The Age of the Storyteller

storyteller

I think we can all agree that these are challenging times for storytellers. Times brimming with opportunity for sure, but also pretty challenging. As we’ve discussed in previous posts over the past years, there are a lot of things to take into consideration and a lot of crossroads where choosing the right path – or paths, even – is crucial.

It could be worse though. I read an article the other day where insurance companies lamented their lack of success when is comes to getting the 18-35y old interested in life insurance, home insurance, car insurance… there’s a noticeable and undeniable change in all sorts of patterns of behavior.

In the article, the shift is indentified as being the effect of a number of causes:

” Young people simply don’t have the disposable income that they had in the past, thanks to a wicked combination of debt, poor job opportunities and expensive housing. Moreover, the sharing economy has taught many that just as you don’t need to own the DVD of the film you want to watch, you don’t need your own car to get around.”

Access is definitely becoming the new ownership, as Brian Chesky of Airbnb put it back in 2011 already. It’s no longer only about owning things, about showing off your new whatever-it-is-that-you-would-want-to-show-off… it’s about experiences, about things that you carry with you, in your memories, and not keep around and worry about.

There’s also the question of the financial situation of today’s younger generations, where study after study shows that young people will be poorer than their parents at every stage of their lives. Today’s young people have lived through the bust of 2008, more noticeable in some places than others for sure, but they’ve also struggled on the job market, on the housing market, just about everywhere.

Why do I talk about these issues? Well, simply because of what was stated a couple of paragraphs up. We’re looking at generations of people NOT looking to own a new car or a fancy apartment – if from convenience or financial possibilities or something else – but instead looking to have experiences to enrich their lives. As storytellers, that’s exactly what we should be providing them with – access to experiences on different scales, with different demands, different possibilities to dive in and engage, different communities, different niches…. And not tied down to material things.

I feel there is a slight shift needed in mentality on our – or at least my – part, where I can think of the content and the stories I create as being the equivalent, experience-wise, of buying a new car or something else. An experience can be as profound and as rewarding… and in fact, even more rewarding, as it can – and should – be expanded, built upon and engaging in the long term in a way few physical, static objects can.

Is the age of the storyteller here? It very well might be.

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11 thoughts on “The Age of the Storyteller

  1. Hi Simon,
    Very thoughtful! In some respect, it’s always the year of the storyteller. Your post, however, speaks to the important role stories play in how we make meaning out of the events around us (and our passage through it). This is particularly important in times of change. As you argue, we have to find new meaning and purpose and, essentially, create a new normal (over-used expression, sorry)–another way of saying that is we create a new story, whether it’s a generational one or has some other roots. The boomers had a story, for example, but it’s one that doesn’t fit their children because their experience growing up was quite different and the world is a completely different place, largely due to social technologies. The fact that we can have this conversation (or have even met) is a tribute to that. It speaks to a different level of richness that comes of human connection largely WITHOUT place. This should generate new metaphors, protagonists and villains and new plots that capture and contextualize era-specific emotions and experience. Stories allow us to connect with each other on a deeper level in ways that validate our emotions and build bonds. Stories also speak to core needs for affiliation, meaning and instill a sense of competence. When we don’t know what’s going on, we feel helpless. When we can recast a story to find meaning, we feel more powerful.

    • Pamela, thanks for your thoughtful response! I wonder if – looking at the speed at which society and our place in it is evolving – we will ever catch up enough for there to be a new “normal”, without it instantly becoming the “old normal”… And yes, you are very right – the need to feel empowered is great, and stories help in that matter.

  2. Hi Simon,

    A very insightful and motivating article. I am glad I came across it.

    The age of storytellers has dawned due to the rise of the experience economy (where we as consumers are – intentionally or unintentionally – seeking out the experience rather than a particular product or service). Storytelling is still the best tool for the inception, interaction and immersion with an experience. But while globally some big brands and business have applied this technique to sustain engagement, the importance of stories is still realized in the entertainment industry. There is a long way to go before this goes from being a marketing buzzword to becoming an applied art form in different disciplines.

    Being a transmedia enthusiast by passion and story architect (in an ad agency) by profession, I do struggle many times in finding the right ways to apply many of the best practices of storytelling in solving some tangible needs especially since this is somewhat an unchartered territory (especially in India).

    Would love to hear your thoughts and guidance.

    • Thanks for your reply and your interest in my post! I’ve been working quite a bit with companies, corporate storytelling and ads as well, and I think I understand some of your concerns.

      If there is any guidance I can give it would be to stick to the principles of storytelling (and if possible multiplatform / transmedia storytelling) all through your initial development process of whatever project you’re working on. At some point, you will have to scale down, but by then you will have a notion of the most important platforms and aspects of the story you want to tell.

      It’s not an easy or quick road. The companies that pay the bill for the ads and the campaigns need to be shown the increased value of integrating story as an important part of any project. This is most conveniently done by showing increased revenue, hits, views, sales or whatever it is they are looking for, and being able to link this clearly to one or more aspects of the project that build on multiplatform / transmedia or “regular” storytelling.

      In that aspect I can’t help you though (unless you get me in as a consultant 🙂 ) – it’s up to you to create the projects and campaigns that showcase this fact – and it will be a fact, if you manage to create something good and engaging enough.

      • Hi Simon,

        I came across your article in a group on LinkedIn and find it indeed very interesting. I guess I will read some more of your articles here.

        However, you mentioned corporate storytelling, and I wanted to ask you a question that has been bothering me for quite a while: Have you ever considered storytelling to be “dangerous”? It is a powerful tool not uncommonly used to manipulate the audience. Just think of a corporation that gets caught up in a scandal. What will they try? Turn it into a story and play it down. The good thing: it works. The bad thing: it works. Since we are a storytelling animal, we can be convinced and manipulated by stories quite easily. And I fear this might be a bad thing. Especially, if this method takes over in all kinds of different disciplines – as anupriykanti pointed out.

        I’m very much looking forward to reading your thoughts on this.

        Best,
        Ina

      • Hi Ina,

        thanks for taking the time to comment. I certainly share your concerns. In the example you mention, using corporate storytelling to cover up a scandal or other, the risks are apparent. I feel, however, that the solution is not to NOT use storytelling in a corporate session, but rather to spread the skill of storytelling – and multiplatform storytelling in particular – as much as possible so that skilled storytellers can help tell the other side of such a story. I am also counting on the new generations growing up in a creative, storytellingbased society, being increasingly able to see through propaganda and display a healthy skepticism regarding messages from any kind of source (and companies with vested interests in particular).

      • Very interesting thinking, thanks for the input. I must admit, I never thought about it in this way. The more people know storytelling and its techniques and tools, the more will understand what they are presented. But probably, this will only apply to those who get proper education and/or are involved in this or similar topics. There will always be a great amount of people who either don’t understand what they are facing or just don’t care. Don’t you think? Still, I agree with you and I think today’s technologies and platforms provide a good base for the audience/consumers to tell the other side of the story (e.g. collaborative storytelling in Web 2.0).

        Do you think there can be “too much” storytelling?

      • If there ever is an excess of storytelling I think it will be filtered out quite naturally; no one will pay attention. And yes, not everyone – not in the least – will be bona fide storytellers, or know everything there is to know about storytelling as a craft and an art. But the more people are exposed to different kinds of storytelling, the more I believe they will know intuitively what is what. In a sense it’s like walking down the isle of a supermarket; we all know some brands are cheaper because they’re not as good, and we know some brands are overpriced because they’re certain kinds of brands. But we also know from experience or through recommendations which brands are just right for us, price and quality-wise.

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