A guest blog this week from Ruth Sedar, her parting piece as she moves on from Write the Talk to challenges new. We’ll miss Ru (and her TV recommendations).
The Guardian has published its best 100 TV shows of the 21st century. Apart from the glaring omissions of 80s pop-culture darling Stranger Things, outrageously funny Friday Night Dinner and darkly beautiful Zone Blanche (Black Spot), the 100 shows all share one thing: they tell powerful and moving stories.
And our love of story is innate. From campfire tales to Instagram stories, we’re all born sharers. But do you ever think about what these stories have in common? Think about your favourites. Not just long-running dramas, stories are central to all great novels and video games, too. FYI, mine are Alice in Wonderland, The Road, Breaking Bad, Lord of the Rings and The Last of Us.
Christopher Booker outlined the seven basic plots in his book, the not-so-cryptically named The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. But what are they? And how do they relate to business and employee engagement? If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.
1. Overcoming the monster
Monsters are a dark threat, sometimes real and always terrifying. Whether it’s Jaws or Independence Day, the hero defeats the monster and emerges victorious. Your monster might be a merger, a new market or your financial forecasts. Tell the right story and come out on top.
2. Rags to riches
Cinderella, Aladdin, Oliver Twist – they all had their lives transformed by money. Whether your business is a start-up or a multinational, the rags to riches story is universal in its appeal.
3. The quest
Frodo’s task to destroy the One Ring. Indiana Jones seeking out the Holy Grail. This is your template for communicating where your business is going and why. We’re programmed to seek and discover things. Build the story and people will follow.
4. Voyage and return
Greek mythology gave us Odysseus. The hero set sail for 10 years and came back a changed man, ready to claim the crown. Going on a long, life-changing journey and coming home altered is powerful and exciting. Transformation programmes often set out to change things for the better. Usually with fewer sea monsters, though.
Comedies, from sitcoms to cartoons, gallows humour to slapstick, all play on our need for entertainment and escape from normal life. Business can be a bit too po-faced for its own good, so loosen up now and again.
Tragic events might not always be black and white. In my opinion, The Road tells one of the most moving stories of loneliness and tragedy as the Man and Boy endure their journey in each other’s company. Hopefully most businesses dodge tragic events, but sometimes difficult times are the triggers for re-evaluation and refocus.
Remember Scrooge, waking up on Christmas Day after he’s been visited by three spirits? Rebirth doesn’t have to be about promising to be a better person, but it’s a pretty good place to start. Mergers, rebrands and new launches could feel like a rebirth.
Stories engage our brains
Our brains control us
Brains engage each other
Choose the right story to get the right engagement
If you need a new narrative, big or small, set out on a quest to writethetalk.com. We’re expert engagers, crafting long-running stories around strategy, change and culture.
PS: the most glaring omissions from the list:
Stranger Things. If you’ve watched TV in the last five years and not seen this nostalgic masterstroke, you need help. Or a Netflix subscription, stat. I’m not going to attempt to explain it. Just do yourself a favour and watch it. Feel free to skim season two pretty quickly though.