to rebuild?

The DYSON manufacturing infrastructure?

Or the DYSON brand?

Me.

Me?

I choose the 5 letter word.

I choose brand.

I don’t like cricket.

But I liked yesterday’s cricket.

The World Cup Final.

The game that was won by England on Super Overs.

Super Overs are (as I and many others discovered for the first time yesterday) one special additional over, per team.

Something that had to happen because, after every single ball of the ‘normal’ match was bowled.

England and New Zealand were still completely level.

Tickets.

One of the commentators.

As we entered the Super Overs bit.

Said this:

If you paid £2,000 a ticket.

You underpaid.

Tongue in cheek I am sure.

But a great comment.

And it got me thinking.

Special Moments.

It got me thinking about how special moments and experiences are created.

I know that the unpredictable, unfathomably unique circumstances that this one cricket match magicked were not the result of an exact formula.

But without the clever training.

The risk.

The imagination.

The hard work.

The team talks.

The talent and the nurturing of that talent.

The patience.

The camaraderie.

And the luck, of course.

This could not have happened.

My Businesses.

And I then asked myself am I doing everything I possibly can in my businesses at the moment so that magic might happen here.

And the answer is.

That I am not sure.

Maybe.

I think so.

And that’s not good enough.

Not for me, anyway.

£2,000.

Is £2,000 acceptable for a cricket match.

No way!

Is £2,000 acceptable for a match that, today, is being hailed as the greatest match of all time?

Maybe.

Magic.

Magical moments cannot be completely engineered.

But can we create circumstances and environments that are more likely to allow them to happen?

Yes.

I think we can.

The most wonderful American sitcom is ‘Cheers’.

And the most wonderful Cheers characters are Norm Peterson and his wife, Vera Peterson.

257. 

In almost all of the 257 Cheers episodes.

Norm sits on his stool at the far end of the bar.

And Norm’s wife Vera is at home.

And in each Cheers episode, little stories – just like this one – are told.

Stories.

*BAR PHONE RINGS IN CHEERS*.

*WOODY ANSWERS*.

Woody:

“Hello?

Oh; hi Mrs. Peterson!

Yes, Norm’s here.

*TURNS TO NORM*

Mr. Peterson. 

It’s for you.”

*HANDS PHONE TO NORM*.

Norm:

“Hello?

Oh; hi Vera.

Whaddya want?

Woah slow down!”

*PAUSE*

“I dunno.”

*PAUSE*

“I dunno!”

*PAUSE*

“I don’t know where it is.

Under the stairs?”

*PAUSE*

“In the garage?

No? 

OK well keep lookin’.

I’ll be home later.

Bye bye.”

*NORM PUTS PHONE DOWN AND SLIDES IT BACK ACROSS THE BAR TO WOODY.*

*NORM CONTINUES, HUNCHED OVER, TO DRINK BEER.*

Woody:

Is everything OK Mr. Peterson?

Norm:

Yeah; I dunno Woody. 

I dunno why Vera always has to bother me here at Cheers.

Something about,  (*PUTS ON VERA’S VOICE*), ‘have you seen the fire extinguisher?’.

I dunno Woody.

*NORM SHAKES HEAD*

Woody:

Weeeell; did you ask Mrs. Peterson why she was looking for the fire extinguisher Mr. Peterson?

Norm:

*INCREDULOUS

No!

Should I have?

etc.

Voice and visuals.

When your brand speaks, it should sound like you.

Every single word.

Should sound like you.

Yet when I meet people, for the first time, that run businesses.

And then look at their websites.

I almost always know what it is going to say there – before I look.

And I almost always know how it is going to say it – before I look.

There is absolutely no unique voice.

No character.

No stand-out.

Technically, this is ‘category marketing’ when it comes to message and simply ‘copying’ when it comes to tone.

The business is saying what everyone else in the same category is saying – and in the same way.

It is, if you like, a strange kind of painting by numbers.

It’s sterile.

And boring.

Because painting by numbers is soulless.

Norm and Vera.

Norm and Vera are beautifully painted characters.

We know Norm and we know what to expect from Norm by the end of episode one.

And from then on in he is consistent.

He is, well, Norm.

And what is more incredible is that Vera behaves just like Vera too.

Every time she appears in the story.

And more incredible still is that Vera never actually appears in person in any of the 257 episodes**.

You never actually see her.

Yet you still know her.

And you know what to expect from her.

And this is why all brands have absolutely no excuse for not painting characterful, soulful, memorable, meaningful, ownable and compelling persona.

It is key to the creation and longevity of all brands.

Storytelling.

Tell your story.

And – because it’s hard – if you can’t find it tell it exceptionally well, invest in getting someone to find and tell it for you.

The greatest stories in the world are told by and about the greatest characters in the world.

Whether this be sitcoms or brand stories.

The rules are the same.

And if you don’t know what the rules are – work with someone that does.

Because a story untold, or a story told badly – is exactly the same as no story at all.

And no story at all – whether you like it or not – means no brand.

**Vera did actually appear in just one of the 257 episodes.

The food fight episode.

But as she had a fruit pie thrown in her face, you didn’t actually ‘see’ her.

Oh, and Vera’s pie faced character is played by Norm (George Wendt’s) wife in real life.

If you are reading this story in your email.

Pop to this link because there’s an image you need to see for it to make most sense: https://www.50odd.co.uk/echoes/.

This House. 

This house makes me feel funny.

Honestly.

It makes me feel tingly.

Backstory.

I was brought up on Manchester in a small semi-detached.

My dad cleared off when I was 11.

So my mum brought up me, my sister and my brother – alone.

We were always a bit skint, I suppose.

But we were OK.

I had many paper rounds and retail jobs and bar jobs so I was fine financially.

But I was lazy academically back then.

Quite childish, actually.

So I came out of Northumbria University with a very ordinary 2:2 result.

Graduation.

Between the age of 20 and 40 I worked hard.

I loved my work.

I was so naive, young, inexperienced, fearlessly creative and blind to what was risky and what wasn’t risky in business – that I was brilliant at running businesses.

I built 4 of them in this time.

Businesses that turned over seven figures for a few years at their peak.

And Lisa and I bought this house.

The one in the picture.

Hirst Head Farm.

Seeing a photo of Hirst Head Farm still makes me feel excited.

It was – and probably still is – beautiful.

In every single detail.

We made it palatial and characterful and deeply experiential as a place as well as a home.

Lisa, Colin the dog and I had everything.

In our ‘forever house’.

Yet, as sometimes happens in life.

Surprises come.

And after just one full year in our forever house.

Maybe a little longer.

Lisa and I separated.

Echoes.

There are echoes of this house in my life even today.

8 years later.

Echoes of regret, mostly.

And confusion.

Because even though I know regret is a fruitless emotion.

And even thought I know the house was the right home at the wrong time.

It still hurts a bit.

Because it is a great source of regret for me that we are no longer there.

Yet it also reminds me of my sadness.

My loneliness.

My bad behaviour.

My selfishness.

My cruelty.

But mostly.

‘My fault.

Years.

I’ve waited years for the echoes of this chapter of my life to go away.

But I don’t think they ever will.

Life’s like that I suppose.

Confusing.

Because whilst I know that I’d never go back there.

Even if I could.

The echo remains.

PS

As a PS.

Two things quieten the echo.

  1. Remembering that what I still have, and now have, are far more precious than anything in the photograph with this story.
  2. Everything that I loved that  is in this photograph, with the right application, focus and hard work – can be won again.

There.

The echoes are a little quieter now.