The Story Economy Blog

Bulldozing Houses and Ideas

As I drove by the house around the corner last Thursday morning, I saw the bulldozer at the ready. A late 1940s house built during that post-World War II boom, it was a house not unlike my own 1940s Cape Cod. Except it was about to go bye-bye, so that a construction company could build a brand new house on spec. In the space of my son’s preschool holiday party, the house was gone. Sixty-plus years of history written into brick and siding, demolished to make way for something new.

I’ve been watching this happen in my neighborhood for five years, and I’m guessing it’s happening in neighborhoods all across the country. It used to make me sad. Really sad. It seemed like a waste. I mean, people grew up in these houses. What about their memories there? Is nothing preserved anymore? (Cue swelling music and montage of poignant images of kids.)

But I’m a softy. I like vintage tablecloths and chipped milk glass at flea markets. I like stories. I like history. I swing toward sentiment, and because of that, I don’t always see the whole picture of something.

Like . . . maybe that house had mold. Maybe the rooms were divided up stupidly and just didn’t serve the way we live now. Maybe a young family is going to move into that new house, and that space is going to make a huge difference in their lives, and get them where they want to go in life—in a way that a house from another time period just couldn’t do.

So, is new just inherently bad? It’s not bad when we get rid of old ideas, like the idea that certain people get to sit at a lunch counter and other people don’t. So why is it bad when we get rid of old things that don’t serve us well either? I mean, from a strict molecular perspective, everything on the planet has always been here and will always be here. We just keep redistributing it. So it’s not even really about waste. Nothing actually goes anywhere. (Of course, there are some problems with the places we put it . . .)

Maybe it’s really about innovation.

Sentiment or innovation. That’s the conundrum, the pendulum, the continuum. These ums of our lives, these back and forth notions that are loaded at each end with two equally powerful ideas—they never have easy answers.

So maybe it’s the wrong question. I think we have to look at how sentiment and innovation can work together, and not necessarily assume that tearing down the old is a waste, even when it does house the most tender of memories.

In the same way, I have to keep reminding myself that I can do both with my brand: channel the 8-year-old girl who loved to tell stories, while I create some fantastic new thing that involves getting rid of lots of crap that doesn’t work.

The best way to navigate this tricky business and not let yourself swing too wildly between extremes is to have a strategy. You can bet thatthe construction company has a strategy for the kind of house they are going to build to blend in with the character of this neighborhood. Right now, a lot of people in my tribe are building some really cool things (if you’re saying, “Um, me? Does she mean me?,” yes, I mean you). You’re probably going to have to tear down some stuff too. Do you have a strategy?

If you need some help, I created a webinar (with my design partner Claudia Sandman) called BrandCom. It’s all about building a brand that communicates your story, so that you can connect to your people and build the kind of business you want. I was going to wait until after the holidays to tell you, but I’m so excited that I figured I’d plant the seed now (even if all you can think about today is wrapping presents). It starts January 24th. ¬†Check it out here. That’s

Cherish sentiment, but don’t be afraid to innovate. And have yourself a merry holiday.


  • Patricia

    Posted by Patricia on 01/15/12 10:08am

    Nice to read your blog

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