How Shared Stories Build Community and Create Change

How Shared Stories Build Communities and Create Change

Some people are very concerned about the next generation. They think Millennials only have their face in their phone, can’t have a legitimate conversation about anything substantive, and are the laziest group of people in history. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.

It is the Millennial generation who has fundamentally changed the way businesses interact with consumers, political candidates communicate with the public, and education is delivered. If Baby Boomers and Generation X used technology to create efficiencies, Millennials have taken that technology and used it as a megaphone to capture the attention of the world.

Take for instance TOMS Shoes. For every shoe purchased, a pair is also given away to someone in need around the world. Blake Mycoskie was the first to popularize an economically viable business model that accomplished both high profits and a sustainable way to improve the world. Blake’s “crazy” idea has spurred many other for-profit businesses to leverage social good as part of their go-to-market strategy, not just a footnote in their approach to corporate responsibility.

Or consider Warby Parker. Famous eyeglass manufacturers and retailers thought they had the market cornered. And they did, at least until Warby Parker came along. Warby Parker believes that eyeglasses should look good, fit your personal style, and be affordable. And they believed that consumers would be even more willing to give their “crazy” approach a try if they knew that every pair of eyeglasses purchased also helped someone else see better, too.

What makes these businesses so effective? It’s the oldest tactic of the human race—storytelling. 

While shoe companies certainly donate millions of dollars a year to a variety of charities around the world, they still believed they were selling shoes. This is why when Blake launched TOMS Shoes, they didn’t even notice. But Blake wasn’t selling shoes; he was selling the ability for every consumer to put a pair of shoes on someone in need around the world. 

The same is true for Warby Parker. Not only did its founders leap-frog an entire industry and change the way we buy glasses, but they also found a way to make better vision accessible to everyone—in the United States and around the world. Warby Parker doesn’t sell eyeglasses; they enlist people in a movement to help improve the quality of life for people around the globe through better vision. 

If you want to change the world, you have to tell better stories.

In the industrial age, the measure of success was scale and profit. In the post-modern age, the measure of success will be affinity and access. This is core to how Millennials see the world and what the rest of us can learn from them. 

Stories carry within them:

  • Elements that transcend individual experiences. Stories are the big idea behind any movement. They are the necessary to expand the relevance a particular story to a much broader audience.
  • A DNA that binds me together with others without having to give up my personal identity. Shared stories create community but don’t ask me to give up my personal identity.
  • The opportunity to co-create a better way. Stories are fluid and can evolve over time. Through stories, I can change how I—and others—see the world.
  • A chance to be the hero. If I can accomplish my personal goals while also improving the life of someone else, it’s a win-win situation.

The better You are at storytelling, the more effective You’ll be at organizing people and doing work that is meaningful, significant, and purposeful.

But there is a new development in the world of storytelling that will blow your mind. It’s the use of data to drive narrative. Can data (analytical) and storytelling (creative) both co-exist? Of course!

The better leaders become at using data to drive and deliver narratives, the more potent their efforts will be. It’s vitally important that those who are interested in mobilizing a broad base of people to accomplish something significant become familiar with data and how it contains the information necessary to engage others based on their preferences as well that determine what resonates and what doesn’t.

This is the role of storytelling today in building communities and creating change:

  • Stories will cut through the clutter of the marketplace. It’s a noisy place out there.
  • Stories will earn the attention of others. Attention is the greatest asset in a post-modern economy. And now it can be measured.
  • Stories will turn supporters into evangelists. Capture the heart of a consumer, and you’ve created the best salesperson who isn’t on your payroll.
  • Stories will bind large groups of people together. Everyone wants to be part of a movement.
  • Stories will be the litmus test. Without a great story, even the best product in the world will be limited in its reach and success.

Millennials may do things differently, but they will and are effective at using stories to create shared identities and drive change. What we have seen from them through social media, blogs, and online communities is just the beginning. The best, I’m convinced, is yet to come.

REFLECT: What is the story behind your brand? Are you using it to capture the minds and hearts of others? How has the shift in consumer priorities expressed through companies like Warby Parker and TOMS Shoes impacting your work?