Funny how you remember these things. It turns out it was Anthony Kiedis from the Chilis who asked “Wanna play rock n’roll tennis?” The 1991 ad was for Nike. And Andre was just hitting balls, not playing air guitar.
Yet what did I remember? Tennis and rock n’roll. I even forgot which product Andre was advertising. And I added the air guitar bit myself.
I hadn’t planned to get onto the subject of storytelling so soon, but this seems a good enough lead in. There’s a tale I tell about my Granddad Turner to illustrate the value of storytelling in organisations. It goes something like this:
When I was seven or eight I used to sit with Granddad Turner in his armchair and listen to stories about his time as a soldier in India. My favourite story – and the one he most liked to tell – involved him being chased up a tree by a tiger.
To cut what he could make into a very long story short, all night he sat high in that tree, rifle aimed at the prowling, restless, hungry cat. He fought off the cold and the growing weariness that came as the night passed until, at dawn, the soldiers who had been sent to find him fired warning shots into the air and chased the tiger away.
My granddad was saved, the magnificent cat that he didn’t want to shoot survived, and he went back to the safety of his camp to tell the story of how he was chased up a tree by a tiger.
Now, 20 years on this seems like a bit of a tall story to me. Chased up a tree by a tiger? Come on! And I’m pretty sure he was in Burma, not India, during the war. And every time I heard him tell it slightly differently. It doesn’t matter. It’s a story. Only he knew what the original tale was. I’m pretty sure even I have changed the details a little as I write it down now.
What matters is the impression that the story left. I will forever remember my granddad, who worked his whole life in a nondescript Derbyshire brake linings factory, as a brave, young, adventurous, tiger-loving soldier. It’s not the details of the story that count, it’s the moral behind it.
Storytelling has existed since man sussed out the arts of hunting, making fire, cooking and generally being top dog in the prehistoric food chain. As he sat around the fire, belly full, he and his fellow men started telling stories to pass the time. You see the same process happening today, in pubs, in hairdressers, around the dining table, at the office water point, in newspapers, in books and in films.
It’s just that when selling the concept, or pitching for your share of this year’s budget, such a seemingly abstract thing as storytelling has a tendency to bring out the cynic in even the most open-minded senior executive.
But it’s a natural process. As natural a thing as you could hope to do in the business world.