story

Sent from my phone, please excuse brevity.

But why?

Most of the time we should demand it. 

Conveying a point should not be misconstrued with artful storytelling. Both have tremendous value. But too often, we add words to be kind, take the edge off or to assert status through our command of a larger vocabulary. Stories are necessary when we are sharing a vision…creating a mental picture of a place to go. But they aren’t needed when time is of the essence…because the receiver isn’t ready for a story. 

Less is more. And it takes practice.

Stories Matter

A classic Mini Cooper once owned by Madonna is selling for $75K. But it doesn’t drive any differently than one for $15K. A modern Fender Stratocaster guitar made to look like a 1960’s model (they call it a relic) sells for three times more than a standard one. However it isn’t likely to make you a better musician. A hotel with “real” ghosts can charge 20% more. But the beds would feel the same if there weren’t any (ghosts). A welcome sign outside Hot Springs, Arkansas boasts “The Boyhood Home of Bill Clinton”. But there are a lot of other things to do.

Stories are important to us. They shape our worldview and determine how we feel. Look around you right now. Every physical element of the space has a story...some resonate with you more than others. Some remind you of another story, some create a story of the type of person who might have have made it, or the one that put it there. Some tell you a story of cheap, unimaginative or lack of enthusiasm...and make you feel uninterested, or even angry. Some tell you a story of craftsmanship, laborious design and attention to detail...and makes you curious and glad to be there. Of course, another person doesn’t see it that way. They find the vanilla one, the one you didn’t care for, much more interesting. The story was different for them. But there was a story. And it connected with them.

You have a story. Does it resonate with the people you seek to change? If not, can you change the story? Can you get Madonna to borrow it for a minute it? Or, perhaps you need to find new people? Or both.

Forgettable Work

July, 1998...that's when I drew my line in the sand. That's when I (and my bosses) decided I wasn't going to do any more work that wasn't meaningful. It was then that I worked my last "job" (managing the hotel pictured above) where I was paid to show up and manage what someone else had concocted. I decided to start doing things that mattered, to help create stories that would outlive me.

Pretty much all the work I had done to that point was forgettable. Fifteen years of progressive hotel management...nice hotels, great locations and of course I met some wonderful people along the way.  But, by most accounts my work was pretty standard. I managed assets, processes and people. I didn't create much, I managed what someone else created. And, by traditional measurements I was successful. I received regular promotions, pay raises and more and more responsibility. With each occurence I was fulfilled...or so I thought. It wasn't until much later that I recognized I wasn't really making much of a difference. It wasn't until my last traditional hotel management assignment that I understood the path I was on...and it wasn't for me.

If you're anything like me (and you might be if you're reading this), your wired to do something other than follow a plan that someone else puts together. You're more likely to dream up your own plan, put together your own team and act it out. You're willing to live or die by it, knowing both the risks and the rewards.

If you're not like this, I encourage you to consider this seemingly risky and obscure path...just for a moment. Consider that when it comes to making a difference, enriching people's lives, giving your children and grandchildren a story to tell, forgettable work is not an option. Only legacy work counts. The other stuff is window dressing that eventually fades away.

Go out and create some legacy work...pretty please with sugar on top.

Be Like

A lot of us spend a great deal of time, energy and resources trying to be like someone else. Our goal is to replicate everything they've done that's good, and then one up it. Better is the sweet spot. The problem is that virtually all of us will fail for two reasons. First, those that we are planning to overtake aren't standing still...they're getting better too. Second, we don't have the advantage of being first and owning the edge...they do.

The idea of being like the iPhone, Four Seasons or Haagen Dazs feels like a safe path. We rationalize that even if we fall short, we'll be good enough to steal a small part of the market. It's also much easier to copy someone else's story rather than inventing our own. That may have worked five or ten years ago because there weren't nearly as many choices and there was room for runner-ups. Now, there are hundreds and thousands of companies (often small ones) who are willing to risk everything to create their own stamp, their own edge. Those companies are the ones getting the attention, chipping away and stealing share. It's not the ones trying be like someone else.

Easy vs. Hard
Follow vs. Lead
Like vs. Unlike

You decide...choose wisely.