Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tell me a story

When I wrote about storytelling in my book Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, I told how Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand surround their great treasures with interesting talk. Maori believe that by doing this they invest the objects with greater Mana (standing and status). I believe they are right and that stories and interesting talk are the best way to connect our past, present, and future. In times of stress and uncertainty, we need these connections more than ever.

Recently in New York I was talking to Aunt Pauline, a 90-year-old European lady who makes the world’s best goulash - she has no idea of the recipe, she just knows how to make it. Someone needs to watch her prepare this wonderful dish and film it, or her secret will disappear. It is just so easy to do now. I believe we should stop thinking of these new cameras and recording devices as being just for kids and put them to work capturing the stories of our elders. It’s a record that needs to be visual, not just words on a page. It is the only way we can ensure that Aunt Pauline’s great goulash survives. And believe me, having tried it, you don’t need another reason.

When I was in New Zealand recently, I met with a number of Maori who were using sisomo to enhance their understanding of traditions. Using small digital cameras, they were building a storehouse of their elders talking, telling stories, and demonstrating the skills they had learned from their own parents and grandparents. How to cook special local foods, tales of ancestors, vivid stories of childhood and growing up in times so different from today. I was struck by the central role storytelling has always played in Maori culture and how wonderfully new technology can bring it to life. In part, the love of Maori for stories is based in the realities of oral tradition – the practice of writing only came to them on the high-masted ships of Captain Cook and his men – but there is more to it than that. When people Love and Respect storytelling as performance, the compelling nature of metaphor and the mesmerizing effect of a tale well told, they place a greater weight on the skills of communication. There is a real virtuous cycle created with great storytellers influencing their children and grandchildren to tell great stories in turn. These skills can erode, however, when people choose to tune into mass media instead and lose the sound of their grandparents’ voices.

I cannot overstate the importance I place on storytelling. In my own family we use video to lay down a memory of things past for our children that will, in time, inspire both wonder and delight. This is not about nostalgia. It is about tracing a living history and passing on the knowledge of elders to future generations. Now that small video cameras are so readily available, it is a task to which we should all lend a hand and our hearts.


Nick Robinson said...

And storytelling is now really big in the personal development sphere, because of all the reasons Kevin mentions. I believe human beings are evolved to use story to make sense of how we experience everything around us. Story helps us give meaning and significance to things we loved, hated or couldn't even care about. And because story is usually dripping with metaphor, it connects directly with our subconscious evoking memories, images and desires at a stroke. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... they already knew all this.

agent green glass said...

i liked this post and i got thinking how the scenario is so true here as well.

i'm from india. and we have a tradition of storytelling. at least that's how it used to be. all our traditional wisdom was passed down through stories your grandmom told you when she oiled your hair. the song a farmer sang when he worked at the field. the proverbs your parents muttered when they wanted to warn you off something.

but...with times changing, and nuclear families, and migration to the city, we're losing a lot of that.

however, there are people at a management institute who have started a fantastic journey that's open to everyone. you walk for ten days through villages where there are no roads, meet villagers, take part in their songs and dance, and record everything. all their songs regarding the weather, their proverbs around the crops, their stories around animals, and lunar cycles...basically all their wisdom. it's fantastic. who knows maybe one day, all that knowledge will teach our children how to protect their planet. - that's the link, just in case.

OysterGirl said...

KR - are you familiar with StoryCorp project - who travel the country allowing generations to record their interviews with loved ones. They have a great DIY version on their website.

I'm headed back to NZ Sunday to celebrate my mother's 90th with the rest of my siblings and extended family next week - and spurred on by my recent discovery of StoryCorp we're sitting her down one morning with a group of the generations to record on video an interview with her about her life, her dreams, her story. Can't wait!

Ray said...

Yes Kevin, wonderful notion, and your firm could make it reality for many more people.

It needs simple software, storage and so on so that anyone can put together a decent looking friendly production, accessible online to the extended family - at no cost.

All you need do is find a relevant client to sponsor it. And with new ad tech your client would find they'd get 10X the benefit they could derive from existing ad models, and make money out of the exercise per se. Without hassles.

All it needs is an agency to listen.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,
You tell a good story.
I bought myself a camera for Christmas and your words have reminded me to use it more to record what I can of my life and my family.
I heard Peter FitzSimmons talking about the research he did for his book about Tobruk. He found a generation that did not want to talk. It made him realise he should have asked his greatest source, his own father, more questions.
Our best memories are often those of hearing the spoken word.
Will the future generations lose that? Perhaps the spoken word and storytellers will endure and evolve in a pragmatic style that suits each generation.


Jasmin said...

I agree ... I suggest everyone involved needs to consider a couple of really critical issues in order to ensure the real value is realised in these stories.
This revolves around storing, labelling, and finding information. These videos are valuable *If you can easily find the video you want*. If they have not been well labelled (taxonomy), stored in an accessible form, and made searchable, most of the value will be as random as finding any given photo on your current PC hard drive .... so plan how to make them available and accessible, and follow through from the start :-)

Kevin Roberts said...

@OysterGirl: As I said in the post, I cannot overstate the importance I place on storytelling and StoryCorp is a great modern take on this. I hope your mother's 90th birthday was an uplifting experience. KR.