“I want to study engineering at MIT. I’ve still got two years until I graduate high school, so I’m trying to learn everything I can… I can write the perfect essay telling you how to make cables, but I still need to work on keeping my hand steady. You need a very steady hand when you’re working with fiber optic cables.” — Humans of New York.
Everyone has a story and everyone is a storyteller.
What makes Humans of New York (HONY) so wildly popular?
What began as a photographer with a Facebook page grew to 9 million followers and a global adventure. This website hit on something universal: a snapshot into people’s souls through a single photograph and a short anecdote. Looking at the lives of our fellow humans around the world, moment by moment, in a quote or a snapshot, captivates millions of us. We see ourselves in the dreams, pain, and desires of those featured.
There are countless imitation sites that have since cropped up, and HONY photographer, Brandon Stanton, is currently on a 50-day global tour sponsored by the UN.
If you haven’t checked out this celebration of the human experience, you must.
You have the power and tools to tell your story.
Storytelling is in a rapid process of democratization.
Technology is fast democratizing the storytelling production process. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Createspace — there are thousands of platforms for telling your story. In fact, the younger you are, the more you accept this democratization as a cultural value, if not universal human right. Today’s connected world emphasizes giving everyone a platform to tell their story. You can hear the rallying cry of youth…
Of course, I’m going to be a blogger, have a Youtube Channel, start a band, publish a book, be an entrepreneur, and make the world my oyster! Why wouldn’t I?
This didn’t always used to be the case.
“What used to be the purview of the shaman, elder, and priest is now available to all of us.” — Grant McCracken, anthropologist, author of Transformations
We all have a story, and everyone is a storyteller.
It used to be the privilege of an elite few who controlled and defined the stories of our lives.
Thanks to the democratization of communication, anyone can become a blogger, published author, or have a Facebook page. Cultural values and expectations are shifting — people are demanding to have a voice at the table. Through social media, people will complain or be vocal. Around the world, this emerging youth generation is describing a new global reality: everyone has a story, and we’re all looking for a means to express it.
This radical transformation of the communication landscape means that you no longer have to live in the same town as your parents, or accept the faith of your heritage.
There are the stories that you’re born into
versus the stories that you choose to live.
We all have the power to choose the stories of our own lives. We are truly the masters of our own destiny, and the only thing that gets in the way is our own self.
Everyone has a story worth telling.
Today, this movement is at the heart of many struggles around the world — people want to share their voices, and shed light on the reality of their experiences (think the Arab Spring). Technology has democratized communication and destabilized the old way of doing things.
We’re hungry for more stories, which is why “Share Your Story,” is fast becoming a widely-used advertising campaign for brands to connect to their customers, including Facebook, Toyota, and Red Cross. While it’s at risk of becoming a cliche, you can’t deny the humanity, power, and impact of these real first-person stories.
Wait! Some people say ‘you are not a storyteller’?
In a recent interview, renowned designer Stefan Sagmeister stirred a few emotions with his short provocation “You Are Not A Storyteller.” You might have seen this video, it took the advertising/creative world by storm, with sharp opinions on both sides of the debates.
Let’s pause and acknowledge this watershed in storytelling history — storytelling is mainstream enough that famous people are debating its usage and over-application. Sweet!!!
Sagmeister raises a fair question: If everyone calls themselves a “storyteller,” doesn’t that cheapen and devalue what it means to be a “storyteller”?
It’s a similar argument I’ve heard for years — starting with performance storytellers, who worried that as the storytelling movement went mainstream, they were at risk of being marginalized and discounted. What’s the value of our hard-earned mastery if any ordinary amateur is allowed to call themselves a “storyteller?” Will this do a disservice to the sacred fire of storytelling?
Truth: the word “storyteller” is thrown
around loosely, like a cheap pick-up line.
Especially in the design, advertising, art, architectural and communications industries.
Not to mention how many countless people get up on stage every week and share a 3-minute story on Amateur Night and now call themselves astoryteller. You can thank The Moth and the like for this exciting global meme.
For years, I used to resist calling myself a “storyteller” because truth be told, I am not a performance storyteller. And when you use the word “storyteller” there’s certain expectations that people project onto you. Eventually, I found my place of truth, in the way that I work with story which is genuine and true to who I am.
There’s a reason why people are drawn
to the moniker of “storyteller.”
It’s universal, it’s human, and it’s timeless. At a time when so many other roles and spheres of identity are changing, we are all fundamentally storytellers. The core truth is that everyone has a story, and indeed everyone is a storyteller.
The argument that only a rare few should do it is actually the same argument we heard about bloggers not being journalists, or that how iPhone cameras are destroying the professional photography industry.
Nobody said that disruption would be pretty or easy.
The democratization of communication worldwide has radically shifted who has access to sharing, publishing and telling the story. The deeper truth here is that we’re entering a new golden age of storytelling. We’re becoming more discerning as consumers of stories, which in turn informs and guides us in being better creators of stories.
It’s not that we’re not storytellers — everyone is a storyteller, and everyone has a story to tell.
Guinness understands: you are you, an undeniable soul.
“You are you, an undeniable soul.” — Guinness
The stories that we are born into, the ones we inherited, are starting to feel like worn-out clothes that don’t fit. We don’t buy into education, culture, and media that tell us “this is your place in the world,” or define what is and isn’t possible. We are masters of our own ship. More and more, we’re starting to reconcile the difference between the stories we are born into, and the stories we choose to live.
Guinness gets this. In a new advertisement dedicated to Sapeurs, or The Society of Elegant Persons, Guinness looks at a group of everyday men from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. Despite your job, despite your upbringing, despite whatever challenges you may face in your day to day life, they remind us, you are an undeniable soul.
When they said, “you are the captain of your soul”
it sent shivers down my spine:
Guinness isn’t selling beer here. They’re describing a way of life. They’re tapping into the deeper roots of humanity and showing us how a group of amazing people have championed a new story in their lives — regardless of the circumstances around them.
Why we’re all learning a new approach to storytelling.
You have a natural intuition for storytelling. We all do.
We’re actually programmed and wired for storytelling. It’s in our DNA, designed to help us navigate and make sense of the world. Don’t worry, we all have this ability. There’s even a specific gene (which I’ll tell you about in a future article) that allows us to take every experience and relationship and store it in the mind as a story. Since our world is being radically reinvented and turned upside down, we’re desperate to realign our storytelling compass — inside and out.
If you’re a change-agent, marketer, coach, consultant, or leader — you’re often telling a really high-stakes story. You walk into the room, and your personal story is on the line. And if you don’t tell a story that inspires and influences others, then you’ve probably not had a successful day.
“Those who tell the stories, rule the world.” — Hopi Proverb
The democratization of communication means there is a learning curve to improving your storytelling. It might feel hard at first hard, because it requires a new kind of voice and sensibility. Storytelling is one of the most important skills to learn in the coming years. You career, goals, and ambitions might just well depend on it.
I believe we need to learn and internalize a new language of storytelling.
This requires a new kind of presence, thoughtfulness, and self-knowledge. Not to mention humility, empathy, and vulnerability.
Let’s make Sagemeister proud. Especially if you someday want the confidence to truly call yourself a “storyteller.”
Everyone is a storyteller. Because everyone has a story to tell.