What’s your story?09 . 04 . 2020

Woe to him who teaches men faster than they can learn.

This quote by Will Durant sums up nearly everything happening in tech right now. Even as we rush headlong into a future full of wild ideas, these ideas are generally difficult to grasp, impossible to explain, and easily ridiculed. Thanks to my interviews on Technotopia, I’ve built a thesis around the future that is so far-fetched and wild that it sounds like science fiction. Space travel, AI, and minimum incomes all fold into that future but to explain it, to describe its structure, is wildly difficult.

So how do you tell the world about your great idea? We have to tell stories.

I’ve spoken to hundreds of companies looking to change the world based on wild-eyed speculation of the future. They see the world as heading into a bright, wild cloud of potential that will eclipse everything that comes before it. While that kind of enthusiasm is fun, it’s rarely productive. Their theses are deeply complex and poorly articulated. They stuff everything they can think of into massive projects that become confusing and disturbing.

They don’t tell a story.

I am currently in Oman speaking/scouting at a Blockchain conference. Today, after a panel that talked about the specifics of blockchain, one Omani investor raised his hand and asked “How can I get blockchains? Can I buy them with a barrel of oil?”

The panel stopped for a minute, confused. Then they tried to explain blockchain. But it was too late.

The panel, in short, didn’t tell the right story. The Omani knows one way of doing business. We all know his business will be forever changed in the next few years including his economic dependence on oil. So how do you explain the value of the blockchain to someone who thinks in terms of barrels?

You tell the story of a database that cannot be deleted or tampered with. You tell the story of a store of value that is as liquid as his barrel of oil but doesn’t not require a tanker to move it across oceans. You tell the story of a way to share money and information over borders in an instant.

In short, start with the story. Don’t start with the details.

Don’t say you’re building a small, shock-proof device containing a brand new miniature hard drive that can hold multiple megabytes of digital data.

You do what the great storyteller Steve Jobs did and hold up a white box and proclaim that it offers “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

You don’t explain that you’ve greated a new logistical system that can pick and ship millions of products yearly at a far lower cost although, obviously, in order to gain market share you intend to lose money for most of your business’ lifespan.

You tell the world that they can Click to Buy nearly anything on your new site, Amazon.

You don’t tell the world about your idea in detail, you tell a story. You tell a story about who you are, what you’ve built, and why it’s important. Save the detail for the auditors — if they ever come. I’ve been working on a fund that supports species-forward behavior. I’m not going to go into detail about how it works until you ask. Remember: the more you talk, the more chances folks have to shake their heads and say “No.”

Don’t lie, just ease into your story. As the poet Emily Dickinson said “Tell all the truth but tell it slant/…The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.”

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

The truth is wildly important. You just need to figure out how to make it stick. The easiest way, the way we were born to understand it, is in storytelling. Reduce your verbiage, focus your thoughts, and repeat. Do this over and over again and your story will eventually be heard.

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James Donovan

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