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Future Brunch, Episode 5 with Storyteller, Michael Margolis

Exploring the art of narrative thinking, and celebrating the taste of chocolate.

Future Crunch
Future Crunch

You know how storytelling is a buzzword in business these days? Well, Michael is one of a handful of people on the planet responsible for that. In this episode, we talked about why narrative thinking is essential for today's business leaders and why, in the midst of a pandemic, the stories we tell each other really do matter. You can re-watch the recording by clicking on this link. There's a full transcript below too.

Future Brunch: Episode 5 - Why Stories Matter - Crowdcast
Register now for Future Crunch’s event on Crowdcast, scheduled to go live on Tuesday August 25, 2020 at 10:00 am AEST.

Gus

This is Future Brunch, a fortnightly live stream where we speak to awesome humans from every corner of the planet. Our only criteria, they have to have something valuable to say about this extraordinary hinge point in human history and what it means for our collective future. And they have to give a damn.

Tane

Before we dive into that, we should never forget the past. Two of us are broadcasting to you today from the locked down, but still beautiful, city of Melbourne, Australia, which sits on Aboriginal land. Land that was never ceded. We want to acknowledge that it's a privilege for us to be here on this land and have the opportunity to learn from the oldest continuous cultures on planet Earth and some of the greatest storytelling cultures in human history.

Gus

Our guest today is Michael Margolis. Welcome to Future Brunch!

Tane

Yeah. Welcome Michael.

Michael

Thanks guys. It's great to be here.

Tane

How are you and where are you?

Michael

I am doing great, especially any chance to catch up with two of my favorite old mates. I am in Culver City, which is a suburb of Los Angeles.

Gus

Nice to have you on board, Chocolate Thunder. Before we dive in, a few technical pointers. I heard somewhere recently, I think it was Twitter, that the collective noun for a group of white men speaking together is a podcast. But this, of course, isn't a podcast, it's a live event. And what's great about that is that we can draw on the diversity of our participants, their viewpoints, their lived experience, their insights. So please use the comment box, follow along. Your observations are a form of group sense making. By voicing what you're thinking, you're helping others who might be thinking the same or casting it into a new light.

Tane

We also want to draw your attention specifically to the question box down at the bottom, where you can ask questions during this webinar and I'll forward the questions so we can ask them. So please use this. We'll be dipping in and out of there and taking whatever is risen to the top. And I already see comments about our beards and even people from Peru, the U.S., Europe, and all over Australia and New Zealand. So welcome everyone. Let's get into it.

Gus

Great. Okay, Michael, so first question, straight off the rank, what has surprised you the most about 2020?

Michael

Not much really. It's been, I don't know, a pretty ordinary year if you asked me. No, I wish things could be more interesting. What do you think?

Gus

Ha. I don't think there's anything that could surprise us at this point. Everything's up in the air.

Tane

Yeah. I've had to learn to put my pants on to come to Zoom meetings. That's one of the biggest surprises I had.

Michael

Very important.

Gus

Michael, I want to kick off by asking you, so when we first advertised this event, someone wrote to us and they said, "What the hell does narrative thinking even mean?" I'm going to be perfectly honest, when I see that written on paper or I'll see it on screen, it sounds like a buzz word. So can you maybe help us by starting with maybe define, what is narrative thinking and why does it work?

Michael

Yeah. Absolutely. Well, have either of you ever heard of design thinking? Anybody who's listening? Right? Sure, it's a buzz word. But what does it mean? It's a philosophy. It's a discourse. Design thinking is about applying the principles of design to how we make the world, how we understand the world, how we understand the human experience and how we build and create things that better improve the human experience.

Similarly, narrative thinking is looking at the human experience through the lens of narrative. Right? So I'm a cultural anthropologist by training, and I have been working across the world of innovation and disruption for 20 plus years. And if you look at it in that context, narrative thinking becomes really a process of how you go about looking at the role that language plays in communicating ideas, in making meaning and that in many ways, the stories we tell literally make our world.

So there's a lot to our work where I've just been fascinated with, what is this new language set? How do we look at innovation and change through the perspective of narrative? And we can spend a lot more time unpacking all that.

Gus

Is narrative thinking something that we just do? We hear this a lot, that we're a storytelling species. It comes naturally to us. We all love, we enjoy stories. Isn't narrative thinking something that we're just born with naturally? What's the balance between nature and nurture when it comes to I guess practice of narrative thinking?

Michael

Yeah. Great question. As a human species, we're wired for narrative. Every experience, every object, every person is stored in the mind with a story that's attached to it. The question is, how conscious or intentional are we about those stories? So there's lots of stories that we're born into. There's lots of stories we take for granted. And then there's the stories we choose to live.

There's the stories that are intentional about the future we're trying to create. And so narrative thinking or what we also call building narrative intelligence is actually learning how to work with these invisible forces that are at play. Most of the time, if you actually look at every conflict in our lives, every obstacle we face in the course of business transformation or social change, if you actually break down whatever conflict is going on, it's usually because we feel lost in translation.

It's because we feel misunderstood, because in some way we have stories colliding where each of us have a different version of a story that we're projecting onto the other. And it leads to a lot of suffering. It leads to a lot of frustration. So part of the art and science of this is, how do we tell the right story for the future we're trying to create?

Gus

So what you're talking about here, is that narrative violation?

Michael

Well narrative violation is a great example of a buzzword. This is something that in the world of Silicon Valley, venture capitalists have become obsessed with. It's the notion of being a contrarian. And the question is, are you being a contrarian about the right things? Right? It's one thing to be a contrarian, and well, I don't agree with this, but oftentimes people are full of shit. It's like knowing how to actually be a contrarian on the right things and then be able to prove or demonstrate it out. So venture capitalists are often looking for a startup where they see them as a narrative violation within a category.

Where if everybody's moving in one direction, someone says, "No, there's a whole other way to do this and look at this." That's the way that a venture capitalist will look at this. When it comes to narrative works, venture capitalists are obsessed with narrative violation. And this is what anybody who's doing disruption in essence is doing. You're challenging the status quo. But the balance is … okay, it's one thing to violate an existing narrative, but then how are you going to bring forward the new narrative that people can embrace that doesn't feel like it's an attack on life as we know it?

Gus

Okay. So I suppose that's where this idea of this narrative thinking as a skillset becomes so important. A lot of this is theoretical, can you give us any examples? What is a great example of good narrative thinking in action? Maybe something that's current or something that you've seen recently. And what's an example of somewhere where maybe we could have done with some more narrative thinking?

Michael

The challenge about pointing out good narrative thinking is that usually the best narrative thinking is in some way political. That could be politics with a capital P or political, where we look at some of the most influential organizations and leaders in the world and what they're putting forward. So let's take a look at a couple of examples. Most recently, if you look at Barack Obama's speech at the latest DNC, Democratic National Convention, it's an incredible demonstration of rhetoric that was bringing the conversation back to the founding principles of America as an idea. And this is the thing that we often take for granted, right? America is an idea.

A distributed ledger is an idea. The democratization of learning is an idea. Solar renewable energy is an idea. All of these are ideas. In the case of Barack Obama, he brought things back to, what's the fundamental ethos of our country? What are the fundamental ideals? And really attempt revival of like, let's come back to these.

Another great example of this recently was Jeff Bezos in his testimony to Congress during the antitrust deliberations. Now, mind you, you may not agree with the power that Amazon and Facebook and other big companies have. And that could be a whole other conversation we can have at a fundamental discourse level. But if you actually look at his speech, he told the story of being raised from immigrant parents who had a hard scrabble. What they had to struggle to overcome and in how he is an immigrant success story and how Amazon empowers other immigrant success stories. So part of what we're looking for with narrative thinking is we're looking for a story to help make sense and meaning of our lives and the world all in front of us.

Tane

Okay. That's useful. I have a question. Do you tell a cohesive story outwards as well as inwards? Because I know the stories that you tell yourself are so important to change your outlook on life. Do you change your story that you tell other people versus the story that you tell yourself?

Michael

Can you ask me that question another way, Tane?

Tane

Okay. The stories that you tell yourself, are they different from the stories that you tell corporations, organizations, or your partner? Do you need distinction between those two or should they have some general cohesive theme?

Michael

There's so many ways we could explore an answer to that, but I will say that we live in an age right now where leadership is communication. So a lot of the time we spend is we work with leaders and teams inside many of the biggest companies in the world, and they're having to often communicate a vision and a strategy about what's coming next. And with disruption, it means that everybody needs a new story.

So companies have had to completely recalibrate their strategies and their paths forward. How do you go about bringing that vision and strategy to life? How do you humanize that? And so oftentimes what we're doing there is we're helping leaders connect that big strategic vision of the business back to their own personal story. The boundaries between the private and the public are getting smaller and smaller.

But there's a certain art to that. And certain leaders who are more comfortable with inviting people into their own personal story. And it's a challenge. It's definitely something that different people struggle with. So I don't know if I fully have answered your question, Tane, but I tend to focus … I'm always asking myself when it comes to a narrative, there's this question of: to what end? What's the future we're trying to create and are we telling the right story for that future?

Gus

The question I suppose that's related to that is, does it matter who's telling the story? This is actually something that we had from our audience, a question from Talia. It's about the idea of identity and the identity of the storyteller. Identity is obviously in such a huge part of the conversation in 2020. And what Talia wanted to know is that, does it matter who's telling the story? Gender, race, individual or organization, and how does that impact on how the stories are received?

Michael

You can't separate the message from the messenger. At the end of the day, it's not what you say, it's what people hear. So there's the story that you might be telling, but then really it's the story that your audience is telling themselves and what that means to them. So for example, Bianca, you're disappointed this is an all-male panel. That frame is filtering your experience of this conversation.

There's two things that leaders have to get really good at. Number one, as leaders, you have to be obsessed with understanding present reality. Getting as close to an accurate depiction of what is, what's right in front of us. And being able to understand that without judgment, it just is what it is, right? Because presenting reality is always going to be imperfect. There's always going to be something that's wrong. That's not perfect. That could be better. But we have to understand what is. And we have to be obsessed with that.

The other half as a leader is that we have to live in the future. We have to be thinking and looking at possibilities and opportunities. What's the gift of this moment? And then how do we shorten that gap between our vision of what is possible and the reality of what is? The trick in all of this is learning how to practice and cultivate compassion and non-judgment. Because it's when we get caught in this narrative loop of adversarial, oppositional, divisive rhetoric that separates rather than attracts.

That pushes away rather than pulls. So that's the slipstream for me. And we don't spend enough time when we look at the process of disruption, which by definition puts people on the defensive. We have to tell them a story about the future that is inclusive, that reinforces belonging. And these are the practices and principles in my latest book and in all of our work and the methods and tools that we teach around storytelling.

Gus

I think the role of identity is such an important conversation, and perhaps that's useful - the idea of looking and seeing what is in front of you and trying not to judge it too severely and yet at the same time say well look, everything in balance.

Michael

Our culture is obsessed with what's wrong, with what's broken, with what needs to be fixed.

Tane

Reality is flawed. Right?

Michael

Yes.

Tane

Do you have any examples of where you've taken a flaw or something wrong and changed the narrative around it and seen something or delivered it in a completely new light that has changed people's minds?

Michael

Yes. I've had the privilege of working with and advising Facebook over the last five years. Most people's relationship status with Facebook is: it's complicated. Let's be honest. But here's the interesting thing. When we started working with Facebook five years ago, one of the first teams we started working with was the product team.  This was a team that was looking at, okay, this is really the community building engine of Facebook. And they saw, recognized and believed that what was happening around community building is actually one of the most powerful things that happens on Facebook. But that wasn't really widely understood or embraced across the rest of Facebook. So we built a narrative around the structure of belonging in the digital age.

The fundamental idea we helped them with is that it doesn't matter where you were born, where you live, what you've studied in life, what degrees you have, how much money you make, the idea that you can go online and find other people like you, whether you have a chronic illness, whether you're trying to change your career, whether you've moved to a new town, whatever aspect of your identity, you can find other people like you.

That is actually revolutionary in human development, right? It's actually brought forward the further notions that everybody has a story and that everybody has a story worth telling. The reason why I love working with Facebook is that this is the biggest storytelling platform in the history of the universe. Think about that for a moment. Every time you log onto Facebook, you're being asked to narrate your life story in your own voice, on your own terms.

Tane

Yeah. And you curate your own story.

Michael

That has never happened. Exactly. And the challenge is, we've been given the keys to the castle, but it didn't come with an instruction manual. Facebook is as significant, if not more in the course of human development than Gutenberg's printing press. And in the democratization of storytelling, who are the storytellers? It used to be the elder, the shaman, the priest told the stories of our lives. Now, everybody can tell their story.

That's also a Pandora's Box. It's like, "Holy crap. Here comes everybody. We don't know who to trust and what to believe." Right? And then here's a platform, there's nothing on the planet that shakes collective consciousness at a bigger scale, or connects collective conscious at a bigger scale than Facebook Inc. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. The pneumatic paths of how fast ideas can travel. And so with that, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. It can be weaponized. There's all sorts of ways that that power can be abused. But we tend to overlook the gift. The gift is that we have this platform and these tools that allow us to self-narrate our own life story and to connect with others, overcoming geographical distance, overcoming every barrier imaginable to actually bring the world closer together.

So to make a long story short, the narrative that we built inside Facebook for this one product team has actually had an oversized influence on the whole company. They have evolved their North Star metric to meaningful social interaction as the new North Star metric that they're looking at. And it even shifted the company's mission statement to community building.

One of the things that I often see happening in the world of tech is, in the world of tech people that are obsessed with data. What I'm interested in is discourse. And what often happens is we're building technology, and this is a challenge Facebook faces, they build technology as social utilities. Well, here you go. We've got a groups, community building platform. We have a messaging platform. We have a marketplace platform. Do what you want.

And yet at the end of the day, what we have to do is communicate the discourse. Here's what's possible through this platform or tool. Here's what we believe in. And this is the job of leadership, of communicating and building a narrative about what is the role and value of this product in people's lives. And that's the piece that often gets overlooked because people are moving so fast that there isn't enough of a discourse layer that's being built inside large companies and institutions, especially as one is needing to communicate about change and transformation.

Gus

It's such an interesting topic, and the temptation is to go into this conflict place as soon as you started to talk about Big Tech, because that is the dominant story we are telling ourselves as a society right now. I want to stick on it a little bit longer because I think this is actually a really important conversation. And then what I want to do is dive a little bit more into some of these questions that we're getting from the audience. And I want to go a bit more into the technical art of narrative and storytelling.

Michael

Yeah, okay.

Gus

All right. Before I do that, what are some of the unintended consequences of creating the biggest and most powerful storytelling platform in human history? What is the unintended consequence of allowing everyone to tell a story and then watching as this human attraction to conflict or to bad news or to misinformation or to hate speech gets amplified because that's what we're evolved really to do.

We've got some deep evolutionary biases that turbocharge that process. What happens if narrative is a logic model of reality? If narrative is what forms our reality, then what happens if the dominant narrative on these big tech platforms becomes one of doom and fear and conflict? Is that something that we can fix or is that something that's inherent in the nature of the platform itself?

Michael

I think you have to look at it both ways. You've got to look at it from a bottoms up approach and from a top down approach. So from a bottom up perspective, we each are choosing how to narrate our own life story and what we're paying attention to, what we're sharing. And so ask yourself, is what you're posting on Facebook or any other social media platform, is it generative? Is it inspiring? Is it connective?

Or are you perpetuating cortisol, fight, flight or freeze? Are you perpetuating disconnection and separation? That's at a level of personal responsibility as individuals. And it's just a matter of choice. I think any of us can … Look, do you know that on Facebook, and forgive me if I start sounding like a pitch man, I've just worked with so many teams there and I believe in their work and I'm happy to talk also about all of the issues of their power and influence. There's the good, the bad and the ugly with Facebook.

But for instance, most people don't realize that $3 billion has been raised on Facebook for nonprofits all around the world. And that's done with zero fees. There is nothing else on the planet that comes close as a fund raising financial engine of growth for the social change sector. Nothing. And a lot of people, by the way, sharing a fundraiser or cause related content on Facebook is some of the highest velocity in terms of both how the algorithm ranks it and how people engage with that content. So this whole idea that, "Oh, there's only divisive content. There's only negative stuff." It's just a matter of what we're paying attention to. What's your media diet? Who are your friends? Who are you following? What groups and conversations you're a part of. So that's the bottoms up approach.

Now, the top down approach is if you're not telling the story as an organization or as a leader, if you're not telling the story, others are going to tell it for you. And leaders do not spend enough time filling that vacuum. And Facebook is equally as guilty of this. From a corporate strategy perspective, all of our work is internal, but from an external perspective, they just play defense. A lot of big companies have this mindset of a defensive mentality.

And I think it actually causes a lot of unintended consequences and harm because what people want, we need to narrate the future. We have to talk to people about where we are and where we're going. And it's a muscle that leaders are just learning how to do. This is part of the culture change that we're helping to facilitate and helping leaders understand that everything in leadership is communications.

Tane

Yeah. That's really important.

Gus

Look, I think the Facebook conversation and the good, the bad and the ugly of Big Tech, I think is a conversation that we could have all day long. I don't think it's an easy conversation to have. I think it's good to have alternative perspectives on it, but for now do you mind if we stick a pin in it -

Michael

Can I offer one last thing? If I can have the last word on it, which is the following. In the context of COVID, just one little thing. In the context of COVID, and put Facebook aside here for a moment. In the context of COVID, the two biggest growth industries on the planet right now that are driving our stock markets, and that are furthermore what we're looking to for solutions and answers, are tech and healthcare.

The fact that we're able to have this conversation right now, we're all in isolation, but we can cut across geographic boundaries to connect in community. Or the ways in which pharmaceutical companies and biotech are creating vaccines. So recognizing that, yes, there are so many issues around technology and biotech and the oversized influence these industries have in our lives, but right now our future depends on these very things.

Tane

I think one of the most important things that I've realized in my life in the last five years is that everyone tends to think it's Facebook and Twitter and other social media controlling us. We actually have a huge part to play. It's an algorithm that you can train, what you like, what you share is reflected back at you. And so it's really important. You can always point the finger and say, "That's the big, bad guy out there, or girl or whoever it is out there."

But it's reflecting exactly what you're giving it. And so just to keep in mind, you have some agency. If you don't like what you're seeing, stop clicking on it. Stop liking it. Stop sharing it. I remember when He Who Shall Not Be Named was elected to a high place in the land, Voldemort in the United States, I clicked on those stories, freaked out, and then my feed was something that I didn't want to see. Just remember, you have a huge ability to change the stories you tell yourself and the information that comes towards you. Just remember that it's not necessarily on their terms. You have a part to play as well.

Gus

Even as we start to dive into it, I can feel that cortisol level rising in the fight or flight response. Let's move out of that a little bit for the time being, I want to get into some of the technical stuff in here. We've got a question here from Mark Ryan. We've got a ton of data, there's so much data around, data driven messaging, information overload, what is the difference between data and narrative? And what about the story that we tell in relation to data? Do you have any advice on that?

Michael

When you start with data and conclusions, the story's dead on arrival. Think about it. When you get in front of an audience and if you're presenting data and conclusions, usually the response is, "How'd you come up with that data? I don't know if I agree with that conclusion." Right? So often we are presenting data in conclusions on something that is disruptive, controversial, that is challenging assumptions.

So we're leading with a message that people are going to resist. So data isn't bad. Data is the drive train of business decision making. The question is, how do you put it on the table? How do you create a receptive field? And so there's a way I talk about this in my latest book, Story 10x, which is people have to see it and they have to feel it before they can believe it.

See, when you lead with data and conclusions, you are actually engaging people at the belief layer. And we are very resistant to question or loosen the grip of our beliefs. And so instead, how do you get people to see it and feel it? You've got to give people context for the bigger picture, something that captures the imagination, and then you have got to get people to emotionally self-identify that they belong in the story.

Your story is my story. So those are actually three steps for how anytime we're building a narrative, we're going through that sequence of see it, feel it, believe it. And there's a lot of specific methods and strategies in the book that break that down.

Gus

So let me just summarize, the way to tell great stories, especially when it comes to data is to see it, feel it, believe it. But what we do is we start with the believe it, which is the data and then we try to pack the see it and feel it off the back end?

Michael

You know what I discovered? These are first principles that I just figured out by wrestling a tiger by the tail for years and years, trying to build these narratives around disruption. And it was only after publishing the book that I actually realized that these principles of see it, feel it, believe it, actually map directly to Aristotle's three proofs. These are 2,000 year old proven methods of persuasion, of a rhetoric.

We probably have heard of Ethos, Logos, Pathos. Right? So those are what he called the three proofs. The key here though, is it's about the order and the sequence. So in business and in social change, everybody's leading with Logos all the time. Data. Data. Data. Data. Here's Logos. What we want to do is we want to go Ethos, Pathos, then Logos.

Ethos captures the imagination. Ethos is about our ideals and it's about possibility about who we want to become. Pathos is about feeling. It's about self-identification, about empathy, about relating. And then lastly, Logos is the data. The evidence by which we rationalize and come to a conclusion.

I'll give another really simple example with this to bring this home for everybody. The same principles apply in a court of law. So if we were in a court of law, yes, at the end of the day, a case is won or lost on the evidence. That's Logos. But there are so many other that happen first, right? You have opening statements. What are opening statements? Opening statements is how you frame the conversation. Let me tell you what this case is about, right? This is all about Ethos.

You're defining the issues, how you're asking people to think. And then over time, you're going to hear testimony from different witnesses. And those testimonies are designed to humanize these issues. Let's understand what happened and what's the impact of what has happened.

Then you present the evidence, but the testimony is the Pathos, it's the human element of understanding, how have people's lives been touched and impacted? So we need all three, Ethos, Pathos and Logos. See it, feel it, believe it. So that one can ultimately come to … ultimately, the final judgment in a legal case is wanting to right the scales of justice.

What is the right response to what has been a conflict or situation? And so these same principles apply, but obviously what I'm most interested in is less about litigating the past, and I'm a thousand times more interested in creating the future. Because that's a generative story. That's a story that has so much more room versus being obsessed with what's been wronged and wanting to just … we can get really stuck down that rabbit hole.

It is not a sustainable or scalable story. Whereas the possibility opportunity story... and this is why we're such great friends, right? What you guys do with Future Crunch is, every single month your newsletter says, "Here's all the good stories. Here's the reason to feel good. Look at the opportunities and possibilities and where the world is going." And we need to be fed those stories and we need to be telling those stories. Because that's literally, the stories we tell do create the world.

Tane

We've got another technical question about storytelling. Before that though, I want to know what you're eating right now.

Michael

So to those of you who don't know me, I am chocolate obsessed. I grew up in Switzerland as a kid. My father worked for Nestle. He ran a chocolate factory. And this right here, I call this my Willy Wonka chocolate bar because it's literally Willy Wonka's everlasting Gobstopper. It goes through this big giant journey. It opens with a tasting note of cafeteria chocolate milk. It then moves into a rum raisin tropical fruits, and then on the backside melon, cantaloupe. And then it has a full stop dry finish. It's a magical mystery tour.

This is by WM chocolates. It's a Venezuelan Porcelana, a 70%. An incredible craft chocolate maker. So yes, I always have chocolate. And by the way, the chemical compounds of what happens in chocolate correspond to the chemical compounds that happen when we take in a really good positive story.

Gus

The story you're telling the inside is also the story that you're telling outside apparently.

Tane

Yeah. My mouth is watering. Good story.

Gus

Another question from our audience. You hear a lot about story arcs, a hero's journey story arcs, beginning and the end, Hollywood, of course, does this ad nauseam. We've question here from Tim Beam who says, "We feel the need to follow a standard story arc, but is it possible to create stories that are really compelling that aren't typically arced? Or is the arc absolutely necessary for effective storytelling?"

Michael

Well, I think what is important is to be aware of beginning, middle and end, and to think about… you said this earlier, and I've written about this too, about narrative as a logic model of reality. We're actually looking at choice and consequence. So we're trying to understand causality, how one thing connects to another, and then leads to a final impact or consequence.

So yes, you do need to have some sense of sequence. When we build narratives for big organizations, we build a narrative on the sequence of see it, feel it, believe it. Those are three gates that you can build the arc from. I don't find personally that Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, which works so well in film and television, in fiction, in personal storytelling, I don't find that that drag and drops effectively in a business or professional context without sounding like a douche. You ended up sounding like, "Let me tell you a story. Once upon-" It just doesn't work.

This is the power of narrative thinking, and somebody asked this question earlier, you know what I love about narrative thinking? Is that it allows the ability to teach storytelling to elite senior executives of the biggest institutions in the world. And when you turn it into narrative thinking, they say "Go on," they're leaning in. They're like, "How does this work?@ This is about how I inspire and influence and lead and communicate.

They can get behind that. Because they have a mindset of engineering and a mindset of problem solving. They want to understand the logic model. The moment we turn it into storytelling, it's performance, and it's really easy to dismiss it. And I don't mean to knock, by the way, any storytellers out there. Storytelling in all of these forms is great.

What I care about though, is that I think the storytelling arts have been marginalized and we think of storytelling as once upon a time fairytales or how to tell a better anecdote. We think of storytelling in this tiny little box. Part of my mission is to blow the lid off of that, and actually establish narrative thinking as a school of thought, a discourse of business leadership. Imagine a world where every leadership development program, every corporate university, every startup accelerator, taught the language of narrative. A lot of the other problems that we face would solve themselves. That's my crazy wild idea. But it's the humble mission that we're devoted to at Storied.

Gus

Yeah. I think it's one definitely worth getting behind. And I think it also speaks to really to this current moment in history where disinformation and fear and just really coming at us from so many different places. Storytelling as a leadership skill. So we've got a question here from Peter Balkan. "The truth has come under assault. Does the story trump the truth?" And where does this thing that you spoke to earlier, faith in the future, where does that lie in terms of the right stories to be telling and how those perhaps can get us closer to an approximation or an agreed upon truth?

Michael

We could spend hours on this. Such a great question. But the quick answers are, number one, story is not the truth, yet story is the doorway into glimpsing the truth. Same with the arts, right? Art is not the truth, but art is offering a doorway in a point of view for us to glimpse at it.

So same thing as with story. Now, that said, when we build a narrative inside an organization, just like when you're building a relational database, there's something called a single source of truth. That's like, what is the North Star place, which is the relational database that is built upon for the data to all correspond to a single source of truth. When we build a narrative, we posit that the narrative as the single source of truth for that organization.

And that's what organizations need. Because things are moving so fast right now. People do not know what story they're in anymore. There's so much thrash that's happening, people being lost in translation and an organization story getting hijacked, and all these different things. So that's my quick reply. There's so much we could unpack on this.

Gus

What's an example of that? Can you give an example of an organization that hangs on to that narrative as a single source of truth?

Michael

We recently built a narrative for a company that grew from 300 employees to 2,400 employees in three years. Imagine that. And they did it by growth through acquisition. So they kept expanding their footprint. And these guys are in the audio/video integration space. So we built the corporate narrative working with that whole leadership team that becomes the new North Star, because once you have your narrative, it's the story that you actually are telling for your sales team out to customers. It's also the story that you're using for recruiting new employees.

It's also the story that you use for culture and onboarding and pride of belonging. It also is the story that you use for your brand. It's also the story that you use for communicating your vision. All of these different things. And in their case, this was a narrative that we built about the power of screens. That the screen is the modern interface for how business is done. Because these guys install audio/video screens, everything from like the Jumbotrons and sports stadiums, to mission control inside the department of defense, to corporate studios like a Peloton and those interactive studios or news networks. Anywhere there's a screen, even a retail displays for big banks in retail environments. We take screens for granted, right?

But a screen brings the world closer. We interact with screens all the time, we're interacting in a screen right now. Right? All of us. And we're overcoming all of these geographical boundaries. And they needed a North star narrative because they had grown their capabilities, 10x. All these new things that the business does, but they didn't have a single source of truth of here's who we are, what we do, where we're going, why it matters. So hopefully that helps with some of the mechanics of what's involved. And a lot of this is described in my latest book, Story 10x.

Tane

So I just have a personal anecdote if you don't mind. I just want to find out, we are in the world of stories, whether it's the narrative war or the promised land, which can get us there by telling yourself that there are solutions and showing people the way. Stories, no matter where you are, what industry, whether it's journalism, art, science, healthcare, it is so important.

Human beings are exquisitely tied to narrative. We are the most social beings on planet Earth. So it's really important that you dive in on this and not just focus on the negative story and how narrative is being weaponized. For example, I'm a science nerd, so got to go science, right? But you can't get science across the line by just putting out the evidence and the data.

You have to tell a story about it. Whether it's to politicians or to everyone in the community, try and make a universal narrative because science, it helps keep our electricity on. It helps gives us screens. It helps with healthcare. It helps keep us safe. And it increases our longevity. Yes, it gets things wrong, but without a solid story, people are not going to follow the truth.

And so story, I really want to iterate to your point, story is a doorway into the truth. It is so important that we realize that we're in a world of story. Whether it's social media or what we call the general media, or whether it's politics, or even within the organization you work in, we're tied to narrative. So make it better. Use it as a tool. Don't complain about it. Don't let it use you, use it instead. That's all I have to say.

Michael

You know what? Tane, you know what you're inspiring in me? We did some work years ago, some of my favorite work was focusing on telling the story of public libraries, on what is the role and value of the public library in the digital age? And I'll offer this as a contrast frame. The old story of public libraries is as a place that's … it's your grandmother's library. It's quiet, it's dusty, it's constrained, it's outdated. And so libraries have been struggling with maintaining their funding. People who are against libraries go, "Why do you need the library? Can't people just get it on Amazon or find it on Google?"

And so we built a narrative that was about the role and value of public libraries in the digital age. And you know what it was built on? It was talking about libraries as one of the most under-utilized community assets. Because it's a gathering place. In most communities it is usually the only noncommercial, non-denominational gathering place in that community. And when anybody walks into a library, the world just got bigger.

And whether it's that you're curious to explore and study a subject, whether you're going through a job transition, whether you need access to the internet, whether you're … a lot of libraries are creating all these programs like economic incubators. Libraries have created technology petting zoos, where you can literally check out the latest phones and tablets and all these kinds of things.

So this is an example. Like libraries, librarians themselves are the sacred keepers of the scrolls, right? They're like foundation of civilization. But they're not storytellers. They're more like priests and nuns by archetype. They're protectors and defenders of knowledge. And they're saying, "Well, it should just speak for itself." The reality was, if they weren't telling the story, other people were going to tell it for them. So we ended up building this narrative and doing training all across the country and creating all these different storytelling, visual artifacts to help bring it to life, paint the picture, to say what does the 21st century library look like? In a way that people could see it, feel it and believe it.

Gus

Love that. We're going to bring us a bit more into the present, and tackle that dreaded P word, pandemic. But before I do that, I want to know what you're eating. What are you eating now? Have you changed what you're eating or are you still on the same bar?

Michael

That's a good reminder. Okay. So next we're going to go to what's called a Micro Latte. It's made by Marou, Vietnam. It's actually a treated bar made in Vietnam. This is what's called a Micro Latte, only 200 bars of this had been made. And it comes from Mrs. Tam's farm in the Dak Nong province. And this opens up with tropical fruits. It moves into licorice, even cough syrup. And then it finishes with tobacco and spice.

Tane

Wow. Cough syrup to the tobacco and spice. Your chocolate narrative, much like your storytelling in general, is like a velvet Rubik's Cube. Smooth and complex.

Gus

OMG. Tane and dad jokes. All right. I want to bring us back. I want to go into a bit of the current moment, the pandemic. The coronavirus, it's the biggest story that's ever happened. And it has spun off, it's a giant hurricane, there are 1,000 little tornadoes that have spun out of this big pandemic story as well.

A couple of things, we don't have face to face interaction as much anymore. Does that change the nature of storytelling? Does storytelling differ on a screen compared to in person? What's it going to mean for the future? Also, is this rush to digital, is it here to stay or are we all going to snap back and desire even more in person experiences?

And then the other thing that I really want to know is, are there words that really you're seeing emerge in the midst of this pandemic? New forms of storytelling that have come up as a result? So that's a lot of questions, but I'm just going to throw them all that you and see whether or not any of them stick.

Michael

Yeah. Look, there's some really great graphs that have spoken about this, in the world of business, they call it business transformation or digital transformation. And the speed of digital transformation has basically propelled or advanced ten years in five months. So anybody who is building any aspect of an interface, a tool, platform that's related to messaging, video, remote presenting, workflow productivity, and this is a lot of the stuff that we geek out on.

These are the kinds of organizations that we work with in addition to the public libraries and environmental groups. That speed of adoption is moving really fast. So, is that going to go away? Look, let me ask all of you who, before COVID had a morning commute, but since COVID by the nature of your work, are able to work from home. How many, left to your own devices and choice, would choose to continue to work from home?

There's your answer. A lot of people are discovering this. For years, I was a digital nomad and I've always had a blended team, some in person, some remote. We've been using Zoom and all these other tools for years and years and years. But for a lot of companies, for a lot of people, it's like, "Oh my God. We can do this a lot."

It was basically by measure of force. People had to adapt and go, "Oh, this actually isn't so bad. Oh, wow. There's actually a lot of benefits. The flex time, spending more time on my family." And this is a huge generalization, but that to me is my answer of, is this stuff going to go away? Are you kidding? It's only going to continue to grow.

Tane

To me, it's more about the choice. Occasionally I'd like to go in, but most of the time I would not. If I need to pick up some groceries or something at the store close to the office, yeah, I would go in and do a day. But that requirement and being stuck in the commute every day is something that will be very nice to let go of.

Gus

I do just want to point out here that while that's great for knowledge workers,  the large majority of our population might not have a choice to be able to sit and do their work on a screen.

Michael

You know what? I think you're absolutely right. Look, I started my career as a social entrepreneur working on the digital divide almost 20 years ago. And digital divide is this very notion of the technology haves versus have nots, and how much of our economic future as individuals is dependent on our technology skills. And that has only continued to accelerate.

Just like our economy here in the US, what is it? Like the big five or 10 tech companies is 46% up in COVID and the rest of the stock market's down 6%. And this is fucked up. I'm not saying this is right. That this is good. But it is what it is. And so the question is, how do we create digital literacy? How do we support what are going to be some of the biggest dislocation of the human species in the next 10, 20, 30 years?

We're going to have billions of environmental and economic refugees between climate change, between all of these economic disruptions. So at the end of the day, look, anybody who's listening, you may not agree with my rhetoric. You may take issue to working with institutions of power. All of that's fine and fair. If nothing else, understand that storytelling is your birthright. And that we all have this power.

And this is what I love about what you are up to at Future Crunch, is evangelizing, reminding us, look at all the amazing things that are happening. Because this is what need to feed our souls. This is where and how we need to find our voice. I just did a training session a couple of weeks ago with 600 people who are inside one of the five biggest oil energy companies in the world.

And in the next two months, every single one of those people have to interview to save their jobs. And we can argue all we want about the fossil fuel industry and everything that's wrong with it. It still powers much of the planet. And these are human individuals and this is how they make their living. So just from that fundamental place of, "Okay. How am I going to talk about who I am and what I do, my worth and value and go through a process where there may be an outcome where I don't have my job in two months? How do I go through that process in a way that I do not let that strip away my worth and value?"

Look, there's a lot of fundamentals to everything we've been talking about, which is at the end of the day, we are either a victim of our story or we're masters of our own destiny. Like both Plato and the Hopi Native American say, "Those who tell the stories rule the world." And what excites me about this time and moment in human history for all of the power imbalances, for all the transparency that technology is bringing to help see these injustices, it's because we have these things in our pockets, right? It's because so many things the truth can't hide. It's creating this collective awakening.

You have to come to recognize that we have this power, each and every single one of us. But it's a choice what story you choose to tell. And how do we put down the sword and the shield? Because so much of the story as a change maker, as an innovator is pointing out what's wrong instead of what's right. And you asked me this question earlier about faith in the future, and that's a question that I would pose back to everybody else, which is, do leaders have to have faith in the future? And if a leader doesn't have faith in the future, do you belong in the seat of leadership?

Tane

Yeah. It's a really good question. There are solutions and people are doing a really good job out there. And even if everything goes wrong and we're at the apocalypse, at the end of the world, I want to go and party and hang out with the people who are like, "Yeah, we gave it our best shot. We did everything we possibly could."

Rather than go to the party of the people sitting there saying, "Told you so. End of the world is nigh." I don't want to hang out with those people. I want the doers, the helpers. The people that put down the sword and the shield and picked up the tools or picked up someone else and helped them along the way. Those are the people that I always want to hang out with.

Michael

I love the metaphor of the fertile soil. Where is the soil most fertile, and go plant the seeds there. Go water there. So oftentimes we're trying to force a story upon others when we're just trying to basically plant seeds in hard cement. There's no fun in that. But there's always fertile soil to be found, and we just have to find that for each of us.

Gus

Michael, we're just over time. You've got a book, Story 10x. We got a link to that, if everyone just looked at the bottom of the screen over here, they can see a link to the bottom there. They can find out more about that book. It's filled with everything you learnt in the last decade. We read it. We loved it. We got a lot out of that book. It's wonderful. Any final words?

Michael

I would just really encourage everybody to celebrate the feast. There's a Buddhist proverb that says, "Enough is still a feast." And I think, again, what I love about your community and the work that you are up to at Future Crunch is that really is at the heart of the message, right? The heart of the story, life's a feast. And figuring out, where can we find that expression in our own life?

We all have our troubles and tribulations. We all have suffering. There are many people out there that are suffering inordinate amounts. And just the act of sharing, whether it is a chocolate bar, whether it is just fellowship amongst friends, whether it's a shared meal together, those are the things by which we draw our meaning and give us hope and faith and resilience. And that's what feeds the spirit. That's my invitation, celebrate the feast.

Gus

Thank you. Tane, any final thoughts?

Tane

Speaking of sharing the feast, we've got a few comments that you need to share some links in the chat before you go to those chocolate bars. People were loving the descriptions, they're sharing the feast.

Michael

Yeah. WM chocolate is in Madison, Wisconsin. You can get them online at his website. And then this is Marou, M-A-R-O-U. This is a super rare, limited edition bar, but you can certainly find some of their other bars are also online. Last thing, for those of you who are in Melbourne, go to Monsieur Truffe and check out his big, giant brick of dark chocolate Gianduja. Gianduja essential chocolate. It is hazelnuts that are crushed into a paste enrobed in dark chocolate. And he makes a world class version of it. It's a classic Tuscan recipe. And it is must Primo. So check that out. And then last one in Australia, in Tasmania, on Fortunato number four is a very rare select bean out of, I'm going to say Venezuela, might be Peru. I think it's Peru, actually. But they make it in Tasmania and you can find it at Victoria Market at a little stand there.

Gus

Thank you so much Chocolate Thunder for joining us today, we had a great time. We wish you all the best, and we look forward to our next conversation. Thanks for joining us on Future Brunch.

Future Crunch

We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.