UPDATE: The inaugural Digital Storytelling Unconference (DSU) will be held on July 7 at The Network Hub in New Westminster, located at the beautiful waterfront setting of the River Market.
Tickets: $15 early bird and $20 after that and at the door.
For the latest information, visit the DSU wiki. To volunteer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The word storytelling gets bandied an awful lot these days. It’s a term that has currency in industries and communities as diverse as activism, health care, advertising and art. It’s possible that the recent fascination with narrative comes out the immense possibilities that emerge out of digital technology—with each new web app, open-source community or forum, countless avenues for creativity and connection are opened up. With so much recent exploration in this arena, it feels like time to reflect on how digital tools and culture intersect with storytelling.
Since their formative January Forum, John, Echo’s creative director, and our studiomates Denim & Steel have been meeting as a digital/storytelling working group, spearheading conversation on this topic. In the hopes of expanding the conversation, this week, Tylor and Todd issued a call for interest in a summer Digital Storytelling Unconference in Vancouver:
Rather than a place to tell stories, this is about bringing together people from … ‘hard culture/soft culture’ (digital and analog) to see how traditional storytelling practice can inform digital tool-making, and what emerging opportunities digital tools offer storytellers.
Whether you’re interested in attending, presenting or organizing, please get in touch with Todd and Tylor through Twitter, or email them at hello @ denimandsteel.com.
When Sam expanded the company and moved to the 2,500-square-foot loft space I’m sitting in now, I bet she didn’t realize that along with all the great space, she’d get some bright and brilliant tenants to share the office with—like Denim & Steel and Boxcar Marketing.
Last year, Tylor and Todd of Denim & Steel asked our creative director, John, to be the guest speaker at one of their For Ideas Beyond Tech forums. The speaker series invites members of the technology community to come listen to “people with something to share from outside the tech bubble.”
Naturally, John spoke about the art of storytelling—it’s one of the many things he does brilliantly. So, on Wednesday night, John entertained and charmed the enthusiastic forum attendees with some unexpected ideas. Writes Todd:
Starting with a gallop through the forms that storytelling has taken through history, John looked at how the pre-copyright practices of oral tradition, where story elements were borrowed, modified, mixed and matched have come back to us with the digital tools so widely available. Today’s remixer is yesteryear’s creative orator.
Predictably, the forum attendees got thinking and were inspired to have John lead the formation of a digital storytelling lab. We’re excited to see what these mad scientists will concoct: touch-screen memoirs? 3-D animated family trees?
Monique from Boxcar was one of the forum’s lucky attendees, too, and is a digital marketer. After the gathering on Wednesday night, she wrote a great guide to storytelling for businesses.
After the forum, our office’s (online) stories are all connected and we’re all connected by storytelling.
For more about upcoming forums, see Denim & Steel’s website, and click here to read John’s story.
“History is the ship carrying living memories to the future.” – Sir Stephen Spender
I met with Chad Pulley today, the Senior Manager of Brand and Creative Services at Black & Veatch, a global engineering company based in Kansas City. They are coming up on their 100th anniversary in 2015 and are interested in having a book written about the company’s remarkable history.
This is a company that solves the most complex infrastructure challenges in the world, but that’s not what impressed me the most about them. What won me over was when Chad told me that their CEO widely refers to himself as a “steward of company history.”
He gets it.
He understands that what he does today is tomorrow’s history, but that history doesn’t disappear. It continues to affect and shape the future, and it deserves to be documented so that future generations of employees understand how the company came to be what it is. Stewardship is management, yet not all management is stewardship. Clearly, this is a leader with a heightened sense of responsibility and duty – his employees in over 110 offices worldwide are the luckier for it.
We are starting work next month on an exciting new book for Agnico-Eagle Mines, a gold producer with mines in Canada, Mexico, Finland and the US. After I met with CEO Sean Boyd and Chairman Jim Nasso, Jim sent me a newsletter put out by their team in Baker Lake in the Nunavut territory of Northern Canada. To give you a sense of how far north it is, it got to minus 55 degrees celcius there this winter!
Company newsletters are often used to disseminate information, but Harvard Business School recent research shows that the majority of employees don’t learn well by reading information in newsletters, based on how much they retained two weeks after reading the material. However, when newsletters include stories designed to impart company values, employees absorb the material remarkably well and are able to repeat the stories in great detail two months later.
The story in Agnico-Eagle’s Baker Lake newsletter that caught my attention was about a young man named Vince in his late twenties who came to work for the company as a Night Watchman but has since been promoted to Driller Operator. He talks about how exciting it is to set goals and see them fulfilled, and the pride he has in being able to buy food for himself and his parents. It may sound like a simple story, but in a province where the suicide rate for men is 40 times the national average, Agnico-Eagle’s Baker Lake mine is a lifeline for men like Vince.
Two key company values at Agnico-Eagle are employing local people in all their operations, and providing opportunities for their employees to grow and develop inside the company. The story about Vince perfectly captures these values, in a simple yet memorable way.
One of my favourite clients, Frank Giustra, is one of the founders behind Streetohome, a foundation that brings together people from all sectors of Vancouver – business, non-profits, government, and citizens – to find and implement real solutions to the problems of homelessness in our city.
Today, the foundation announced that business leaders are hoping to raise $26.5 million to build permanent supportive housing in Vancouver. Frank donated $5 million of his own money to launch the campaign.
This is a story where the ending was written first. As our former Premier Mike Harcourt said: “There’s a real chance that Vancouver could be one of the first cities in North America to abolish homelessness.”
It reminds me of the galvanizing effect of John F. Kennedy’s famous speech: “We choose to go to the moon…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” You can read the whole speech here.
The next time you tell your company’s story, try telling the ending first. See what effect it has on your employees. My guess is you will find them so excited by the promise of that future, thay they will be enthusiastic to help you get there.
We were invited last year to help the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) create a book to commemorate their 100-year anniversary. As a Vancouverite by birth, this was a serious honour. The PNE is a non-profit organization that serves the city in many ways, one of which is to host an annual 17-day fair, which was once the second largest in the world after the New York State Fair.
Basically, if you grew up or spent any significant time in Vancouver, you have a story about the PNE. It’s like very few other insitutions in its fan base. People really, really love the PNE.
Our task was to gather the best and most emotionally evocative anecdotes about the PNE over the past century and weave those stories with over 1,200 images sources from countless archives. It was a huge project for us – both in scope and profile – and with the PNE ordering 5,000 copies and selling them this year at the Fair, we knew we had to deliver something truly outstanding.
When Shelley Frost, the PNE’s VP of Marketing, received the book, here is what she wrote to us: “I wanted to let you know that we just cracked the first carton and unwrapped our very first 100th Anniversary Commemorative book. It is absolutely spectacular and surpasses our expectations in its grandeur. Stunning, elegant, vibrant and colourfully fun…just what we wanted. Thank you all for being so talented and great to work with. We couldn’t be happier that we put this project in your hands.”
Did I mention how great the PNE team was to work with? They were insightful, gracious and fun. And our team at Echo – Beverly, Lindsay, Kate, Heather, John and Norm – pulled out all the stops to make it fantastic and get it done on time.
The pièce de resistance? Michael Bublé wrote the foreword. How cool is that?
You’ve got to love a company that has a “Chief Storyteller” on its executive team.
Inside Nike, employees across the board know the story of how Nike was founded. And not just the broad overview case study that any MBA graduate can rattle off. Employees know it in all its emotional and dramatic detail, thanks to a two-day orientation that every employee goes through to kick-off their work with the company, and the story of Nike’s heritage is the first item on the agenda.
The low turnover at the company’s headquarters – despite a roller-coaster of public opinion over the past 20 years – attests to the success of this program.
“Every company has a history,” says Dave Pearson, 43, a Nike training manager and storyteller. “But we have a little bit more than a history. We have a heritage, something that’s still relevant today. If we connect people to that, chances are that they won’t view Nike as just another place to work.”
History is just a chain of events; heritage is your powerful internal brand. What is your company’s heritage?
Read more about Nike’s innovative heritage program in this Fast Company article.
A study was recently released in Quebec that tracks the effects of TV viewing on children’s physical, emotional and intellectual growth.
No surprise – every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers corresponded to a future decrease in classroom engagement.
TV is an exceptionally passive activity, but it made me think about how we take on storytelling in the workplace and how active we can dare ourselves to be.
Intranets are one way that companies have been experimenting with engaged storytelling methods. Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen posted his 10 best intranets of 2010. Nice to see that a Canadian company, Enbridge, made the cut this year. It’s no shock that social networking factored into the successful ones. Whether you like it or not, social networking is here to stay and while it has its drawbacks, engagement isn’t one of them.
Japanese internet content security company Trend Micro’s intranet, TrendSpace, includes employee-contributed content. Or there’s US-based non-profit MITRE’s social bookmarking service that lets employees share their favourite links.
Here’s a crazy idea. What would happen if you challenged your corporate communications team to revolutionize your company newsletter with this vision – be more captivating than Facebook.
If that makes you tremble in your boots, what does that say about your corporate culture? What would your employees say if they knew they would be heard by everyone?
You might be surprised. You just might find a passionately engaged team on your hands.
I attended a performance today of Mozart’s Requiem. My über-talented friend Jen was singing in the choir so I went partly to support her, and partly because I occasionally feel I owe it to my ears and my mind to immerse them in sounds other than talking.
It got me thinking. If I couldn’t use words (Latin doesn’t count) to tell the story of my life, or my company, how would I do it? Would I paint an abstract image on a canvas, great streaks of violet and mustard, a whisper of grey in the far left corner? Would I commission Cirque de Soleil to perform a crescendo of spine-defying loops and leaps, set to uninhibited African tribal music? Would this be the truth?
Words are powerful tools and I could never abandon them. At the risk of exposing myself as an out-and-out geek, the dictionary remains on my top 10 lists of favourite books. But it is always an invigorating exercise to deprive ourselves of our biggest crutch, even if just for a few minutes, and imagine how we would survive without it.
As for Mozart, there’s a myth that he attended the performance of Allegri’s Misere in Rome at age 13. He wanted to see the score but when no one would let him, he wrote down the music from memory.
Is this a true story? Does it matter? To our minds perhaps, but not to our ears.
Why should your customers be expected to be loyal to you if your employees can’t explain how your company makes a difference?
An old fable illustrates this point perfectly. A man on his afternoon stroll sees three bricklayers at work. He asks the first one what he was doing. The man responds with irritation, “I’m laying bricks, what does it look like?” This gave the man no real insight into what they were building, so he asks the second man, who answers, “I’m building a wall.” The third bricklayer was whistling happily so the man decided to ask one more time. The bricklayer stopped working, wiped the sweat of his face, and smiled proudly, “I’m building the town’s new cathedral.”
Customers have so much consumer choice these days; they want to align their dollars with a brand that stands for something bigger. So that when they’re buying an Apple ibook, they’re actually buying creativity. And when they buy a Harley Davidson, they’re buying freedom.
World-renowned thought leader Nikos Mourkogiannis argues that companies can be divided into four type of purpose – discovery, excellence, altruism and heroism.
What does your company stand for? And does everybody inside the company know it?