Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Every good story has 3's - my focus does too

Ever since the Reinvention Summit, and really ever since J and I did some brainstorming early this year, I've had a swirl of ideas in my head about how to get closer to story. But I wasn't quite sure where to go, how to focus my energy. Over the past few months, 3 prizes have settled to the bottom of the goldfish bowl. I'm liking the way they work together. I guess I'll see where they take me!

#1 - Craft stories - I'm working on this and should have news to share in the next month, I'm hoping. There's a lot of groundwork to lay to even think of starting in the space. This gives me a guaranteed creative outlet and also something tangible, which, like those object-oriented stories I talked about in April, intrigues me immensely as it relates to story. (I'll never feel I need to repair or build my own motorcycles or the like, but rather, via technology and craft we can give substance to stories...)

#2 - Connecting people via story - After RS2, I had identified the average Joe's story, and making that happen, as part of the roots of my excitement with the topic. I've had a note on a whiteboard about "the glory of stories is in the connections" and finally put the two together - I wanted to connect people using stories. This has a strong relationship with my direction at Kodak when I left there. The thought of connecting people from all over the planet, all races, creeds, cultures, classes, using the universal tool of story - incredible. I also am working on what might be a "prototype" project for this space (and which also has tangible pieces!)
that I'll be talking up soon....

#3 - Helping companies market to their communities using story - I realized just this weekend that adding this third leg would truly balance my stool and round out my ability to potentially launch out into the story space. Community management and engagement has long been an interest, even before I snagged on the story idea. I have experience building and managing a couple of research communities and did a stint in a more engagement centered social media role, as well. The community focus can pull a bit away from the straight story marketing offerings out there, I think.

So, those are my 3. I look forward to playing with all of them! Watch for more details on projects for 1 and 2 soon...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Little fluffy clouds...

At the tender age of 3, my brother, Sonny, would spend hours with Grammie Roelle, watching the clouds. Like examining inkblots, they would play a type of “I spy” in the sky – picking out familiar shapes in the puffy forms.

I can pinpoint this to when he was 3 because I was 5 and was hospitalized with a broken arm and he told me this is what they did while I was away.

I like to think that this had some influence on his current career as an artist, but that's his story to tell.

As a kid, I often wondered how other people thought. Was the dialogue in their brains like the one in mine? Did they even have such a dialogue? How did they take in, process, and decide what to do with all the sensory information around us? What shapes did they see in the clouds?

In my teenage years, this became a quasi-crisis (as, I suppose, many things do for teens). I was convinced that I was different and, in the search for the root of that difference, perspective was a key culprit. Everyone else just didn't understand the stories my brain was telling me.

My brother, Dan, is red-green color blind. They discovered this when he was in kindergarten or first grade – he did the color by numbers all wrong until he learned to read the names on the crayons. To him, the lawn is orange. Our Uncle actually sees in only shades of gray. I remember trying to play Trivial Pursuit with him and it just didn't work because the color coding meant nothing.

Knowing that Dan sees the grass as orange fascinates me. If he has this colorblindness, how does he know that it's orange that he's seeing in the grass? Wouldn't oranges look a different color to him? How does he create his frame of reference when his perspective is so shifted from “the norm”? Does a color shift change way you experience things? Does a purple strawberry taste the same?

Oliver Sacks did a study on an island of folk in the South Pacific, where almost everyone saw in shades of gray. In the book, he describes the artwork of some (Scandinavian, I think) people with the same condition. Paintings done in black, white, and various grays that have patterns and details those of us who see the whole spectrum of colors cannot distinguish. Only visible to those who perceive the world just as the artist does. Cool!

Shapes in the clouds and orange grass, with a bit of teen angst thrown in. This is the root of my fascination with perspective, which in turn is key to the importance of connections. It's only by connecting to others and hearing their stories that we can understand what the world is like for them – and by so doing understand a bit more of what is unique about our own point of view.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The human search for connections

Photo: Danny's birthday, which was also Easter (hence the ears).

When we were young, we moved rather frequently, or so it seemed to us at the time, when the majority of kids we knew lived in the same house from birth to graduation. The longest we stayed in one house, until junior high, was four years. The moves weren't dramatic for their distance, but a few were enough to put the three of us Roelle kids in a new school and new social situation.

From age 3 to 7, we lived in a suburban track neighborhood full of kids. We had easily unlocked the secret of the circle as a gathering point and made several close friends with whom we spent many an afternoon adventuring. There was a bully, a couple of annoying kids, a spoiled kid who just assumed everyone would like him - a whole society.

From there we moved to a small town about 45 minutes away. As it was early April, we had a few months left of the school year, but didn't really connect with anyone at school. My brothers and I formulated a plan. We would play primarily in the front yard, with occasional forays up and down the street, so that kids would see us and we could make friends.

It didn't work all that well. There were a couple of kids in the neighborhood. I became friends with a girl on the corner of the street. Sonny found someone to hang out with. But it wasn't the whole society of kids we had had at our last place.

We were there for just over a year. The following summer we moved to a farmhouse with a bunch of land on a relatively busy road for the country, just about 15 minutes from our last place – but at a new school.

Again, we spent the summer playing in the front yard, desperate for connections, for friends and playmates to “fall in our laps”. It had been so easy in the suburb. In the country, cars passed at 55mph and people had huge properties to walk and play in, they didn't come by.

I don't want to give any impression that we were harmed by the moves or that we were sad and lonely. Everything else aside, we had our cohort of 3 for the summer until school started. We fought like crazy and created our own adventures.

But we yearned for connections and weren't sure how to make them. That was missing. The companion crowd, the society of kids that we had experienced briefly, didn't emerge in these other places.

Today, when I think about the value of connections, I think about those summers in the front yard, trying to be noticed. It's the first major evidence I have of the importance of a tribe in my own life. And the start of a search for the tool to create connections - story.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sea serpents haunt my daydreams


I recently made an "about me" video where I talk about how I put the pieces together and came to story and some of the things that get me really excited. In it, I make an analogy to American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

In American Gods, incarnations of gods travel from their lands of origin to the US with immigrant believers. Once here, they struggle to maintain belief in this new land of opportunity, variety, and distraction and - in more recent years, in a time of emerging technology gods, like the Internet, TV, and Media.

Stories face a similar issue. I don't think that there's a risk that humans will ever stop telling stories - it's too much a part of how we function, of how our brains work, for that. Rather, the playing field has shifted from small local communities to an increasingly connected world across geographies, languages, and cultures. From oral retelling or the printed word to an ever increasing array of near instantaneous connectivity and multimedia wealth.

Story will have to adapt. The question isn't "if" so much as "how".

I have a print above my desk of a sea serpent by Daria. Its tangled and twirling length is made up of sections of scales in varying patterns and colors. Each of these, as I stare at it, is a story.

They're growing like catfish in Chernobyl's holding pond. (Catfish continue to grow until they die, which when undisturbed can be past the century mark. Chernobyl's catfish are now about 8 feet long.) Layer by layer, story by story, the serpent grows. I want to put a webcam near his lair (or his hunting ground) so that we can share and spread the wonder of his stories without disturbing his normal existence.