Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling


The Sexiest Story in Politics

I’ve been watching with interest the different themes that are coming out in the presidential campaign reports. For example, does it feel sometimes like the media still considers the Democratic nomination up for grabs, but considers the Republican nomination all but won by John McCain?

  • The Arizona senator has pulled ahead of his main Republican rival Mitt Romney, as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battled in a tight race for the Democratic nomination. Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards dropped out of the race on Wednesday. (link)
  • The record sum is a powerful demonstration of Mr Obama’s ability to stay in the race against his rival Hillary Clinton all the way to the nominating convention in August if necessary. Such a long and expensive race is becoming an ever likelier scenario in the Democratic race. In contrast, the contest for the Republican nomination, led by Arizona senator John McCain, looks more likely to be decided next week on Super Tuesday, when 22 states hold primaries. (link)

Consider the following numbers:

  • Clinton currently has 256 Democratic delegates or 51% of the available delegates
  • Obama currently has 181 Democratic delegates or 36% of the available delegates
  • McCain currently has 93 Republican delegates or 47% of the available delegates
  • Romney currently has 59 Republican delegates or 30% of the available delegates

That’s a difference of 15% between Clinton and Obama and 17% between McCain and Romney, a small margin of difference in both races, so how do we account for the different tone? Frankly, the Democratic race is more exciting and historical. Regardless of the candidate chosen, the Democratic party will be responsible for nominating the first woman or first African American for president. What’s the Republican party offering in return? Two wealthy white guys. Hmm, where have we seen that before?

Whether McCain or Romney is the better presidential candidate isn’t the point. Rather, the point is that they are representatives of a status quo. Say what you like about Hillary Clinton (I’m not a fan), but she has accomplished something that no other woman has to date: she is a viable national candidate for this country’s highest office. I appreciate that McCain suffered terribly as a prisoner of war, but he isn’t the first candidate for office who honorably served his country. Similar comparisons can be made between Obama and Romney.

The Democratic candidates are just different. At the moment, they are the party of firsts. I believe that’s why we hear the different tone in reports and even in the enthusiasm levels of candidate supporters. Regardless of the arguments about whether the media is liberal, just think about the stories being told. Honestly, which one is more interesting, more sexy?

The Republican party missed an opportunity to tell its own amazing story this election. Imagine if the Republicans had their own viable minority or female candidate. What would the race look like then?





Fighting the Urge to Panic

Panic ButtonThe government is coming to your rescue. This morning President Bush gave a non-detailed statement about how the government will help stave off the coming economic crisis.

“The package must be big enough to make a difference in an economy as large as ours,” Bush said. “By passing a growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep a fundamentally strong economy healthy, and it will help keep economic sectors that are going through adjustments, such as the housing market, from adversely affecting other parts of our economy.” (link)

But wait, the Los Angeles Times reports that no consensus exists that a recession awaits the American economy.

But some analysts say the action in stocks and bonds is overstating the chances of grave trouble in the economy. And they contend that the Federal Reserve, Congress and the Bush administration are being goaded by markets to take economic-stimulus measures that may be costly, excessive and even unnecessary. “The administration, Congress, the Fed and the day traders on Wall Street all seem to be in panic mode,” said Allan Meltzer, a veteran economist and Fed watcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Uncomfortable with Bumpiness

Ah, yes. Panic. A sensation that seems to grip individuals, groups, and countries for sometimes inexplicable reasons. These events make an excellent case study of sorts for how unaccustomed we are to bumpiness in our lives. For many individuals, particularly in the Western world, their biggest crisis during a day can involve getting the blue screen of death. However, for other individuals, say for example the people trying to survive the current turmoil in Kenya, actual survival is a daily concern.

We’re spoiled. As danah boyd points out:

Part of why people are so shocked about what is going on in Kenya right now is because Kenya was so stable. (I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if Gore supporters would’ve taken to the streets after my country’s corrupt election rather than be so complacent.) (link)

What would have happened if there had been riots in the street after the 2000 election? We take our general, day to day stability for granted, giving little to thought to how often unrest impacts other countries. So when the media types start talking about how the American economy is taking a dive, and the general population gets caught up in the hubbub, I wonder about our ability to avoid panic-induced behavior.

Panic Incited by Government

Going back to the post I wrote yesterday, we’re being told a story about the economy. Yes, some people are losing their homes, some people are losing their jobs. For comparison, consider these little facts: the jobless rate in 1930, prior to the Great Depression was 8.7% and topped out at 24.9% in 1933. Today’s unemployment rate? 5.0%.

Without questions, things aren’t as happy and carefree as they were back in the late 90s and during the last few years. They’re is more volatility in the markets and in the world, but the sky isn’t falling (yet), so don’t let panic rule your decisions. Pay attention to the words you’re hearing from government officials. Pay attention to how quickly the economy became a central news topic. This story is being told for a reason.

Panic Incited by Business

Panic also makes an appearance courtesy of certain business practices. We’re told that we NEED certain products or services. Consider how many things we consider necessities that previous generations managed quite ably without: television, computers, iPods, cell phones, and automobiles. On top of what we now consider necessities, we allow ourselves to be goaded into panicking if we don’t have the latest and greatest. (What? My iPod only holds 40GB! I must have the 80GB version.)

Panic is an emotion that groups have taken advantage of throughout the ages to accomplish their goals. Keep this fact in mind the next time someone tries to make you feel uptight and worried about events. Take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself, “Who stands to gain if I panic?” I promise that the person who benefits isn’t you.


(Image courtesy of Isaac Schlueter. Some rights reserved.)


Storytime for Adults

Housing BubbleRaise your hand if you’re tired of the media’s “the sky is falling” approach to the American economy. Since at least 2006, publications like The Economist and Reason were predicting that the United States housing bubble was going to cause economic pain. Sadly, it appears that few people were paying attention, which led to headlines like this one from Forbes:

Recession Risk Watch

I’m curious, did people really think that their homes were going to continue gaining value if the market reached a point where buyers wouldn’t be able to afford them? Apparently so given the amount of debt people now face from a time when they were house rich. Now, the “R” word is tossed around in every other story and the topic has finally made an appearance in the presidential race.

Parts of a Story

There’s at least three things going on here:

  1. Our belief EVERYONE should own a home—Homes are not the only thing we believe everyone should extend themselves financially to own, but they are one of the riskiest. We’ve been told for years that homes are a safe investment. I wonder how the people who owe more on a home than it’s currently worth feel about the people who told them it was a good investment.
  2. Our increased acceptance of massive consumer debt—I’m talking to you, the guy who bought the big screen television on a store credit plan. I’m not talking about the people who’ve gone into to debt due to health emergencies, for example. I’m talking about the people who see something they want, then buy it without consideration to whether they can actually pay for it.
  3. We want more—I’m the first to admit that I want more. My more is usually books, but the point remains, I don’t really need more books. Media types have been wailing about the recent shopping numbers from December that show a drop in buying. Reality check—how many people actually NEED something? Christmas shopping has become mostly pointless at my home because what’s left to purchase other than newer, bigger, better, etc., of what we already own?

These are all parts of a story we’ve been told, and the conclusion to this particular story has been there’s only one way to save the economy: spend more. This story is important because we hear similar ones all the time in other areas, but we don’t always recognize the story when we hear it, so we overlook the issues like the ones outlined earlier.

The Impact of Stories

Currently, we’re told stories about global warming (note: to avoid having to explain in comments, this isn’t a challenge to it’s veracity, but rather to the idea that a story has developed around it), terrorism, identity theft, online predators, and hundreds of others. We’re told these stories because “somebody” wants a certain response, and as our world becomes more uncertain, the stories will flow at never before seen levels.

In spite of the benefit of multiple channels and sources, I think we’ll have an even greater responsibility to check out the stories we’re told. A kernel of truth is usually enough to get people to bite, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the best decisions. Keep this reality in mind as you listen to and read the stories filling your inbox, feed reader, newspaper, and television. The people telling the stories want a certain response, but is that particular response the best one for you?


(Image courtesy of Paul Graham Raven. Some rights reserved.)


Finding the Perfect Pair

SnowshoesMy apologies for the light posting the last few weeks. Between travel and the craziness of December, combined with finishing up client projects, blogging dropped a bit on the list of things to do. However, a topic has stuck in my mind the last few days and it has to come out—shoes.

“Why shoes?” you ask. In part, because the variety of shoes available blows the mind. For example, this morning I went snowshoeing (thus the picture on the right), and I wore my trail running shoes. These particular shoes are different than my regular running shoes. Then there’s my everyday footwear. I usually wear a pair of Doc Marten sandals (yes, even during winter) with just about everything, much to my more stylish mother’s chagrin. So, in theory, my closet should be empty of all other shoes because these are the only three pairs I wear regularly. Sigh. I wish it was so.

My closet is home to approximately 30 OTHER pairs of shoes. And I strongly suspect that I’m not alone in my ownership of multiple pairs of shoes that rarely see the light of day. Let’s leave behind the number of shoes people may own and look at why people choose the shoes they do. For reasons I won’t examine too closely, I spent some of last Saturday in a shopping mall. Anyway, I passed the time by people watching and ended up with one central idea, “What possesses women to wear high heels, to the mall, in December?” Everywhere I looked, women were wearing tiny, spindly, tortuous-looking footwear that looked impossible to maintain one’s balance in, let alone walk without falling.

Our shoes are an excellent example of storytelling in the marketplace. Manolo Blahnik, maker of famous footwear, said in all seriousness that, ” My shoes are special shoes for discerning feet.” (link) Discerning feet? That’s a new one for me.

Using logic, not emotion, how many shoes does any one person need? I definitely don’t need 30, and yet, that’s what I own. So how did this happen? I listened to the story that I needed to have shoes that specifically matched individual outfits. I listened to the story that I needed to have shoes that specifically matched certain activities.

While I like to believe I’m a savvy consumer, and I suspect many of you do, too, our shoe-buying habits give us away. During the next few days as you give and receive gifts, think about the stories you’ve been told and how they may or may not relate to our habit of buying more shoes to join our other shoes in the closet.


(Image courtesy of m.prinke)

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