The Story Economy Blog

A Time for Imagination

judy in field, smallerI don’t know this woman.

According to the caption, I do share a name with her, which offers some sort of kinship. But I don’t know her story. All I know is that she is in my grandfather’s album, and the picture was taken circa 1930. Paging through this album (which now belongs to my aunt), it’s obvious that Grandpa Ketteler was popular with the ladies. Because the pages are filled with lovely pictures of young women, with only first names as captions: Judy, Babs, Gladys, Catherine, Dot. And it’s these single name photos of glamorous-looking young women that capture my imagination.

I mean, of course, I love their jewelry and their shoes and their headscarves and their sense of style. But mostly, what grabs me is that they have a story I don’t know, and I’ll (probably) never know. This should make me profoundly sad (what happened to Judy?). But instead, it profoundly inspires me. Because it feels like a canvas. An expression, a single name, a time period, and a hint of context—and my mind is ripe with possibility.

To be clear, I’m not talking about genealogy, or the desire to dig into the actual stories of those departed. I mean, I’ve certainly spent a lot of time on that train lately (and will continue to ride it as I grieve my dad). But honestly, right now I’m just so tired of sorrow and loss and heartbreak. I’ll reflect on all of it later: you can count on that. But I can’t bear it now. Right now, I’m writing about imagination. And how it can be the starting point of everything great.

And what I see is this:These pictures do visually what we have to do when we talk about our businesses and why we do what we do: provoke people’s imaginations.

Are You Sparking or Squelching?

Last week, I was honored to teach a class to the Bad Girl Ventures students about how to make the most of your 60-second judy sitting on truck, smallerelevator pitch (welcome, new subscribers from BGV!). I will definitely be writing more about Bad Girl Ventures in upcoming newsletters, because it rocks in about 39 different ways. But here is why I’m bringing it up now: the key thing I told these eager entrepreneurs was that the number one goal of their elevator pitch was simply to create a spark.

A spark, not a sale.

Basically, you want to leave people feeling like they need to know more, not like they’ve heard too much. In other words: spark the flame of interest—versus pouring water on the fire.

Think of it this way: what if I did know the entire chronology of Judy’s life? What if I had her bio set out in front of me, a timeline of her life? (This is yet another picture of her: I want the necklace!) I’m not saying that wouldn’t be interesting: it would. But I doubt it would instantaneously capture that part of me where little sparks of ideas get ignited and lodged. The facts would shut down my imagination, before it had the chance to start painting on the canvas of possibility.

Too many facts, laid on too thick, and without space to breathe keep us far too logical. When you are trying to get people inspired about your business or your idea, your job is to take them out of logic for a minute. You have to get people out of their heads and into a feeling. You have to take them to the same place I go when I see these pictures: into their imaginations. Because once you have people at that level, they become complicit in making the story. It feels like it’s part of them, and they are emotionally invested—at least for a few seconds. And that’s where you start to build.

I don’t even think it’s really about how great your idea is. I mean, that definitely matters. Don’t try to inspire people with crap. But a good idea with great energy behind it is much more compelling than a great idea with no spark.

So, how do you create a spark for people? Probably not with a bulleted list—so I realize the irony of giving you a bulleted list at this point. But for our purposes, it is a good way to get you thinking about a few things you can try.

  • Talk about the moment you first got this idea.

  • In a clear and genuine way, talk about WHY you do what you do (not just WHAT you do).

  • Tell a (quick) story of how this thing you’re building solved a problem, soothed a heartbreak, or made something un-mediocre.

  • Paint a picture of the difference the business makes.

  • Ask a (rhetorical) question that makes your audience think, or ask them to visualize something.

  • Try the “one thing is not like the other” strategy, where you start out talking about some slice of life moment, and then spin a web to your big point (what I do in 90 percent of my newsletters, including this one).

If you have other ideas, share them here!

Let’s channel imagination, people. It’s an unlimited resource, out there for all of us.

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