Story thinking, story conversations = new, hereto unknown solutions.
Last night while watching TV I saw a commercial for Air Wick’s Freshmatic® air freshener. Cute, but still, the same old product, just in new packaging. A good example of linear thinking; a way of thinking, I suggest, no longer cuts the mustard.
Let’s face it, although we have deluded ourselves into thinking it does, the old linear way of doing things no longer works, perhaps never has. We are in desperate need of a new model, a new way of thinking, a new way of getting things accomplished.
The global economy has collapsed, our educational system is in disarray, and social ills continue to mount—each the result of linear thinking. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act doesn’t create new models of teaching, but is the same old linear results based way of doing education. Teach the kids pre-perscribed facts, test them, and you had better have better scores than last year.
The old linear, left-brained thinking that we have grown so comfortable with must give away to a new model of right-brained thinking—Creative and conceptual. Some call this new model for thinking, the “New Creative Economy,” or the Conceptual Economy.” Whatever you call it, the “new economy” is at its core, a storytelling economy.
Make no mistake here; this is not storytelling as we are use to it. This is not storytelling in the same linear fashion we use today, 1 + 1 = 2. The Air Wick ad had a cute storyline – skunks visiting rabbits – but it lead linearly to the punch line at the end: “Buy Air Wick Freshmatic® “
The new storytelling model is web-weaving, histological storytelling. In truth, there is nothing new about it; it is a return to a form of storytelling lost to the Enlightenment and its subsequent 1 + 1=2 objective logic. Over the years we have come to believe that the only way to think logically is the linear way. If Quantum Theory has taught anything, it is that there are logic constructs other than linear.
Perceptually, quantum theory evokes a new non-linear way of viewing and understanding the world. Embedded within the theory is the concept called, “superposition of states,” the simultaneous coexistence of several different possibilities. Each possibility, under the right circumstances has a probability of being observed.
Perhaps we should call this model of storytelling “Quantum Storytelling,” for in each story there is an overwhelming array of potential and possibility. You can stare at a photograph, for instance, over and over again, each time finding a new meaning, a new story. From this example it ought to be obvious that stories can be found in everything, not only in what we traditionally call a “story.”
Stories are all around us, in words and sounds, in what we see and in what we feel; everything is a story, everything tells a story. Stories are contextual; they make sense of who we are and how we fit into the larger picture. Storytelling puts our backstory and future potential into the context of the present. Through our stories we see the world, and our experience in it—episodic events, not an ordered logic of presuppositions. We process and discover our identity through the story.
Storytelling puts our individual story – who we are, where we have come from, and where we think we are headed – into the context of our larger world, be it our block, city, or the world as a whole. Storytelling plants the story firmly into our full contextual environment; how we relate to each other and to nature.
For a story to make an impact, it must be delivered in such a way as to create within the observer an emotional impact, for in doing so, the observer becomes part of the story. We call this the grammar of storytelling. Unfortunately for us, the old linear way of thinking has struggled to change this grammar into linearly logical, objective outcome based conclusions, when in reality the grammar of storytelling is evolutionary and subjective, quantum if you will.
The Welsh word for grammar (transliterated as grammeria) draws upon a sort of quantum spirituality, in particular, that of the ancient Celts. The prefix, gram, is related to “song.” The middle, mar, is related to “water.” Water, in Celtic spirituality, always speaks to birth and nurture. Thus it is the task of grammar to give birth and nurture to what is born. Grammar, according to Celtic spirituality, gives birth to, and nurtures, language. Language and song, in Celtic thought are interchangeable; language takes its meaning from its sound. There are three strains to be found within sound, according to the ancient Celts: peace, sorrow, and joy.* These are the three primal emotions. The task of a story is to give rise to these emotions in the one who is listening. When this happens the story truly becomes the listener’s story. Further, a story has no value, according to ancient Celtic thought, unless it gives birth to, and nurtures, new stories placed within the context of, and claimed by, the listener.
Each and every story contains, contains other stories, each opening up, if we but see and hear, potential and possibilities for even more stories, stories hereto unknown. In classic Newtonian logic, the observer is always a neutral and objective external agent. In quantum logic, the observer is always involved in the process of observing, and will in spite of efforts to the contrary always influence the eventual outcome. I just stated this linearly, but what we must grasp is that the eventual outcome is not fixed, not even singular, but rather has the potential to be one or more of many possibilities, perhaps even hereto unobserved.
Every story has a backstory, middle, and end. In quantum storytelling, it is the middle, not the backstory nor the end that is important.
Our brain perceives in wholes, not in parts. For example, if I look at a house, not only do I see the house, I perceive the entire geographical/situational context, likewise, with the story. The story is innately perceived not in pieces, although that’s how it objectively unfolds, but as a whole. When we perceive wholly, everything is put into context. Within this context, there are other stories perceived subjectively. For example, what’s the deal with the old beater in the driveway
next door? In the context of looking at a house, these other stories are not the beginning (when we first see the house), nor at the end (when we make an objective conclusion about the house), but the middle. These specific “other-than” observations are subjective and may come into our mind after the fact (at a later time after we have made our objective conclusion). The natural result of the mind processing the “whole story,” i.e., the quantum story.
A couple nights ago I listened to a commentary by the writers and actors of the HBO series, The Wire. What became obvious as I listened was that there was more at work here than simply a storyline. The storyline unfolded in such a way as to make the viewer want to know the untold story of each character, and of the environment, with the goal that these untold stories, would mesh with the story of each individual viewer. Most importantly, there was the desire on the part of the writers and actors that these “new” stories would become the seeds of new, hereto undiscovered, solutions for the societal ills depicted by The Wire.
A story is nothing less than a conversation between the storyteller, the story itself, and the hearer. In a very true sense, there is no story unless there is someone to hear the story. Further, the story will die unless the one hearing continues the story by telling the story to another … Storytelling is not only cyclic; with each retelling, the story becomes a new story, told in a new context.
Everything begins as a conversation. Everything continues as a conversation. Continuing conversation give rise to new conversations. It is in the assembling of conversations where brand-spanking new ideas find birth. It is telling the story that starts the conversation.
The Latin word for a tablet or story is tabulatum, “a layering of vine.” Here is the histological concept of storytelling, each story weaves upon another to create a dense vine of one melded story. Layer after layer, melding upon melding, until we reach today, yet today’s stories contain the seeds of tomorrow’s stories— seeds of solution.
Several years ago I was asked to suggest for a Hollywood studio an Irish myth that had the potential of spinning off several sequels. The myth I suggested was Ectra Nerai (“The Adventures of Nara”). Students of Celtic myth and legend will recognize Ectra Nerai as the seminal Ulster myth that embeds the entirety of the Ulster mythic corpus.
Unlike the Lord of the Rings, where the sequels are sequential, the sequels found in Ectra Neriai spin off throughout the telling of the tale. Not only are these new stories waiting to be discovered within the larger myth, these are stories taking place, often simultaneously, and often in conversation with each other. In effect making the conversations new stories to be told.
Most of us know the Hewlett-Packard “garage story” and of the new technology that the Garage delivered up. Most of us are also aware of Hewlett-Packard’s struggle today to remain vital as a producer of new technology. The technology that came out of the Garage began with the “what-if’s” found in stories that grew into conversations. HP’s contemporary ills have come about because they have lost the ability to think any way but linearly. The conversations in the garage, inspired by the stories, whirled and spun. The resulted discoveries were brand new, never before realized. Linear thinking reduces new products, new technology, and new solutions, to just another version of the same old thing.
The writers of The Wire, Baltimore natives, love their city, and they tell the un-glossed story of a city struggling to find its way with the hope that in the telling there are solutions to be discovered. Not only for Baltimore, but for every city struggling with these issues. Baltimore today, according to Mayor Dixon is a better city because of The Wire. The citizens of Baltimore found in The Wire new ideas, new solutions. Yet, The Wire offered no suggestions, no new solutions, only stories within stories.
The Wire is but one of many the stories being told in our world. There are many yet to be discovered, there are many yet to be told. Let us tell the stories that need to be told, and in the telling and the conversations, discover brand new, hereto unrealized solutions.
Quantum storytelling is our last hope for a better future.
– Frank A. Mills
Round Rock, Texas
© Urban Paradoxes / Frank A. Mills, 2008 – 2013