Our Lives Are Measured by the Stories We Leave Behind

 

My friend Mike died last month. He was sixty-five.

We reconnected about two years ago through a chance meeting at Mineta San Jose International airport. We started catching up at the Santa Cruz Wine Bar in Terminal B (Mike loved red blends) and continued the conversation on our flight back to Orange County. We talked nonstop, making it feel like one of the shortest one-hour flights I’ve ever experienced.

At this point you’re probably wondering, what does this post have to do with business storytelling? Truthfully? Nothing..and everything…because after attending my third funeral in as many months, I’m feeling a bit introspective and have come to a conclusion:

The true value of one’s life is measured by the stories that people remember after you’re gone.

And so, rather than talking about business storytelling this week, I want to share my favorite Mike story with you.

* * *

First, you need to know that Mike was a very large human being–something like 6’ 9” and pushing to 300 lbs.

One day, Mike found himself jammed into a commercial airline seat on a long flight. He needed to stretch, so he walked to the back of the plane.

“I apologize,” he said to the stewardess with his Arkansas accent. “I know I’m not supposed to be standing here, but that tiny seat is killing my knees and I just need to stretch for a while.”

The stewardess smiled. “You can stand here for as long as you need,” she said.

A few minutes later, Mike noticed an elderly couple that kept looking back at him. That’s when the woman got up and approached. “My husband and I feel so safe with you here,” she said. “Thank you for your service.” As she returned to her seat, the old man flashed Mike a thumbs-up sign.

Mike flagged down the stewardess to get her advice on the strange interaction. “I’m not sure, but I think that couple over there thinks I’m an Air Marshall or something. Should we tell them?”

“No,” she said, gesturing toward a man seated mid-cabin. “You see that guy up there?”

Mike locked eyes with a timid-looking, shell-of-a-man. “Yeah?”

“He’s been nothing but trouble. But, I just pointed at you and said, ‘Now, do I need to have him come over here?’”

* * *

 

I’ll miss Mike’s wisdom, big heart, and massive hugs. But most of all, I’ll miss his stories: the adventures of running a Medical Devices company, how he sold bags filled with rattlesnakes to make pocket money as a kid, and the tale of an epic basketball battle between him and his Olympian/NBA center brother.

Our lives are measured by the stories we leave behind. What stories will people tell about you?

 

Photo Credit: Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Arlington United States Virginia, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011635737/.

When Storytellers Become Entrepreneurs: weshowup.io

 

The great game of business is a story filled with roles, events, and influences. So, what happens when the entrepreneur in this great game is also a storyteller?

I first met Kahlil Ashanti in 2015 after watching his one man show, Basic Training. While I consider myself a pretty good storyteller, I’m self-aware of my limitations. Let’s just say that I could never pull-off what Kahlil does onstage.

We’ve interacted periodically via social media since then, but when a LinkedIn notification mentioned that he’d started a new company catering to storytellers, I had to reach out.

His company, weshowup, is a pay-what-you-want service. The website calls it: “A digital risk-reversal model for selling arts, culture, and entertainment.” Weshowup isn’t the first company to implement a risk-reversal model. Software has experimented with freemium and shareware models for years: Radiohead offered its In Rainbows album as pay-what-you-want in 2007; and companies like Kickstarter have offered ways to prepay for future products.

But, weshowup adds two new wrinkles to the pay-what-you-want model: it’s designed to price a service as opposed to a product and that value is assessed after delivery. This flies in the face of traditional services-pricing strategies. Known rather crudely as “the call girl effect,” traditional service pricing models are built on the premise: the value of a service diminishes after services are rendered.

“It’s about trust,” Ashanti said. Weshowup is based on acknowledging “…that the power is in the audience’s hands as opposed to the other way around.” He explained how in an age of digital distraction, artists and venues must recognize the authority of audiences with so much information at their fingertips. “We’ve all experienced paying for a performance, yet felt cheated with the traditional ticketing model.”

I understood what he was saying. The traditional model requires audience members to risk real dollars–frequently months before the performance with no tangible reason for why the price represents the value delivered. But, while I appreciated weshowup’s risk-reversal model as an audience member, the performer inside of me worried. What if the audience decides not to pay after my performance?

“Freeloaders don’t make the effort to come out,” he said, “and there will always be someone who tries to cheat every system. People who care show up. They feel loyalty to the performer, artist or speaker, who is taking a risk that audiences want to embrace.” He also pointed rather harshly to the other side. “This model is not for performers who want shortcuts. The audience will decide on whether the performer worked for it or phoned it in.”

Weshowup’s pricing model is about the relationship between artists and their audiences. “It’s not about feeling sorry for the artist; it’s about care and giving afterwards. It’s about loyalty.” And that loyalty goes much further than supporting a busker who passes a hat or displays an open guitar case.

Initial tests have yielded promising results. For example, in the first test, Kahlil requested an up-front, $5 reservation fee, leaving the final price to be determined after his performance. By the end of the night, the show averaged $53 per booking. The word spread quickly, and venues around the world, like Charlotte NC, NYC, Australia and the UK, supported the idea with both investments and trial opportunities.

Weshowup is rolling out its technology to venues first, with artists working through those venues. The venues pay customized annual license fees based on seating capacity.

Kahlil Ashanti is demonstrating the power of being both an entrepreneur and a storyteller. The storyteller in him demands empathy for his audiences. The entrepreneur in him offers the ability to see future potentials, such as opening access to those without the disposable income required by traditional ticket pricing.

“Anyone can show up and nobody knows how much you paid. Come as you are. Some can give more, some give less, and the person sitting next to you will never know.  Either way, all are welcome and in this world of weaponized differences and divisiveness, a little inclusion can’t hurt.”

To learn more, check visit weshowup.

Storytelling at its Finest, Apollo 11: What We Saw

 

Last week, I found an example of storytelling at its finest. Apollo 11: What We Saw, is the story of the space race, told from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old Bill Whittle, yet narrated by his 60-year-old self.

I caught myself grinning from ear-to-ear with each episode of this four-part miniseries, because I feel part of it. I was six years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, almost seven for Apollo 13, and about seven-and-a-half on the final flight of Apollo 17. Both Bill and I had G.I. Joe Mercury Capsules, astronomy telescopes, and we experimented with model rocketry. I chose a career in engineering because of the space program.

Apollo 11: What We Saw comes in two flavors: YouTube video or audio-only. Subscribe to the audio version. Period. While its interesting to see 50-year-old grainy visuals interspersed with Bill talking into a studio mic, they detract from Bill’s ability to play in the theater of your vivid mind.

One of the best ways to learn storytelling is to study the works of others. So, when I find something that works, I like to go card-by-card through the StoryHow(TM) PitchDeck to see the storyteller used Roles, Events, Influences, and Techniques.

Take a look at my analysis, listen to the podcast, and then create your own. How do our lists compare?

A StoryHow analysis of Apollo 11: What We Saw

ROLES:
1. Audience: People interested in the space program and the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11
2. Protagonist: USA
3. Antagonist: USSR
4. Minor Characters: Hundreds of thousands of people, from the President to the custodians who all played a part in this technological achievement
5. Time: Time is a minor antagonist character as the USA races against it
6. Setting: 1960s Cold War America…and the moon
7. Mirrors: Astronauts and Cosmonauts
8. Deceiver: Mostly politics between the USSR and USA. The USSR is trying to win the culture war by continuously winning firsts and the Americans downplaying the significance
9. Catalyst: The Cold War
10. Pawn: Astronauts, who were the fearless warriors at the tip of the proverbial spear,
11. Fatal Flaw: The pressure to sacrifice safety to be first
12. Superpower: The astronaut’s ability to stay calm during catastrophes that not only saved their lives, but saved the entire program
13. Mentor: Wernher von Braun
14. Protector: The astronauts on the ground, who represented their brothers in space
15. Sacred Cow: Busting the notion that we can’t break the bounds of earth and visit our closest planetary neighbor

EVENTS:
16. Initial Impulse: Sputnik
17. Ending: The first landing on the moon
18. Recurring Event: The USSR beating us to firsts (satellite, man in space, spacewalk, etc…)
19. Plot Points: All of the missions that lead up to Apollo eleven: Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. That knowledge leads us from beginning to ending
20. External Conflict: The Cold War
21. Internal Conflict: Strong-willed characters
22. Meet Cute: ?
23. Setback: Many setbacks, from exploding rockets to the loss of astronauts
24. Loss: Death of the astronauts
25. Zugzwang: Tough decision to Go or No-go based on ambiguous information
26. Indecision: Moments of terror when you just don’t know what to do
27. The Twist: The Americans leapfrogged the Russians
28. Mismatched Response: ?
29. Bad Advice: Pressurized oxygen environment with no easy way to escape in case of fire
30. Backstory: The entire history that led to the final moon landing

INFLUENCES
31. Jeopardy: Life and death
32. Emotional Choice: Fear and sacrifice
33. Logical Choice: Determination to go to the moon
34. Obligation Choice: Obligation to country
35. Gut Choice: Astronauts taking manual control of automated procedures at the last moments to save their lives
36. Instinctive Response: Relying on experience in tense moments
37. Moral Choice: Trade offs on information to share
38. Faith Choice: Many decisions were made to take a leap
39. Guilt Choice: ?
40. Throughline: Beat the Russians
41. Knowledge: Years of experiments culminating in the achievement
42. Who knows what?: What the public knew vs. what the government knew
43. Mistaken Identity: ?
44. No Need: Stripping human needs down to basic necessities for space
45. Context: Each event had a backstory that put it’s importance into perspective

TECHNIQUES:
46. Purpose: To put the space race into the context of what it meant to the average people who lived through it
47. Meaning: We can accomplish what we set our minds to do
48. Big Idea: Together, we achieve great things.
49. Fiction or Nonfiction?: Nonfiction story through personal experience
50. Scenes: Too many to mention. The moon, back home, public, private, etc…
51. POV: An older man telling a story through his eyes as a young man
52. The Hook: We achieved something spectacular, but you’ll never believe how we got there
53. Challenge: Putting men on the moon and getting them back alive
54. Timing/Order: Bill uses a non-linear time sequence to tell the story. He starts almost at the end as the Eagle is touching down, then pops back and forth to setup particular sub-stories that play out on the lunar surface.
55. Shared Experiences: What we as the public saw and how we all reacted.
56. Irony: Gus Grissom almost died because explosive bolts detonated prematurely. He then died as the result of not having explosive bolts.
57. Symbolism: Socialism vs. Capitalism
58. Foreshadowing: Gus Grissom’s bad luck
59. Analogy: Gravity on the moon vs. gravity on earth
60. Contrast: USSR vs. USA