I think stories are the most crucial part of humanity. Everything has a story behind it; from the invention of the wheel to the brand that serves you coffee. The latter is of concern. Believe it or not; stories are the best-selling product of the twenty-first century. It is quite literally, a war of the narrative.
In the age of the internet, anyone can do anything. You can start your store from the comfort of your home. Maybe, you like travelling, and so you teach how to make travel movies on Youtube. Perhaps, you’re a programmer who quit his job to start teaching coding online.
Maybe, you’re a blogger who’s on a gap year. All of these are valid stories. All of these are valid archetypes of the internet age. I am no different. So, I will not pretend.
Stories truly drive us forward. Our ancestors left what they learned on walls, stories in pictures and symbols, for us to learn and develop ourselves further. The story of Siddhārtha Gautama, a prince who gained enlightenment through detachment, gave rise to the first religion with an atheistic view. Of course, many followed suit afterwards.
Each of us has a story we sell to the world. Some of us are more honest about it. Some of us exaggerate a few details while others hide them. All of that effort, that perfect maintenance of our social media feeds, that curation of content, to drive a narrative forward. A story to the employer who might stumble upon our LinkedIn, for starters.
We’ve come a long way too. There was a time when there were fewer storytellers and more followers. The internet’s most significant benefit then is that it allowed everyone, people like you and me, to jump over to the former group. We’re surrounded by stories now.
The story of how a company began in a garage but sells you the most expensive smartphone. Or, the story of how a company which revolutionised deliveries contributes most to environmental pollution. Perhaps, the story of how a website that helped you reconnect with friends, basically, sold every single piece of information about you.
There is a story to storytelling itself though. Stories sell, especially in a time when we’re at our unhappiest. In times, when most people smile all day long, hopelessly, trying to cover their misery. It is inspiring then, to see how one of the largest coffee companies in the world was started after a single “No” while you take a sip, adding further to your debt.
If you look at Medium, you’ll see a fantastic community. Take a harder look, and you’ll see most of it is hustle and productivity porn. You’ll notice that everyone knows the secret to success; it is writing the same article again and again and then, marking some of them as premium.
In his book, The Four, Scott Galloway calls Jeff Bezos an excellent storyteller. He claims that much of Amazon’s success comes not from its business model but the skills of the man at the helm of the company.
Startups added fuel to the fire. Stories were cool. Stories sold more than anything else. So, they brought out the best of their story; exaggerating the better parts, abstracting the poor ones. The result was a perfect narrative behind every single company you put under scrutiny.
The beauty of a story, however, is that it has multiple retellings. It has different sides to it. McDonald’s story was very different if you heard it from the McDonald brothers as opposed to what Ray Kroc had to say about it.
Thousands of customer-centric startups abuse their employees. Half of that previous sentence comes from the stories told by the startups themselves; the other half comes from the employees.
All of these words aren’t meant to discourage you or to make you look at everything with disgust though. I’m not paranoid about the world. I understand it is fine to like things.
As I said, there is a truth to all stories; some of it is blown up, some of it is blurred. Nothing comes out of pure imagination. Even the worst books have a fleeting moment of thought that inspired them.
The only thing I want is to make you look. We’re at our most gullible today. We need to be more conscious.
So, next time you hear a story, a narrative, anything that hands you a pair of rose-coloured glasses, take a second and look at the story, read it again. You may choose to believe it nonetheless, and that is fine. However, don’t take everything at face value.
There is always a story behind the story.