Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of Ishmael’s Corner.
Nice round numbers suggest reflection, so here goes.
Building a readership is hard work — not exactly an alert-the-media insight, but one that has stayed with me over this 10-year trek. The periodic sense of toiling alone begat the line: “If a post falls in the forest and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?” No one is going to mistake me for Kafka.
At some point in the early days of the blog, I decided that writing with the primary objective of increasing readership was not working. There’s something beautifully ruthless about the Google Analytics console. My pivot — yes you can use this term even without a round of venture capital — was to write for an audience of one: me.
Before you peg me as a narcissist, hear out my rationale. I figured that if I offered a perspective that I found revealing or counterintuitive or amusing or fun or a combination of the four, others might too. I believe it was at this junction of truth that I also decided to pursue the long tail searches for [esoteric smart ass.]
Of course, hundreds of blogs already punctuated the communications landscape back in 2008. I needed a fresh frame where I could nudge and even shove those toiling under some form of the communications banner to places where they don’t normally go.
Rewinding the tape to that first post on July 10, 2008, I explain the direction:
Businesspeople tend to associate storytelling with fiction.
Yet, the same elements that make a book such as “Moby Dick” a compelling read — good versus evil, care for the characters, humor, etc. — have a place in the business world.
Whether it’s a potential customer evaluating your product or a journalist probing your latest news, communicating information in a more entertaining fashion increases your likeability quotient.
And customers, journalists, job candidates and even gadflies gravitate toward companies they like.
Unfortunately, this concept around storytelling is counterintuitive to many business executives, particularly those coming from engineering orientations where science rules the day. I’m not suggesting you need to lose an appendage to a large mammal before anyone will notice you, but the ability to build some drama in business communications is a means to capture attention.
That’s the idea behind this blog: To look at the art of storytelling through a business prism.
No doubt, most blog postings will draw from the media world — defining media as any from journalists to an individual with a virtual soapbox — since the words are right there in the public domain to scrutinize. But this blog will strive to tackle the bigger challenge of communicating to the outside world in a more entertaining fashion.
While the blog addresses all forms of communications, I’ve tried to stay true to emphasizing “a look at the art of storytelling through a business prism.”
Devoting time to the topic of storytelling in business when today finds that everyone and their mother — or at least my mom — have jumped on the bandwagon seems obvious. Yet, the mainstream viewed the concept as squishy when I started the blog. Jason Miller aggregated LinkedIn data showing the number of marketers listing storytelling as a skill on their LinkedIn profiles from 2010 to 2017. As you can see, traction for the term starts in mid-2011.
Of course, my definition of storytelling in business communications is less about the classic story arc — a start, an end and something going haywire in between — and more about storytelling techniques. This philosophy earned the ire of the National Storytelling Network which dressed me down and up (twice as harsh as just being dressed down) for “misrepresenting storytelling.” Naturally, I wear the note as a badge of honor.
Back to the reflection — where are we 935 posts later?
Obviously, the business world has wakened to the wonders of storytelling in communications. Still, while executives and even communicators often buy into the concept intellectually, they struggle with implementation. To bastardize the old Neil Sedaka song, “Opening Up is Hard to Do.” I like what colleague and friend Stephen Waddington recently shared with me. “Organizations don’t tell stories, people do.” That’s what brings humanity to the fore.
I’d like to think that after 935 posts I’m a better writer. The words from my high school English teachers — “Show, don’t tell” — don’t just make guest appearances in my brain. They constitute a relentless mantra even if my writing periodically says otherwise, a good segue for my favorite brush with fame. After writing about the essay “Block That Adjective” by best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith, he sent a get-out-of-jail-free card for my adjectives.
I didn’t plan for this happen, but the blog has become my version of a laboratory. I can experiment with words and the visual side of storytelling knowing that if something blows up — as in bad explosion, not going viral on social media — the casualties are limited to me.
To commemorate the big One-Oh, a mix of posts is coming your way over the next couple of weeks. I’ve asked several people whom I respect to share their three cents on the state of storytelling. Pete Lewis, ex Fortune and New York Times journalist and the person I tag teamed with on our first storytelling workshop, will also share a perspective on the topic. In the spirit of failure, I’ve curated a post with what I consider to be my all-time worst posts. On the flipside, I’ll capture the most popular posts over the last 10 years. The classic infographic, “Storytelling vs Corporate Speak” has been updated and refreshed. And I plan to dust off a couple of the media interviews on this wacky topic of storytelling.
Don’t touch that dial!
I started this post talking about the difficulty of building a readership. The most precious commodity on the planet is one’s attention. There’s only so much time in a day, and finding entertainment like how many rubber bands it takes to detonate a watermelon is always just a click away.
I appreciate everyone who has dropped by my neighborhood. I feel lucky to have people who have devoted time to my takes.
I’m never going to have the visitor numbers of BuzzFeed.
Then again, I’m not having to resort to blowing up fruit to get attention.