Holiday … Celebrate … and be grateful, if you can!

It’s that time of the year again, at least in my part of the world. It’s called holiday season, some call it vacation, some annual leave. I like all three of these words:

HOLIDAY = A couple of Holy Days away from everyday life and stress and worries and troubles, or – if you have no troubles – simply a holy time out.

VACATION = A couple of Vacant Days, vacant of everyday life and stress and worries and troubles.

ANNUAL LEAVE = The time of the year when you are able and allowed to leave it all behind, leave everyday life and stress and worries and troubles simply be. In German we say “Den Herrgott einen guten Mann sein lassen.”

That’s where I’m heading: My annual leave time, holy days with family and without digital devices or at least online services, my time that is vacant of what is “normal” – a time that is needed to reboot, to fuel offline thoughts, experience new, non-transmedia stories, stories that will lead to new stories when I re-enter the normality sphere again.

And my time to thank God or this Herrgott (or whoever that is watching over us, but I tend to call him / her that based on a lack of alternatives, or is it just a habit?) that I am in the fortunate position to be able to actually have a normality to leave behind for another holiday-vacation-leave anormality. In times when there are wars raging in over 45 countries on this planet, senseless, meaningless wars that leave behind so many people who would give their lives to experience my normality, the normality I’m fleeing from right now.

It’s a cruel world. Not much I can do about it from here, but it does help to bring everyday life and stress and worries and troubles into perspective. Sure, everything is relative, but still.

I know that I can be happy to be allowed to be happy and healthy – and able to experience stories that are not life-threatening dramas.

Thank you.

Happy Holidays!

Celebrate!

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Will Transmedia eat itself for lunch? Or is it the end of Storytelling as we know it?

S T O R Y T E L L I N G …
probably mankind’s oldest communication megatrend.

T R A N S M E D I A …
probably one of the most used communication megatrend buzzwords in mankind’s recent history.

T R A N S M E D I A  S T O R Y T E L L I N G …
probably the most promising combination of communication megatrends for the future.

Some may ask: “WTF’s that supposed to be again???”

Here’s an attempt from The Source of Internet Wisdom:

“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.

From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.

 

A lot of story stuff involved, so I tend to like it, naturally. But also a lot of (digital) technology, channels, platforms. So, really something new? Or just an evolution version of our oldest megatrend, a Storytelling x.0?

Let’s take a look at where the concept stems from:

Transmedia as an idea of collaborative, multi-platform creation and narration origins in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century, in the area of telematic art, where artists experimented with collaborative narration and defined the idea of transmedia.

It soon moved on to the gaming industry, creating so-called Alternate Reality Games (ARG). These are  games that, based on the Internet as a main hub, use(d) multiple other technological platforms like telephones, email and real offline mail to tell and simultaneously create different parts of the game’s story in those medial habitats relevant to the players. So not just transmedia telling,  but transmedia engagement that requires interaction from every gamer in order to bring the game’s plot to the next level. In other words: “Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities.” (Wikipedia) An early example being Ong’s Hat.

The next transmedia stop was cinema, bringing the whole idea of alternate realities not only to the screen itself (where we had long been used to getting immersed in alternate worlds), but also connecting these to our real, every day lives. The most prominent example certainly being 1999’s “Blair Witch Project”:

 

This was not only a mocumentary, i.e. a piece of fiction pretending to be documentary, but also accompanied by a variety of additional, supporting pieces of content such as faked diaries, police reports or interviews that in itself engaged the audience in a captivating manner, adding to the cinema story’s apparent verisimilitude.

That was 15 years ago, and just the beginning …

Since a couple of years, also the commercial world of business communications has started to smell the rat? As always, the more consumer-oriented businesses are on the fore-front here with pioneers like Nike or Lego, but it won’t be long before the so-called B2B world will catch up.

So what could all of this mean for business communications and marketing? What can we learn from arts and entertainment?

I recently read this article on transmedialab.org that instinctively made me want to caution a “because we can” attitude that often pairs with technological advancements. The article basically was about the next big thing in cinema and henceforth modern storytelling. Not an R&D future project, but already on the audiences’ threshold.

The article begins with a short analysis of the film “APP”. http://www.indiewire.com/article/watch-now-exclusive-trailer-for-app-second-screen-thrillerAPP is the first-ever movie that was written and produced with a 2nd-screen experience in mind, regularly adding content to your phone app while the of the film’s content unfolds on the traditional 1st cinema screen, and thus interrupting the movie’s actual narration.

Hmm, I thought.

Do I like this? Not too sure.

I’ll have to find out…

 

The article moves on with a glimpse into the labs of Disney’s experiments. These are currently limited to 2nd-screen “content interruptions” to back-catalog films like “The Little Mermaid”, but plans are to integrate the transmedia storytelling idea into the initial screen writing of future film productions.

http://www.transmedialab.org/en/the-blog-en/cinema-and-second-screen-applications-focus-on-the-film-app-and-the-disney-second-screen-experience/

Hmm, I thought, again.

Ambiguity crawling in …

The angel (or is it the devil?) on my shoulder says something like Yalda Uhl who states that “it is very important to engage children in a narration, and that is very difficult to do nowadays with all the distractions and stimulations that surround them. Adding a distraction in cinemas will definitely not help studios to achieve their goal of creating value or attracting an audience that will return to the cinema in the future”. Yes, says the angel (or devil)! REDUCE the distractions! Foster concentration spans! Concentrate on true narration and storytelling to immerse audiences in your story! Don’t just do stuff, because you technically can, audiences will soon get tired and will want to go back to good old traditional storytelling! Transmedia will eat itself for lunch! I knew it!

Then there’s this devil (or angel?) on the other shoulder talking about “story engagement” instead of boring one-way “story telling”. Making it clear to me that the potential of transmedia entertainment and the disruption of handed-down reception models is not only exiting, but in fact the only way to go. For entertainment as much as for business communications, both of them dealing with humans in the end. That today’s young and thus tomorrow’s adult generation will continue to literally gag for regular interruptions in their lives’ routines … and that linear, beginning-to-end storytelling is over, that no one will listen anymore, if there’s not more interactive engagement, audience involvement and multi-channel disruption.

Listening to both of them I begin to see, as with many things, there will be developments that we can’t stop, that will simply happen (because we CAN and because we as humans will simply WANT it), whether I personally like them or not.

Maybe the following

THREE COMMANDMENTS OF TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING

can help steer technological developments into the right direction:

1. CONCENTRATE ON A GOOD STORY (ALONG THE PATH OF THE STORYCODEX).
Not matter which medium, no matter how many of them; not matter how fragmented and scattered:  A well-told, convincing narration offering a high degree of the “Like Me” effect will always work. It doesn’t have to be chronological, but it needs Expectation, Surprise, Conflict and Change. What will change is the people who will create this expectation, add the surprise and conflict spice, foster the narration’s change – this will not be a classical narrator instance anymore, this will be multiple parties engaging in different parts of a story from different angles and perspectives, in different places. But a story it will still be.

2. DON’T LET TECHNOLOGY LEAD THE WAY OF A STORY.
No matter what technological developments the future holds, no matter what devices will surface: Technology is simply an enabler, an easer, a multiplier, distributer, a vehicle. The true power lies in the human nature of communication, conversation, and storytelling.

3. TURN STORY TELLING INTO STORY ENGAGEMENT.
Do listen to, observe your audiences, and maybe(?) realize: The age of (traditional) story TELLING could be over. Never the age of STORY itself, but maybe tomorrow’s audiences will really want fragmentation, want to be stimulated from multiple sources and in multiple places. Of course, THE CONCEPT OF STORY will and cannot change, it’s genuinely human, but: Maybe the future is indeed more about story ENGAGEMENT, involving audiences actively in plot creation or character development. This would radically influence scripting, e.g. by taking devices and reception environments into consideration when writing a story’s various chapters.

Again, all of this holds true not only in arts and entertainment, but also in business, along the infamous, much recited “customer journey”, a journey that is getting more and more complicated, but – if you listen and truly get involved – ever more rewarding for all story and hence conversation participants.

Devil or Angel. Angel or Devil. Both?

Exciting, to say the least.

Hmm, I say.

Again.

How Does Story Relate to Business?

herr dennehy:

Although I find the following video a little too self-adverstising, and the first 30 seconds are basically a not-to-click teaser, I urge you to go beyond this initial downer.

Because: the essence of Robert McKee’s take on business story quoted here is actually worth inhaling:

  1. Allow the positive AND the negative!
  2. Don’t be afraid of EMOTIONS! All decisions, no matter how rational, cause change. And change causes emotion.

  3. Stories equip us to live. Data and pie charts do NOT!

  4. History’s best (or most influential) leaders (political, business, wherever) have been great storytellers, using stories to lead.

Now that’s definitely a good start to creating more meaningful, more convincing, more persuasive content in business communications.

Give it a try!

Originally posted on Story Blog:

Robert McKee has taught Story-in-Business all over the world. This quick clip from Brazil hints at some of the content of his one-day seminar.

Six Classic Errors in Business Story:

  1. Telling your story from the company’s view.
  2. Talking to the customer in the third person.
  3. Avoiding reality as way too “heavy”.
  4. Creating a gratuitious feel-good factor.
  5. Avoiding exact detail in the search for universality.
  6. Calling rhetorical exercises “stories” when they are only directed at the mental processes.

Featured Article:

Harvard Business Review: “Robert McKee on Storytelling That Moves People”

Why is persuasion so difficult, and what can you do to set people on fire? In search of answers to those questions, HBR senior editor Bronwyn Fryer paid a visit to Robert McKee, the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer. Read more.

Fall Seminar Dates

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The Lopsided Love Story of Mister G. and Mister D., Part 2: The Trip

“A part of me pre
A part of me post
A part of me present
One part of me ghost
A part of me wants to run.”

David Gray, “As The Crow Flies” (2014)

 

This is the story about pre me getting to know Mister G.:

It was sometime in the autumn of 1999, probably a rainy day, as autumn days tend to be. I was hanging around record stores with my friend and flat mate Martin, as so often in those days. In one of the more major-label stores in town, I literally (true story!) tripped over a massive Warner Bros. promotion stand advertising “White Ladder” (which is interesting, as the album was never really released with Warner Bros., but on David’s own label “IHT Records” under license to Warner Music UK Ltd., but probably IHT wouldn’t have had a stand in that record store, so there you go).

Anyway. I don’t know how or why, but somehow I felt, simply by looking at the cover, that I was standing in front of something different, something special, something that didn’t quite fit into this mainstream record store’s usual repertoire. I stepped a little closer, reached out for one of the CD’s that had fallen to the ground …

And then …

…All surrounding ambient sound faded. The atmosphere  became eerie, lights dimmed. A distant voice whispered into my ear “This record will change your life!”. It was like I had jumped the tracks of time and space. Fog coming from where the record store’s loudspeakers were, a very mystical Galadriel moment …

And then …

Nothing. Little storyteller’s detour, freedom to exaggerate and put the subtext into perspective. :) In real life, the store was boring and unmystically commercial, no ghosts of past-away singer-songwriter gods around directing me to my new love. I guess…

But I did indeed reach for one of the CD’s I had knocked down off of their pedestal, looked at the simple, yet somehow secretive cover, flipped sides, struck by the design’s focus on content, i.e. songs. Only 10, perfect amount. 8 always too close to an EP, suggesting a lack of material, 12 still ok, but already on the verge of being too much to grasp an album at first listening. Turning the CD back around, there was (and still is, I’ve never taken it off) this sticker with a review quote from “The Times”, saying: “It’s a record that makes your life feel better by its mere existence.” To date, this remains the best compliment for any artistic work that I’ve ever read. And a knock-down argument for me to buy the CD. Which I did.

The mother of all CD cover stickers! You can even see my hand reaching out to climb the White Ladder. :)
The mother of all CD cover stickers! You can even still see the hand reaching out to climb the White Ladder. :)

Guess this is what you call love at first sight, like meeting a woman in a bar or the office, knowing: This is the one. The beginning.

What happened next: overzealous attempts to get to know this new lover better, discover his history like an archeologist, getting lost in endless hours of hot rotations. Putting flesh to the bones of my new passion at the end of a century, secretly hoping Mister G. would be mine, be mine, remain mine, that he wouldn’t sell, sell, sell (out).

White Ladders’ drum intro alone: a statement, a clear move from raw singer-songwriting (that we know from album 1-3) to courageous upbeat folk pop without the often attached cheesiness. Creating an immediate atmosphere of minor mood turning into major pleasure, a promise the album is able to keep right up to the last chord after 57:17 minutes (excluding UK bonus track “(I Can’t Get) Through to Myself” and US bonus track “Babylon II”).

If that doesn’t get to you, nothing will:

 

This is the official video incl. David’s congenial ex-drummer Craig McClune, always a sensationally entertaining counterpart to his boss whenever they performed together – and I must admit: I have been missing him ever since he split up with David in 2006!

It’s tough to even select favourite tunes from this perfect album, but if I had to (which I gladly don’t), I’d definitely go for:

I. “This Year’s Love” (in this amazing live version):

 

II. “Nightblindness”, e-very-specially in this just mind-blowing live version from the London Roundhouse, unfortunately only the audio on YouTube, so close your eyes and escape for 11:05 minutes, worth every second:

 

III. (of course!) “Sail Away”, a single that literally changed my life … the intro of this live version being my official “Honey Ringtone” ever since it was published on the “Draw the Line” Deluxe Edition:

 

END OF PART 2.

PART 3 will be exploring the power of a song with its own story to change mine at the probably most important crossroads of my life so far …

The Lopsided Love Story of Mister G. and Mister D., Part 1: Prologue

Mutineers … Mister G.’s new album. Took him five years! Worth the wait?

MutineersCovFinal_1400px

First of all, a rather appropriate title for this medium-late chapter in the love story of Mister G. and Mister D. (a story only the latter is aware of, naturally).

Why? Well, I was veeery close to becoming mutinous with this Englishman after his last couple of albums. Not that I hated them, not at all, but I also couldn’t quite come around to truly loving them either. Even after many intensive listening sessions, I was always left with this feeling of “not bad, but nothing special”. Granted, a tough task for any artist to continuously come up with “something special” or “something even better” than the previous, especially for David after his 1998 masterpiece “White Ladder” – one of those records I would put amongst the infamous three to take to a deserted island with me. (Note to myself: Nobody ever asks you how you would actually listen to that record on a deserted island … ah whatever.)

Ever since David chose to sing about a “Life in Slow Motion”, that’s also kind of what happened to my infatuation with his music: A slow-motion of drifting apart, again only noticed by the D. side of the relationship, I presume.

Then a good friend of mine forwards a Financial Times article to me, an interview with David Gray, about birds (with and without wings), and about his new album – I wasn’t even aware that there was a new album forthcoming, that’s how detached I had become, never happened before. The interview was also about mutining your life, throwing all that’s behind you over board, starting anew, in fresh waters, into fresh air, like the many birds on this great new record.

Even while reading the article, I opened my Spotify treasure chest, checking. There it was, only three tracks pre-released for streaming, the first single’s title “Back in the World”. Back in mine? Sure feels good, to shake the monkey off my back …

As the first chords resound: White Ladder feeling, at least justified hope. The initial lines go:

“Every day when I open my eyes now

It feels like a Saturday

Taking down from the shelf

All the parts of myself that I packed away.”

I was taken away on the spot, by the sound, the mood, the “Please forgive me”-like percussion, the lyrics, and the voice, of course, strong as ever.

 

The second track available was “Beautiful Agony”. Hell yeah, the beauty of melancholy! My hidden passion. David singing about

“Love vandalising me

With beautiful agony.”

Who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? And then this calm, non-vandalising melody, moving from mantra to story with a free fall into minor keys accompanying the lines “Once upon a time / It wasn’t like this / Love was mine / So what the hell / Is happening here?”.

The third track: “Gulls”. A meditative album ending (as the partly inactive 11-track list suggested), an end-is-the-beginning-like song. The narrator maybe standing on the edge of a windy cliff, watching gulls fly, independent, yet somehow belonging to their cries, and their cries belonging to the wind … and the wind?

David’s rendition of “You Gotta Serve Somebody”?

“I gave my breath to the song

To the song, wasn’t mine

Neither of ship not of sea

Neither of glass nor of wine.”

 

LOVE RELOADED, after 3 songs!

And oh, how I love this percolating impatience, to get more, to hear the rest. This instant move to an online retail store, clicking “pre-order now”, and then waiting … waiting … waiting. Waiting for and then finally receiving a parcel, a vintage, deluxe feeling in the age of “I want it now, I get it now!” Of course I ordered the deluxe edition, with tons of new live recording of old songs. Arrived yesterday, and now I’m listening my way through the remaining 8 tracks … Soccer World Cup my behind!

 

But how did this lopsided love story between Mister G. and Mister D. begin in the first place?

Let me recall “the early years” … in Part 2 of this mutineer’s anecdote.

… How stumbling in a record store turned out to be a very consequential trip.

… And why “Sail Away” is responsible for “This Year’s Love” turning into “This Life’s Love”.

The StorycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change; Introducing “Hero 2.0”!!!

A couple of months ago, I introduced a schematic, illustrative version of what I believe is the essence of any good, real story: the “StorycodeX”. A very basic how-to and what-to-include. A code with must-have elements, but also a code that allows “X” variations, no one-fits-all execution, but a necessary basis in order to reach your storytelling purpose; be it entertainment, information, infotainment, messaging, catharsis, action, … you name it.

It started off like this, with Story Arc Phase 1:

storycodeX_DHD_1a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t that course almost every one of today’s so-called corporate or business “stories” is taking? It begins somewhere … and goes nowhere. Nuthin happenin. Boring! Like totally.

Gladly, there is always an end to this misery, but it’s not a story’s end, it’s an mpeg’s end, and sometimes this misery is a loooong torture. Such communication products are indeed a serious hazard to our mental and physical health, no kiddin, head injuries from falling asleep and banging your head on the table being just one of many to caution.

So, what we at least need is to rouse a little bit of EXPECTATION on the audience’s side, EXPECTATION that the above arrow is actually leading somewhere. And this somewhere needs to be a place we actually want to travel to:

storycodeX_DHD_1b

 

OK, now what happens when you create high EXPECTATIONS? Right: You’re gonna have to deliver. Deliver something interesting to the audience, something you ex- or implicitly promised in the first phase or your story arc. This suggestion can be made by means of story content (meaning the What, action or words) or story making (meaning the How of story creation, music, visuals, etc.). But if you create false hopes with cheesy, cheap special effects or bull-shit-bingo slogans, and then the above arrow goes on in an infinity loop of boredom, and there also goes your audience!

To avoid this mess, Story Arc Phase 2 kicks in:

storycodeX_DHD_2a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideally, this something happening is something SURPRISING, but definitely it needs to be something meaningful. Meaningful not for you as producer or maybe even the narrator, if you have one, but meaningful for the immanent story logic and its hero(es):

storycodeX_DHD_2b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such an incident again needs to ignite a new sense of EXPECTATION, a hope that this SURPRISING development in scene or action will actually lead somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere unexpected. Because: If just anything happens, expected or not, and the dotted arrow of boredom we started off with slithers on as before: There goes your audience, again. But this time it’s not only bored, now it’s also angry! Because you fooled them, lured them it into watching, listening or reading for longer than initially planned. And then (gee, you actually almost had them!): disappointment galore. Thank you for flying with Never Come Back Airlines!

What the audience was hoping, ideally even gagging for was: a turn in the story’s plot, in the hero’s life, leading him (or her, or them) to a different place (literally or psychologically, spiritually) as a consequence of everything that happened before. Hero and audience are confronted with a different world than when the narration commenced, and both need to deal with it:

storycodeX_DHD_3a

 

This altered direction is indeed a story’s (and in fact life’s) vital ingredient #1, an ingredient every good story ever told has (literally making story a metaphor for life). I’m talking about CHANGE:

storycodeX_DHD_3b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But no CHANGE without life’s vital ingredient #2: CONFLICT. Corporations hate this beast, lock it up in a cage, try to kill it in every part of their shiny, the-world-is-perfect advertising and PR, but the son of a gun somehow always manages to escape!

Life is full of CONFLICT. CONFLICT is life’s spice, the only ingredient that really fosters CHANGE – as in story. So, if life or a story just steadily flows like a calm river without anything happening, without any CONFLICT occurring, the result might be great for meditation, but when it comes to purposeful, infotaining storytelling, what you get is one great big “YAWN”. This CONFLICT need not be explicit or even literally happening: inner conflict or narrations in retrospect are very often even more exiting modes of storytelling than the in-your-face alternative.

So, somewhere above (or below or in the midst of) every plot, every action (f)lies:

storycodeX_DHD_4a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONFLICT, however, should never be a self-serving element, a shocker, a special effect. It needs to happen to someone, this someone being (oh, quelle surprise!) a human being. Not a product. Not a solution. Not a service. Generally: Not a thing. So if anyone comes around asking you to create a campaign where “the product is the hero”: Fire him! And if you can’t fire him, cause he’s your boss, please argue him out of this idea. “The product is the hero” communication efforts are the most dangerous of all in regards to the afore-mentioned banging-your-head-on-the-table hazard!

Seriously, I know it sounds real wacky and kind of common sense, but decades of engineers and product managers becoming part- or full-time communicators, decades of one-way make-believe and hiding-lies-behind-effects advertising is over. Maybe not completely, yet. Maybe not today, completely. But soon, definitely.

So, to complete the StorycodeX and give the picture both its frame and its core, I proudly present the conversion of HERO 1.0 (the one who started his journey on the left side of boredom arrow, lived through EXPECTATION, SURPRISE and CHANGE in one or numerous iterations, depending on the story’s epicness) into HERO 2.0 (a different version of the same person, altered, in a positive or negative way) through CONFLICT:

storycodeX_DHD_5

 

CONFLICT and business communications rejecting this phenomenon so fervently, refusing the acknowledgement of the negative is a great topic, definitely worth a blog post here … maybe some other day… :)

What if Giving up Control were not a Threat, but an Opportunity?

Copyright: article.wn.com

 

Let’s admit it: We’re all losing control.

First of all, in the part of life that we call private life.

Where the day starts with an always-charged, smart-ass smart phone coldly grinning at me, relentlessly turning Beethoven’s wonderful “Klavierkonzert Nr. 5 Es-Dur” into my own personal groundhog-day experience. Gladly, this hasn’t spoilt my love for this concerto yet: For years now, I prefer being carried from the land of peaceful sommeil et rêves to the gates of daylight by Ludwig’s silent power than by Steve’s awful ringtone selection or distressingly well-tempered radio hosts.

Still, Beethoven aside, that’s the first loss of control of the day. Over my morning. A control (I thought) I used to have, at least before my own school days when there was just me and eternity. And also after school’s early-bird-my-ass 13 years, at university, when I could freely decide whether to get up for some early-morning lecture, or not. Probably that was an illusion, too … Aaah, whatever!

But now control’s definitely gone, along with the good-night’s sleep from pre-children days that used to precede the alarm bell’s toll.

The rest of an average day just goes with a flow that doesn’t seem to be mine (or ours, more correctly) anymore: Shower, tooth-brush, razor. Wardrobe, kitchen, espresso machinetta. Wake up kids, dress up kids, breakfast kids. School, kindergarten, metro. First mails, social channel check, maybe a little Spotify or FM4 on the train, blocking the rest of the underground world with my on-ears. Then it’s on to the office with its own very special affluent of Outlook, multiple phones, meetings, inter-desk chats, occasional join lunch breaks and … social channel checks.  Metro back home, social channel check, more in a rush than in the morning. Dinner, kids to bed, cleaning up. 2100 hrs sharp: time for twosomeness, music, movies or … maybe writing a blog post?

But then: Swoosh! In comes this invisible force from out of nowhere, hangs leaden weights to my eye lids, message clear: Don’t fight it! You’re tired! Go to sleep … maybe last chance for a social channel check, then … zzzzzz.

OK, I may be overegging the pudding a little, but the point is clear: Life has taken control of me, not visa versa. But it’s never too late to fight back!

If only I weren’t so tired … :)

TIRED

 

Then there is this other part of life that we call business life.

And I’m not speaking work-life balance here, that’s an outdated, unrealistic concept anyway in the age of smart iDevices (not “i” as in internet, but “i” as in “i am the device and the device is me”).

I’m talking about the life of a business, of a company, of a cooperation, call it what you like.

Whereas I personally admit to the fact that I’m losing control and maybe have slight hope of escaping as time goes by, (most) enterprises actually still believe they are in control – a control they have literally already lost, and will never get back. In control of the products they produce and sell (Henry Ford’s many heirs still alive, producing cars in various shades of black: Shut up, eat your spinach, it’s good for you!). In control of the people they can hire, retain, or fire. And (this is most obviously the biggest heretic belief) in control of their brands, their reputation, their communication efforts.

Will anybody out there please wake up, open your eyes, put an oversized espresso machinetta on the stove, extra strong, and realize that the times they are a-changing, or better: have already a-changed???

Read a brief history of the Internet, then come again. It’s been a long time coming …

… So: What does this mean?

“Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.” (cluetrain.com, Thesis 18)

Opportunity is the right word. Not threat, as many still see it. Challenge maybe, yet a threat only for companies who decide to remain lonely regents of Shannon-Weaver Island. But opportunity for those who recognize that the sender-recipient model has served it’s time.

In private-life situations where networked kids are getting smarter, no longer just say “SIR, YES, SIR!” when you tell them what to do, but – like it or not – want to understand, want discourse, want dialogue, want to be taken seriously, and embark on a life-long conversation journey with their parents. And this is quite admirable, actually.

And in business-life situations all the same holds true for companies and their “kids”, which they disparagingly call stakeholders, users, target groups. But they’re actually people, human beings. Employees, customers, investors, journalists, bloggers, talents, politicians, etc.etc.etc. And as my kids are getting smarter by the day with their own real-life Internet (still very offline, gladly), so are a company’s kids, aided by the powerful global conversation that has begun through the Internet, “getting smarter – and getting smarter faster than most companies.” (cluetrain.com)

Whereas the Cluetrain Manifesto was at the time (very far-sighted, considering it was 1999) describing what was going on in a (compared to nowadays limited) community of Internet users and how this would need to impact the way corporations talk and act towards these networked, conversation-driven markets, I would like to take this notion a step further:

What if the future of companies, corporations and brands is a future, in which their brand story and their image no longer belongs to them?

What if these networked communities would not only co-create campaigns or isolated contents for companies (as they already do increasingly often today), but co-create and co-develop entire brands, communicatively manipulate a brand’s genes, its DNA? Co-write their history, story and stories?

What if reputation management wasn’t a thing a company could do by itself or have an expensive agency do, but something that is taken over by its “stakeholders”?

And now, while this still sounds like a threat, like a mob raging outside my fortress walls, here’s another thought:

What if … the above were all things a corporation would DELIBERATELY do?
Meaning: Go from telling “Who We Are!” to asking “Who Are We?” or “Who Should We Be?”

Imagine the outcome!

Imagine the level of relevance, content (as in “Zufriedenheit”), and respect you could harvest!

Imagine that you couldn’t imagine who you would be as a brand in, say, 50 years!

Imagine you could build a business not on ROI (Return on Invest), but on ROT (Return on Trust) or ROL (Return on Love)!

And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give.” (The Beatles, “The End”)

Gee, scary thought.

The recipient would become the sender, the sender the recipient. The crowd would become part of the communications, marketing and brand department, and corporate comms would diffuse in the crowd. True emancipation, the foundation stone for every lasting relationship that makes love and trust its pillars.

Taking Poe’s “Man of the Crowd” to the next level: The follower doesn’t simply watch his target vanish into the crowd, but would actually follow. Dive into a kind of Great Link like DS9’s Odo and his fellow shape-shifters, a place where sender and recipient, comms department and target groups, brands and stakeholders amalgamate, for the benefit of both …

Copyright: treknews.net

Freakin’ esoteric stuff!

So let’s better round this off with something more down-to-earth.

With the famous words of Robert Zimmerman:

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”

 

Thank you, Bob! Right on!

Ignore Your Audience! Or: Guy Clark’s Advice for Life, Love, and … True Storytelling

oldfriends

Granted, this interpretation might seem far-fetched, but hey, that’s the great thing about having my own blog: I can write, interpret and far-fetch as much as I like, ain’t nobody’s business but mine. :)

Thanks to my dear old friend Martin (old as in long-cherished, but also as in older than me, haha…and formerly known as “Müllermartinhallo” to people calling our shared apartment in Schwabing over 15 years ago … Gee, talking about old, is it that long ago???), I have been introduced to the power and beauty of Texan songwriters, bards and troubadours. Often scolded “Country Music” by ignorants (like me back then), “Texas Folk” (aka “Outlaw Country”, “Texas Country” or simply “Texas Music”) is much more, and something completely different. You can clearly hear it in its anti-Nashville sound and instrumentation, which actually brings it much closer to Woody Guthrie’s Folk, Hank Williams’ early Country and Western style, even Blues. One reason why it’s quite rightly often considered “roots music”, music that draws its inspiration and emotional power not only from the roots of American history and culture, but indeed from the roots of mankind, of human being.

Even though it is said that music has a universal power, which is certainly true, it’s the lyrics of many of these Texan songs that do it for me, no wonder: “Lyrical content is the backbone of Texas country”, as the web teaches us. I can indeed understand people simply not responding to hand-made music, raw stuff that sounds more like a garage than a BMG studio, but I do find it hard to appreciate lyrical and poetic numbness in people who don’t just bow down to some of the folk scene’s thrilling lines. And those troubadours like Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, John Prine, or even non-Texans John Gorka and Johnny Cash (unrightfully mistaken as a Nashville guy for too long) simply got it goin on the text side of life. True storytellers of true stories, not by “creative writing course”, but by nature, by heart.

Much has been written about folk music from Texas or elsewhere in the English-speaking world (the language barrier where I would actually draw the line, calling the rest “Volksmusik”or “Folkore”, but that’s surely arguable), and if you want to know all there is to know about Texas Folk, its origins, history, meaning as well as all its great exponents, you’d better ask my old friend Müllermartinhallo himself or read his own words at facebook.com/de.martin.wimmer or deinlandmeinland.com (where he tends to his alter ego Willi Ehms). Nobody knows more about that stuff than him – as I could witness in endless Martini and Ardbeg nights in Munich’s beautiful Schwabing at the end of the last century.

No, I’m not out to write an incompetent take two at a Wikipedia entry or compete with No Depression and other Roots authorities. What made me start this post was actually the short, but soul-pinching lyrics of one of my favorite North American singer-/songwriters Guy Clark (by coincidence from Texas) that have stuck in my heart and mind ever since I heard them first – and have not only accompanied me through life’s many introspective challenges and helped me make one or the other right decision. They have also proven true and helpful in explaining the essence of a good storyteller and good, true and successful storytelling, to myself, and to others.

I may not know all of Guy’s songs (yet), but I know and I LOVE this one for its simplistic beauty and truth, words to engrave into your wedding ring.

The song’s called “Come From The Heart”, very appropriately from his 1988 album “Old Friends”, and is goes like this:

 When I was a young man, my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You’re gonna have to learn to let go

You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work

Now here is the one thing that I keep forgetting
When everything is falling apart
In life as in love, what I need to remember
There’s such a thing as trying too hard

You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work


 

And the accompanying song sounds like this:

 


Now … How am I gonna turn the corner on this one? From words that come from the heart, about love and life, to business storytelling? Ah, c’mon! There must be some connection, or did I daydream it while listening to Guy’s song … is it indeed true that there is such a thing as trying too hard, also when blogging about storytelling and trying to find a story connection everywhere?

Ah, got it, I remember: “In life as in love”, it says. And what different is business life to “normal” life anyway? Humans, mostly men, playing a game of thrones, of love and hate, of life and death, even if gladly (most of the time) not in a literal sense, though it can hurt nonetheless. But also people (or colleagues) helping each other through tough times, providing a working environment worth remaining a part of. Or (now I’m really bending this one into shape here!) products (or solutions or services or whatever) actually helping people change their world for the better. These are all the stories great and small that – if true and told in the right way – can convince others and turn so-called “prospects” into customers or employees, or at least brand ambassadors.

And this right way of telling a story is: Truth, Authenticity, Integrity, Righteousness. And Boldness – a virtue most cooperations, especially from the so-called “old economy” or, simpler, the 19th and 20th century, still lack to an appalling degree. The courage to speak (or write) in the true, human and individual voices of each and every one of its employees or customers, even if doing it on behalf of the company. Let’s make one thing clear: There is no corporate voice, cooperations cannot speak, think, feel, or experience anything; it’s their people and the people the get in contact with (communicatively or while making business) who have this human voice that is “unmistakably genuine and can’t be faked”  – a voice that can come from the heart, that (if bold and courageous and self-confident enough) speaks like nobody’s listening, like nobody’s watching, like there is no audience.

So here a bone to chew on:

Ignore your audience!

Go on, try it: Tell your story as it is, without thinking about its reception before it’s even written (or filmed)! This may not (right away) be what you audience wants to hear, but it may be what you have to say, what you want to tell.

And it’s gotta come from the heart, if you want it to work.

 

Need to exchange unwanted Easter presents? “Story Cubes” is the perfect choice!

It’s a crux with these holidays: When you think they’re finally over, the next one is just around the bend. Christmas, birthdays, Saint’s Days, … and Easter. Just around the corner, again.

And even though our beloved Easter bunny (apparently) has limited storage capacities (unlike Santa with his big sack), there are somehow always some small oder medium-sized toys (so-called SMT’s) that find their way into the nest where only chocolate rabbits and sweets should be.

But what if good ol’ Bugs accidently brings a duplicate or something unpopular, something endlessly uncool?

No worries, I have a replacement recommendation for you. I mean for Mr. Bunny, of course.

It’s called “Story Cubes”, a simple, entertaining, educating game, and it’s about pure storytelling. The packaging says: “Age 6+”, but it also works with younger children, showing us once again that storytelling is a human gift, engraved into our DNA, a pure form of human communication behaviour for which you need no education, no theory, just infant practice.

 

storycubes

“Story Cubes” currently comes in three variations: the “classic” version, the “actions” version, and the “voyages ” version. You can play any variant on its own or randomly combine them.

It goes like this: There are 9 dices (aka cubes) per story cubes set, and every side of every cube carries a different image, like a monkey, the piece of a puzzle or a camera, for instance. The player whose turn it is throws all nine cubes at once. He then needs to bring the cubes into any given order by chaining one image to the next – like chapters of a story. While doing this, he tells the plot of the story he is just laying out on the table – the drama that turns the images from mere symbols into the different acts of a story. This can be short and sweet, or long and epic, depends on the player’s narrative breath and imagination.

What is interesting: The game has no winner or loser. It’s just about telling good, entertaining, surprising stories. Especially for children, but also for us grown-up’s, there’s a high level of creativity and imagination required, in order to have fun and entertain your fellow players.

Plus: You can’t fool kids like you can fool inapt managers or other advertising- and PR-spoilt business individuals: you can’t put anything over them, can’t simply chain one image or word to another and claim it’s a story, when it’s nothing more than bullet points or corporate messages (to stress the manager metaphor once again). And I made the experience, while playing Story Cubes with my daughters, that the infant, naïve rejection of a boring, plot-free succession of words not only happens when they are forced to listen (aka as audience), but also when they are the storytellers themselves. They actually interrupt themselves with the comment “Can I start again? This story is boring, nothing’s happening!”

That’s how they learn the craft – and intuitively follow the StorycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. A CodeX that also needs another vital ingredient, the Hero or Protagonist who this surprising change is happening to, always an organic, unwitting part of my kids’ Story Cubes stories …

But I’ll write about the Hero Phenomenon in a later post – when I’m back from my Easter Holidays, NOT playing Story Cubes, as the rest of the Mr. Bunny’s presents were indeed a slam-dunk. :)

Confessions from a Breakfast Table

OK, I have a confession to make.

And this is really not an easy one.

So … There is this German pop singer. I really detest his banal, friendship-book-like lyrics, his schlager music style, hate his “I am your favorite son-in-law” attitude. Gives me goose pimples on my eardrum. Kind of my Lord Voldemort of Music, he who must not be named, let alone listened to.

But then something happened and forced me to reconsider … grrrr!

Crime scene, once again, the breakfast table. Sitting together with a little spare time, on our plates all the things children do that have the potential of becoming the source for an unexpected change of perspective. The girls had been singing this song called “Lieder” (“Songs”), My Musical Lord Voldemort’s latest œuvre, for days, almost off by heart. The song had also been permeating my sensitive auricles for weeks, in shopping malls, as background purring in soap operas, or on 40+ radio stations day in, day out, perpetrating the notion that the Lord was doing it again. Ooops style.

The girls’ tweeting at the top of their voices, knowing the lyric’s word by word, if not the meaning, forced (and continues to force) me not only to damage my Spotify playlist image, but also watch the guy’s very unsubtle video on PutPat like a trillion times in a row, and listen a little closer.

Now that really ticked me off! Liquid substance coming for from my lachrymal sacks listening to this kitsch? Ah, c’mon! For no rational reason at all: The melody is mediocre, the arrangement and production middle-of-the-road pop, the lyrics far from anything poetic, intellectually ambitious or sophisticated.

BUT … Voldemort is, in these 3 minutes and 50 seconds, well, not actually telling a story, but implying one. The big story of collective memory, brought to life through a vast number of song titles from the past decades of pop culture. Every single one of these titles hints at a very different memorial story in all the different hearts and minds of its listeners, snowballing emotions that the narrator may be hoping for, but surely cannot know or predict.

It’s a cheap trick, and not particularly well done, judged with the rational part of your self, but it works, with the emotional half. If you put aside your intellectual coolness barrier and let your thoughts take this trip down memory lane. Unbiased and, yes, with the eyes of a child – which is quite fitting in the case of “Lieder”, as most listeners who allow retrogressive tears to well up here probably were in their infancy or adolescence when the mentioned songs were in the charts or en vogue, hence surfaced from the masses of music to become music for the masses and memory makers for many an individual. Including me.

The songs that “Lieder” refers to can be found in the following playlist, and I BET you, you’ll be kick starting your hippocampus within seconds, with images that are completely different from the ones that I have, but I betcha they are there, if you allow them to.

 

 

And here’s the list in words, just for the record.

So what do I take from my own personal Lieder Experience, apart from a couple of pudent tears?

Our lives are indeed made up of stories. Not facts, dates and names, it’s the stories that make all of them come to life and live on in our memories, no matter how much time has passed. We will forget the names of people we went to university with, forget the bad marks we got in school, maybe even the name of the girl who dumped us when we were 14. But we will never forget the song that was playing on the radio, on our Sony Walkman or from the loudspeakers at a youth club party when we were feeling sorry for ourselves for whatever reason. Or happy. Or whatever the feeling was. And behind every feeling, there is a story.

So whether it’s Walk like an Egyptian, When Doves Cry, Voodoo Child, Like A Rolling Stone, Just Died In Your Arms Tonight, Bochum, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, What A Wonderful World, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, Heroes, Unbelievable, Purple Rain, Firestarter, I Will Always Love You, You Are Not Alone, Welcome To The Jungle, Personal Jesus, Insane In The Brain, When Will I Be Famous, König von Deutschland, End Of The Road, Loser, Killing In The Name Of, or Come As You Are … there’s probably a million stories secured in a million hearts and connected to one or more of these songs, maybe even one or more per specific lyric line.

And that’s the sole, but powerful beauty of “Lieder”.

No, allow me to correct myself, there is indeed another beauty to it: It makes me look forward to the day when my two little ones are big and (hopefully) interested enough in all those pearls that He-who-must-not-be-listened-to is singing about, maybe even like one or the other song or story. And probably the song “Lieder” itself will, whether I like it or not, become a new link in my chain of songs worth remembering – not because they were especially great, but because they remind me of special moments of my life.

Like sitting at the breakfast table, morning in, morning out, with two little voices of Germany listening to, watching and reciting  this tune, regardless of the tight schedule before school-kindergarden-work. And reminiscing stories, thoughts, dreams and feelings surfacing after ages of subconscious burial.

After all, with music, it’s like with important scents in our lives: Even though in hindsight they might actually stink, they take you back decades in a flash … and memory is indeed a gracious, merciful and forgiving companion.