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What if I told you there’s a process in the brain that’s simultaneously responsible for:

  • the reason luxury brands like Louis Vuitton can charge so much;
  • how consciousness makes sense of the world around you; 
  • and one of the most important tools people can use to gain creative influence and shape culture?

It’s a process so fundamental to the human mind that it happens regardless of whether you’re aware of it. Without realizing it, you (or your brain) are currently an active part of forming what we recognize as existence.

That fundamental process is storytelling and narratives.


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Humans have been telling stories for tens of thousands of years at least. The oldest know art is a painting of warty pig in Indonesia. It goes back 35,000 years and is thought to be the worlds oldest figurative art painting. Scholars even believe that ancient humans didn’t create art from the animals they ate or hunted but the animals that inspired them. Jean Clottes, one of the preeminent prehistorian experts, believes wherever you find modern humans, you’ll also find art. Showing that art, and storytelling have been inseparable from humans for at least that long, and they have had a profound effect on how the brain developed to process the world.


Internal

The fact that brands and people can use storytelling and narratives to create the world around us is only possible because they are so integral to how the human mind processes the world, that we create them just for our own mind with out even being aware of it.

You see aside from external storytelling, we tell ourselves stories about ourselves and the world, all the time, with out realizing it. This is the result of consciousness extracting meaning from the otherwise random and arbitrary world around us*. This also happens to be the underlying idea behind a growth mindset I talked about in the previous email. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right
Henry Ford

Which is why your mindset is so important when it comes to creativity. If you believe you’re creative (or believe you have the ability to be creative) you will believe you can grow in your creative ability. If you tell yourself the opposite story (consciously or not) then that’s the story you will live.


External

The other side to storytelling is how it can be used externally to create collective narratives.

I would always begin by telling marketing clients that people don’t care about a brand (theirs included). Instead people use a brand to tell other people stories about themselves and (perhaps more crucially) tell themselves stories about themselves.

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One of Apple’s most effective marketing campaigns was their “Think Different” campaign. People who bought Apple products at this time probably told themselves a story about how they were not someone who followed the crowd or were ok with the status quo. It isn’t that they were consciously communicating it to themselves, but I’m sure on some level they identified with the storyline and wanted to feel different or special.

There is a story brands have formed through everything they do or don’t do. Visuals, fonts, values their executives proclaim, their presentations, whether and which non-profits they work with etc, and the people who buy those products want to live our that story. Not necessarily to impress other people but always to communicate something about themselves to themselves (even if that isn’t apparent to themselves).

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Maybe you’re beginning to see how a brand like Louis Vuitton uses storytelling to get people to live out their brand’s narrative. Everything they do tells a reinforcing story about their brand. I suspect it even goes further than their customers, that even their employees and creative directors take part in the story. Quite honestly it’s much easier to create a story that you yourself believe in and want to be part of. Without it, it’s hard to be inspired for the next collection or direction of the brand.

A key point is narratives don’t have to be true or at least totally true. In fact they kind or rarely are 100% true, more like mythicized versions of the world and society. Whether that’s stories we tell ourselves or collective narratives that exist in society.

There is no real practical difference between stories and narratives, and you can use them interchangeably. Most of what people refer to as narratives are more often collections of stories and are often more ingrained as part of the culture, but I often use them fairly interchangeably.


Narratives and storytelling are powerful tools when it comes to creativity.

  • Both internally because the stories we tell ourselves shape the way we see our creative ability and 
  • Externally as ways to use creativity to create culture and create better experiences or projects.

Whatever you think of stories and narratives it’s helpful to know they exists. They aren’t bad, or even good, just simply a function of consciousness and part of the human experience. When you’re aware of them you’ll see them everywhere.

Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback I’d love to hear it.

-Kevin

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P.S. In the next email I’ll share the final and probably most important idea that that creative and innovative people use to gain influence and create culture.

*(If the idea that the world around us is random and arbitrary is new to you I have an article on it here because its way beyond the scope of this email, but to sum it up think about things like words and logos. The Nike logo means something to you but its meaning is made up. The meaning of everything exists outside of what the object or thing is.)