If you pay attention, you can observe how the stories we tell each other eventually generate change and disruption for the better, says Lou Hamilton.
Growing up in a village, stories often came in the form of hot gossip and tall tales, whispered at the school gates or over a pint in the pub. It’s how myths and legends were built; stories of village folk woven into the fabric of community life. Truth ran slipshod with imagination and tittle tattle. News of births, deaths, marriages, affairs, divorce, illness, bankruptcy, and brushes with the law, all ripe fodder for storytelling. Words were the threads that drew people together or threw others into Coventry. Stories still reach me of the ghosts from my former life, though I now live far away.
Stickiness of stories
Living in London, stories must stretch in other ways to pull people together. Yes, there are small communities huddled in pockets around a local pub, school, church and shop. But there are also opportunities to venture into storytelling circles with people who have wider interests, ideas and ideologies. I was invited to a day’s talk at Somerset House by a thought group called One Question. Once a quarter they gather educators, thought leaders, change-makers, revolutionaries, creatives and impact drivers to discuss a topic. This one came under the banner of Educating Society. Different sectors of the realm were thrown into the ring, so to speak, to tell tales of troubles, pitted against success stories that we might aim to somehow replicate and develop. The stickiness of the subject matter drew out tales of derring-do, tragic dysfunction as well as some heroic efforts of humanity and intervention.
Taking a solitary lunch, because my brain starts to fry when there are too many words flying round a room, I was grateful for a moment’s silence. Another of the delegates joined me but he was a quiet type so I opened my mind to him. He brought me a story I hadn’t heard. That day Yvon Chouinard, the founder of an outdoor apparel brand Patagonia, had given away the company he had built over 50 years. Worth $3 billion, it would now be a trust and non-profit organisation enabling all profits from the business to be given to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.
Tales of tribes
I was hooked by this guy’s offering and asked what he did. I reckoned he must be interesting to bring such a good tale to my table. Turns out he was in the business of bringing retail companies over to Europe to set up shop on his AI-driven tech platform. His words didn’t hook me until he told me about one of his tribe – a surfer leisurewear brand based in California. The brand story of freedom riding the salt waves of the Pacific sells well across the States: who doesn’t want to follow the gold rush of sun, sea and surf? But it doesn’t carry so well across the pond. Europeans need a different story. In the US being a sustainable brand is, as yet, inconsequential, but over here it is a pivotal selling point, so my table-top tale teller told me how he persuaded the surfer dudes to change tack for the UK and European mainland and bring in the organic, sustainable, ethical side to the story. And hey presto, the gear sold here too.
Stories for change
Months later, I’m standing in the Tube staring at a Patagonia poster. Their new story is told with a powerful image and a few words. A jacket has been dissected to reveal its inner workings. Patagonia tells how it is simultaneously saving sea life by using extracted fishing nets that fill the waters with discarded plastic threads, and repurposing this plastic pollution to create the puffy parts of their downer jackets. The poster jumped out at me because of the long trail of stories that had already connected for me around the brand. The founder’s unique gesture, my new friend (who has since become a podcast guesting client) and his brand story strategy; and now, standing here, a story of sea saving and recycling.
When we start to see how stories weave through our lives, we begin to understand their power to connect us with conversations, community and change. In this way we are no different from our forebears, sitting round the campfire. Now the mechanism for transmitting tales is more far-reaching but the essence remains the same; words are our currency and bond. For all our differences, stories draw humanity together in a tricky web of inaccuracy, hearsay, terror, truth, tribulation, triumph, love and loss.
Stories indeed, make the world go round.
Lou Hamilton is an artist and author of Brave New Girl: How to be Fearless, FEAR LESS and international bestselling Dare to Share guide to podcast guesting. She is the host of Brave New Girl podcast and Founder of Brave New Girl Media – a PR agency specialising in podcast guesting.