Sports Illustrated Roots for Stories, Not the Team

The Thanksgiving break offered relaxation, pumpkin pie and plenty of football (sorry Niner fans).

My personal indulgence involved reading Sports Illustrated cover to cover.

The latest issue showcases long-form journalism at its best, examining the broad issue of sports in America with the piece “In My Tribe.”

While I’ve pointed out that business communicators can take away lessons from the media coverage of sports, this particular article breaks down the storytelling component:

IT’S NOT ABOUT SCORES and stats, it’s about the stories. The players’ skill and athleticism can be mind-blowing, but without the backstories there is no connection. The excitement comes from knowing enough about the athletes to care who makes the shot and who misses.

You can apply this line of thinking to any company regardless of industry.

It’s not about the tractor or semiconductor or software.

The best corporate storytelling comes from bringing out the humanity in a company. Have you shared enough about the people so others will care?

Which requires digging out those backstories across the talent base, not just the executive ranks.

No question, humanity moves front and center when an individual or individuals achieve something perceived as daunting or impossible.

If Villanova beats another good team to win the NCAA championship in 1985, it’s reported the next day and over.

But when Villanova plays “David” in taking down the Goliath” known as Georgetown, the storytelling is so compelling that it ends up etched in history.

Contrast creates drama.

That’s why the chess matches between an IBM computer and world master Gary Kasparov in the mid 90′s captured the world’s attention.

Tough to beat the machine versus man angle.

I recognize such stark contrast typically doesn’t exist in the business world.

Still, framing a story with historical context can often be enough to bring some drama to the table.

As I like to simplify, the greater the difference between “what was” and “what is,” the stronger the storytelling.

Contrast also comes from winners and losers as pointed out by SI:

“We write about the winners and put them on TV and lavish them with money and fame and even put their faces on our cereal boxes. “But here was a searing reminder that competition is a zero-sum game. Much as we all love winners, sports necessarily creates losers too…”

Put on CNBC, Fox Business News, or Bloomberg TV and you’ll hear the anchors talking about winners and losers, stocks that spiked and stocks that tanked, etc.

The middle ground isn’t nearly as interesting.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Jim Signorelli December 17th, 2011 10:26 am

    Amen Brother!!!
    Too often we see companies talking about their scores or what they have achieved. But what we really care about is who they are, what they believe in and why they do what they do. Scores change all the time, but the spirit that drives the team is usually more permanent and predictive. Thanks for the great post!!

  2. Lou Hoffman December 17th, 2011 11:35 am

    Thanks for the positive words Jim.

    I think I’m going to “borrow your line: Scores change all the time, but the spirit that drives the team is usually more permanent and predictive.”

    And interesting.

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