FreshMeat #2: Every Product Tells A Story (Don’t It?)

FreshMeat #2 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

If you know someone that should read this, send it to ’em
There really are eight million stories in the naked city

I just completed a six-week class in improv – not
stand-up comedy, but a series of collaborative,
improvisational games or sketches. The TV show “Whose
Line Is It Anyway?” is a good example of improv.

Part of the process of doing improv is to free yourself
from the evil, rule-based domination of our left-brains
and allow play to take place. This approach has been
applied to all sorts of creativity work, from Drawing On
The Right Side of the Brain
to every brainstorming
facilitator out there. So, I won’t go into that…I’m
fascinated by the stories that we have inside us.

Improv is something that anyone can do – it’s not just
for extroverts or people who are “naturally funny.”
The games and sketches produce humor almost as a by-
product. Most of the activities are based on
some trigger given at the last moment (hence the
improvisation) such as an emotion, a headline, a
physical position, a relationship, an environment.

And, incredibly, when given this little bit of info, we
can generate very rich recognizable stories, conveyed
through bits of dialogue, tone of voice, characters, and
so on. We are all in possession of these cliches, or
scenarios, or memes – call them what you want, but they
are incredibly detailed and we’ve all got them inside
us. If anything, improv helps bring them closer
to the surface so they can come out that much more easily.

A rich couple having an argument, a lion tamer who has
lost a job (and an arm), a game show, a televangelist,
a pair of puppies, a politician orating – all these
quickly produce richly detailed stories that are easily
recognized, and added to by the other performers.

Probably while reading that above paragraph you generated
your own visual and/or spoken details, so maybe you don’t
think the improv is such a big deal. Okay – but what
about the fact that you were able to generate so much
detail from a simple phrase?

It’d be interesting to try improv in cultures where
there is not the same amount of media exposure. Bugs
Bunny and Sesame Street seeded countless memes for their

Anyway, this really supports the whole notion of how
products participate in stories – imagine the props
for an improv activity – a mobile phone, a rolling pin, or
a Tickle-Me-Elmo. We, consumers, have very specific
stories that those (or any) products will be used to
tell. The companies that make “stuff” need to understand
the stories that are out there already and take care to
make certain their new products (services,
advertisements, and so on) play the roles they are
expecting them to.


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