This is the final post in a thread I have developed here over the last week on “symbolic value”. The reason I am focusing here is to see if we can identify key elements of stories that are “larger than ourselves”. Why? Because these stories unlock our capacity to create value in what we see around us. Without them, to be blunt, life sucks.
We have identified 2 elements (1) invitations to transform and (2) revealed beauty. Big, big stories deliver both. But that is not enough to make a story engaging. We need one more element.
To see that, consider the poor, little neutrino. We discovered these little buggers back in the 1950’s. And while we can’t see them, they are all over the place. We don’t notice them because most of the time they pass through matter. Indeed, trillions of these flow through your body every second. They fascinate physicists, but not the rest of us.
Until, that is until they affect us. That is, until they put things in motion that concern our day to day lives. This “putting things in motion” is the third element of stories that are bigger than ourselves. In The Hobbit, it was Gandalf’s visit to Bilbo Baggins. In Nicholas Nickleby, it was the death of Mrs. Nickleby. I could go on and on. But in every great story, an external force puts things in motion.
This is true in real life as well. And we need it. Clark reflected on this when he discussed the odd attraction that barbarism has for some who live in civilized settings. They are bored. Ironically, Clark noted, they cannot imagine the far greater boredom they would experience without civilization.
So there can be too much beauty, too much transformation unless these occur within an engaging framework that has a discrete beginning, middle and end. And if we overload the story that we live with too much, we overload our capacity to live it. So, on the micro level, it is wise counsel to engage in work and stop frequently. These stops create the opportunity to create more manageable stories.
Where does this leave us? Lafley & Martin argue that developing great strategy is a matter of making the right choices that enable you to “play to win”. This game starts with the question “who do you want to be?” Not on your own, but with respect to others? That means, what value do you want to create for them? Well, we see here that this “value” is symbolic. Creating it means understanding what we choose to do in light of what is greater than ourselves. And the above helps to see how we talk about that.
FOLLOW UP – Here is a nice example of an invitation to transform can fall short of engaging us, if it does not start a story. It is a thought experiment — thinking of how New York (the city) might be made self-sufficient with respect to food and power. This invites us to re-think the value of everything around us. But will we actually take steps to do any of this stuff? The thought experiment only gets exciting if we believe that we can and might.