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May 30, 2014

May 'Box Lunch: Storytelling

May 30, 2014

Every month SmallBox hosts clients and friends for a lunch and learn session in which one or more ‘Boxers discusses an industry topic. Media Producer Mayowa Tomori and Designer Sarah Herbert led this month’s ‘Box Lunch discussion around storytelling.

WHY Telling Your Story IS IMPORTANT

Using boolean indicators, if you Google search the term “tell your story” you will get 3,390,000 results. Obviously, numbers wise, telling your story is important – it's the core of great marketing, PR, design, and too many other fields to count. In a perfect world it looks like this: an individual's personal story combined with the stories of other individuals in their group makes up the group's story. To see this in action, check out Sarah Herbert's recent post "Inspiring Positive Change Through Storytelling."

Go ahead, I can wait. I'm not going anywhere.

Finished? Great!


Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, once said that “successful human enterprises of any kind go out of their way to capture their core identity.” Really, that’s what good storytelling is all about – the core identity of an organization is informed by it's people. But getting at that core identity can be super tricky. Luckily, Mayowa and Sarah, both natural storytellers, showcased some exercises to help tease that deeper meaning out – and we're going to share their methods with you.

First things first, it's important to think about the type of story you're going to tell. Everyone loves a feel-good start-at-the-bottom-end-at-the-top story (this is an ascending story), and if Breaking Bad taught us anything it's that people love to watch someone fall from grace (this is a descending story). The problem with these types of stories is that you can't tease a lot of information out of them. They miss one of the most basic elements of the human existence – things aren't always going to be awful, and they're not always going to be great either – everyone has good days and bad days. Stories that show both the highs and lows of an experience (this is an oscillating story) are the most effective types of narratives and can tell you the most about people.

Below you will see a grid containing four drawings. Each drawing corresponds to something different: where, who, what, and something I will refer to as value identification.

Using these four elements, attendees to the May 'Box Lunch were encouraged to break into groups, tell a story from their lives, look at the highs and lows of the situation, and then draw conclusions from them. Sarah shared a story regarding a person from her life and a sandwich – the Cliff Notes version:

Person X was on their way to school when they accidentally dropped their lunch into a ditch. During lunch time X had to eat what had become a soggy sandwich, causing X to get sick in the middle of class. The takeaways? X ate the sandwich because it was his only lunch and X had no money for a new one – X valued what they had, didn't ever ask for much, and made do with a soggy sandwich. 

Just like that, a story about a sandwich showed us part of a person's core.

Want to try this exercise in your office? Feel free to borrow our PDF and let us know about your story. 

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