“Myth is a funny word for brand”. PlanetShifter.com’s Interview with Marc Stoiber, VP Green Innovation, Maddock Douglas

“Stories bring an emotional context to the unfamiliar, enabling us to not only process information, but determine if that information should sway us.” When do stories rise to the impact of archetypical themes, cultural symbol and myths?

I believe stories grow from shared cultural themes. They reinforce archetypes, and build a shared understanding. The best stories take the familiar, and give it a twist to create something new and interesting. Those stories, if they are repeated, gain currency as a new archetype. I believe it’s a question of archetypal themes evolving through stories, not being invented by them.

Can you give any examples of brand equaling a myth?

Myth is a funny word for brand. To me, myth implies imaginary and fictitious. But I get where you’re going with this – you’re looking for a brand that’s become larger than life. To me the best example would be Apple. I’ve never seen a brand with a better story, with a way to keep the story alive and vibrant and evolving (and still true to its roots!) and with a more devoted group of adherents retelling the story, and melding it into their own identity.

How do you define myth in the context of business implementation?

I believe myth isn’t quite the right word for it. Perhaps legend might be better. I believe a legend grows out of a business context when a brand / business goes from delivering what people want, to showing them what they can be capable of loving – by doing this, the brand / business captures their imagination, and lifts them. Of course, that’s the first step. To become a real legend, you have to do that again and again and again.

Is TV killing myth?

TV is a medium. As such, I’d say it’s neutral. TV in and of itself can’t kill myth. However, I believe that focus groups and big studios are killing myth on TV. There are an awful lot of folks out there who take one formula – say reality TV – and re-deliver it and re-deliver it until we’re begging them to stop. That’s what happens when nervous accountants and focus groups take the reins. It kills imagination and storytelling and the desire to push the bean forward.

Is Christianity killing the nature myths?

I believe the Bible is one of the greatest stories ever told. However, I believe there’s a central problem in any one person (or organization) trying to OWN the story. That’s when stories die or atrophy, and dogma takes over. And that, I believe, is what happens with organized religion. It’s even worse when there’s a heavy money stake in keeping believers in line.

The Bible is a wonderful story – and there’s plenty of great storytelling about nature in there, as I recall.

Interesting bit – a few years ago, Christians became alarmed at the state of environmental degradation. You recall that Christians were – according to rigid interpretation of the Bible – supposed to be the MASTERS of the earth. Well, a new interpretation came out that they really were supposed to be the STEWARDS of the earth. Respecting and protecting nature, vs beating it into submission. How the story can change with just a small twist in words!

Is rock music a channel for myth making and exploring?
I used to play in a band. And I can tell you we didn’t have myth making on our minds. We were scrawny and pimply and had no shot at getting a date unless we played guitar.

Seriously, though, I think bands like Floyd do a brilliant job of plumbing the depths of our consciousness and bringing us together for a shared experience. And I believe great folk artists like Woody Guthrie really had a way to capture the common spirit of the downtrodden, and weave it into a truly compelling story.

Rock, blues, country – they are all good at taking universal themes (love lost, isolation, angst) and weaving them into stories that continue to sound fresh and interesting.

What is the basic honey that we need to “get” the stories and symbols you target?

If you’re talking about how do we get listeners / readers to understand and empathize with the story, I believe it’s the storyteller’s job to understand the audience and deliver a story that is familiar enough for people to ‘get’ it intuitively, to enjoy it, and to reward it with a retelling.

In your work, what is initiation? Why isn’t initiation the same experience as the Ordeal?

No idea what you’re asking about here.

Who are the popular authors and artists that are teaching us through myth today?

Not an authority on this. But I believe storytelling has crossed so many lines – you find storytelling in games, in film, on TV, on radio, on stage, in magazines, books, graffiti. Media has exploded in so many new, exciting ways – and where the technology for conveying a message goes, there – invariably – go good stories. Media is just a vehicle until you use it to convey stories.

How is alchemy a force in the creation and growth of corporate stories?

If you define alchemy as the art of taking two lesser elements, and magically blending them into a high value element, I believe it’s a major factor in all stories. Let’s go back to Apple. Dorky computer guy – ordinary. Organizing numbers into sequences – ordinary. But you add the alchemy that was Steve Jobs’ vision for a more interesting, better designed future, and these two elements become the foundation of the legend.

Is fear the main psycho-spiritual driver on the planet now?

Fear is a powerful driver. But I believe hope and faith in our ability to overcome are far stronger – and more compelling – drivers of stories.

Is there a difference between stories for corporations and the culture at large?

No. We are a consumer culture. Consumption and corporations are woven into our psyche. A corporation with a good story – Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms – will captivate us because that story has all the key elements of a good story, period.

That said, I grew up working in advertising in a time where corporations fabricated the story of their brands. Look up the story of Mr. Clean sometime. Unbelievable. This sort of storytelling, shallow storytelling, is not something that people fall in love with.

“As humans, we are wired for order and sequence. We intuitively organize the millions of independent events in our lives into an orderly sequence with a past, present and future. One of the mechanisms we use to do this is storytelling.” But Campbell wants a larger lesson or myth to carry the generations. What makes stories last Marc?

Creativity anchored in the shared human experience makes a good story. Retelling that story is what makes it last. So a story must be universal enough to be retold, reinterpreted – all without losing it’s original flavor. That’s hard. Try telling a joke, then letting it be retold around a campfire. You’ll see it’s hard to craft something universal that people can retell without getting it wrong or losing the flavor.

How to corporate stories utilize symbols? Symbols that mean something and last!?

Corporate stories simply substitute universal symbols with corporate symbols, and imbue them with meaning people can understand. Black cowboy hats become black suits, peasants terrorized by a dragon become farmers terrorized by unfair pay and bad living conditions.

Do you think that stories are language constrained / specific? Are myths?

Good stories are visual. You hear them, and you can imagine the pictures in your head. Great stories are not constrained by language because they appeal to the shared values of humanity.

Innovation is often propelled by self-interested, even within a corp. setting. Your comments?

Innovation, if you want to look at it cynically, is a corporation’s way to keep consumers consuming new things. But if that’s ALL it was, it would fail. Innovation is core to the human spirit…it’s about taking something and using insight and imagination to make it better – turning it into something that betters society, the planet, or the human condition. That’s as old as time. That’s the innovation I believe in.

“The real problem is that the modern world remains in the sway of a dangerously illusory cultural myth. Like Bjorn Lomborg (author of The Skeptical Environmentalist), most governments and international agencies seem to believe that the human enterprise is somehow ‘decoupling’ from the environment, and so is poised for unlimited expansion.” Who are the enemies of sustainability?
People who refuse to believe (or are well paid to not believe) that we are living on a finite planet that needs to be managed with care and love – those are the enemies of sustainability. As are people who know we live on a finite planet, but don’t feel compelled to stand up for their convictions. This is the story to cap all stories – and we’re just at chapter 1!!

“…how fast we humans are learning to use our collective pressure.” What are some good examples of this?

The Berlin Wall. Rachel Carson’s fight to get rid of DDT. 7 year old girls getting their parents to buy $100 tickets to Hannah Montana.

Is Samantha Sustainable headed for a socially catastrophic battle against Ralphie Capital? Ready?

Nope. Samantha and Ralph have one very strong bond. They’re both human, and driven by a human need to protect their young. They need to discover this common story, and it will wipe out all the superficial differences they’ve created around themselves.

Connections –
Marc Stoiber VP Green Innovation
Blog @ Maddock Douglas
marc.s at maddockdouglas dot com
Direct: 604.738.8080
Mobile: 778.839.5689

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