Home » Archive » Key ways story-arcs change business strategy

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Merlin Mann posted an article a few days ago that’s been on my mind. He said the best blogs have a story line that will hold attention – nothing unexpected there. But he used a great metaphor and compared the best blogs to the best TV shows. He walked through his favourite HBO series as an example of how the seasons, episodes, scenes and characters that make up the show have relevance to how one might build out a blog.

He described these various containers of meaning (character, scene, episode, season) as arcs. It’s when these arcs collide that the most interesting stories are told.

A few days before I read Merlin’s bit, I chatted with one of the writers supporting Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his campaign. In describing his role he used phrases like “scripting the campaign” and “tailoring messages”. I was surprised, maybe naively, by the mix of story telling, real-life chess, and Canadian politics.

We talked about articulating the future – using words to create a future that doesn’t exist but in many ways is brought into existence by the words themselves. The words create windows to new views, doors to new directions, and appetites for things voters might never otherwise imagine for themselves but suddenly decide it will define their vote.

In both examples the writers project an outcome, target a future end and use words to create it. They sit today and foresee an end four, six, eight years from now. They arc to that end in broad ways and then work back to create the episodes, scenes and characters that enable it.

Can we arc businesses too? What might it mean for today?

In my business we are hip-deep in development. In parallel line we are retooling, restructuring, and rebranding. Part of the work includes the help of a brand strategist. He’s helping us align the elements of our position and the statements we make about the company.

His early comment was that our “corporate brand” should look … more corporate. Less like a blog and, though not like IBM, more like IBM. The arc idea made me hesitate. What arc are we on? Is it a blog-looking-arc or one closer to IBM?

What is the character of my company? What does it look like? Suit or jeans?

What scene are we in? Where are we in the room? High-rise or back door alley?

What episode is this? Where are we in the story? Climbing or peaking?

What’s this season about for the company? What gets done here to enable whatever is next? Setting the stage or crushing together old arcs?

And, finally, what’s this series about? Where is the end?

My company is no IBM. I’m pretty sure we’re not even headed in that direction. The end zone is probably more mafia consigliore and less corporate suit. We’re in a season of growth where new character is emerging and the foundational story line is being built. Coming off glitzy and slick wouldn’t own the reality we’re in – it would suggest something we’re not and wouldn’t let us own everything we are.

We’re in the cliché scene where all the cool kids watch with dull curiosity as the new kid wanders into the story. All the unknowns and potential can only be spotted in flickering glances, subtle expressions, and vague gestures. There is too little information to establish story-line character but its obvious that “a character” has arrived.

What does “arcing” mean for your tatty old business plan? What does it mean for the VC pitch you’ll make tomorrow? What does it mean for the data you’re gathering to reinforce the story you’re already telling? What might foresight tell you about the story your ought to be a part of?

My gut says two things,

1) There’s nothing new in this idea

(and in spite of that)

2) This concept would enable powerful change across the companies I know.

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