First Man, the latest movie from director Damien Chazelle (10 Cloverfield Lane, La La Land), has hit UK cinema screens. It tells the story of one of the most significant events in modern history – that “giant leap for mankind” as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon on July 20th 1969.
Listening to Mark Kermode’s review of the film this morning, I was reminded of an interview Steve Wright once did with the astronaut for BBC radio. Apparently one of Armstrong’s assistants took the host to one side before the recording and asked, “Would you mind not mentioning the moon thing to Neil?”
I can only imagine the look on Steve Wright’s face, but it underlines an important issue in business – the problem of a one-dimensional story. In one sense it’s useful to be associated with one thing; it helps us develop a reputation within a particular niche.
It’s what Charles Saatchi termed ‘one-word equity’. Need a new website? Speak to Helen. You know Andrew Thorp? Ah yes, he’s that storytelling guy.
However, if you’re trotting off the same old message day in day out, like Armstrong you’re likely to get bored of hearing it. And that can come across as complacent or unremarkable to your audience.
That’s why it’s important to have different ways of saying the same thing. Having a collection of micro stories, metaphors and analogies which illustrate what you do helps keep your message fresh and memorable. In this sense your business story is simultaneously varied yet consistent.
I also believe there’s a second learning from Chazelle’s movie. Most people are familiar with the moon landing event but this film also explores the person behind that famous footstep. Armstrong was an unusually level-headed character, well-suited to the rigours of space flight but perhaps lacking in what we would now call emotional intelligence. Could the death of his daughter in 1962 from a brain tumour have “cauterised his emotions?”, asks Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw.
We all think we know people but in both the workplace and the wider business world we tend to see them in a functional capacity only. They’re the receptionist, the HR manager, the accountant. It’s a one-dimensional perspective but it doesn’t take account of their history, influences, hidden talents, outside interests or ambitions.
Everyone has a story to tell and as leaders, managers and influencers we should follow Stephen Covey’s advice and seek to understand first before we seek to be understood. Get to know people, build trust and deepen the relationships you have. Getting beneath the surface requires skill and patience, but it’s worth it.
After all, aren’t giant leaps really just the accumulation of small steps?