I love talking about failure in the context of business storytelling.
It’s a tough one for executives because it’s counterintuitive. You never hear about a company hiring a PR agency “to get the bad word out.”
Yet, the ability to bring failure or even a problem to the narrative is what separates industrial-grade storytelling from “but enough about me; let’s talk about me” copy. Whether you call it tension or drama, there is none unless something bad happens, which sets the stage for the company to demonstrate its character in overcoming the bad stuff.
As a tool to hammer home this point, I’ve started using the Budweiser Puppy love video that misted eyes during last year’s Super Bowl. Take a look at the recut video below where we’ve eliminated the scene in which the stranger adopts the puppy and starts to drive away.
See what happens when you eliminate the bad stuff?
Maybe it’s quasi-cute storytelling, but it doesn’t trigger an emotional reaction. Instead of the classic story arc, the revised video plays out like this.
Now compare this to the original video storytelling in which it appears that the puppy will never see his best friend the horse again.
The original 60 seconds clearly deliver the classic story arc.
One of my favorite lines on this topic comes from Fortune journalist Patricia Sellers, who closes an interview with: “If failure isn’t part of the story, I’m not that interested.” (You can find the video of the interview here).
While Sellers makes clear the type of story she’s after, you can still bring tension to a story without the “F” word. After all, I wouldn’t exactly call the stranger scene in the Puppy Love video a failure.
But you do need to bring forth an obstacle, a struggle or something going terribly wrong so the story arc dips.
That allows the really storytelling to begin as the company or individual (or horse) start the climb for a form of redemption.
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut espoused the following for creative writing:
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
I’m not saying that business communicators must be sadistic to succeed in storytelling.
Sharing some bad stuff will do the trick.