Here we talk a lot about the importance of story. At the Roadmap Conference we talked about how we use story to fuel design. Stories however are important in almost all aspects of our lives, because as a species we have learned over thousands of years to use stories to help us better convey the information we want to share and to forge stronger connections with our audience.
Recently at lunch we found ourselves talking about our favorite podcasts and were surprised to find that many of us listen to the same programs despite varied interests. We agreed that what drew us to these podcasts was the same… great storytelling.
These programs are great not just because they use story, but because they connect us with content we might not otherwise seek out on our own.
For example, if you are the kind of person who tends to skip over the Business section in the newspaper because stocks and economic indicators make your eyes roll back in your head, you might be surprised how you feel about the Planet Money podcast, which uses stories and characters to turns those things that make people want to skip the Business section into content that entertains.
Here are a few other recommendations to give a whirl on your next commute or roadtrip.
Let us know what you think.
Books, movies, products, websites and applications all start with a great idea. But the idea doesn’t become a story until it embraces a theme that can forge an emotional connection with the audience. Once you have an underlying theme, you can use it to inform all aspects of your design to realize your ideas, convey your story and make an emotional connection with your audience. And that connection is what it is all about - because it is what makes a product meaningful and memorable.
Oh, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that we are hiring as well for positions in Engineering and Creative. If you, or someone you know might be interested in working with a pretty amazing group of people, please apply for a specific position or join our Talent Network.
GQ’s The Best Show That Has Ever Been, an oral history of the epic sitcom Cheers, is worth the long, but excellent read. Among the many anecdotes and stories told by the cast and crew of the show are many lessons for people looking to write and create great content and entertainment. Throughout the article there are examples of something we call “plus one’ing” at ToyTalk. Plus one’ing is when a person takes a good idea and makes it better by adding to it.
On The Jeffersons, you would give your notes to the director, and he’d go, “Right, right,” and then turn around and go to the actors and say, “Oh, those writers. They want to change this.” And then the director would come back [to the writers] and go, “Oh, those actors. They won’t do a thing I ask them.” You get this weird us-against-them [mentality].
And when we got to Cheers, everybody could talk to everybody. [snip] If I saw something that Shelley had done that I thought was particularly good, or if a writer had a suggestion for a way she might be able to do it better, you got to tell her that. The only rule was you had to do it so everybody could hear; there were no private conversations. It had to be open with everybody. It really fostered this feeling that we were all in it together.
Our favorite story by far is the story of how the character of Cliff came to be:
I’d spent ten years in London, writing and performing my own comedy shows. They gave me the Cheers [scenes], and I thought it was the springboard for chatting about the show, because in England, that’s what you do. So I walk in, and I’m looking around, and Jimmy Burrows said, “What are you looking at? You’re not here to have a conversation; you’re here to audition.” At that second, I felt all the blood rush out of my body. I did a horrible job. As I was leaving, the casting director says, “Thank you, John,” and my eight-by-ten was already in a wastebasket. But the writer part of me turned around and said, “Do you have a bar know-it-all?” Because in the bars in my neighborhood where my father hung out, there was always a bar know-it-all. Glen said, “What are you talking about?” I just launched into an improvisation of what [became Cliff].
But “plus one’ing” is actually a lot more than someone making a good idea better, it is a company culture in which everyone is encouraged to share their ideas in the development and design of the product, and the culture of the product and creative team to not only be open to these ideas, but the willingness to go back to the drawing board, if need be, to incorporate them.
There are many stories of success here at XOXO, as this conference is full of people ruthlessly devoted to building things that matter. It is remarkable though, every innovator on stage has told a story about how their culture of openness, which is an essential component to the culture of innovation and design here, frequently leds to copycats stealing their ideas.
No doubt, having someone copy your product, especially as blatantly as some of the copycats shown above have, will frustrate, anger and infuriate even the most zen among us. But, what strikes me as special about how this group of people responds to this problem is not with a mountain of patents to protect their IP, or by becoming more closed, or by creating technology which makes it harder to copy their work. Not at all. They respond in a way that must be very counterintuitive to more established and larger businesses, but to them is what simply comes most naturally: by becoming more open and transparent. In fact, this compulsion and willingness to share, the very thing that leads to copycats, is also the process that builds such lasting and meaningful relationships with their supporters, advocates and customers.
And in listening to their stories, one thing is clear: what will sustain the businesses these innovators have built is ultimately not their products, although really good products don’t hurt, it is their brand. It is the brand they built through the process of crowd funding their projects, through their nearly exhibitionist tendencies on social networks, through outstanding customer service, and through the perfectionism they all exhibit with their products.
It is a shame that satellites, space walks, space shuttles, the privatization of space travel, rovers roaming the surface of Mars for years on end, and our ability to land probes on the surface of distant planets has become so commonplace, that they fail to elicit the same sense of awe and wonder that a generation of people experienced when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the surface of the Moon. It is a shame because all of these achievements, as amazing as they all legitimately are, no longer service the greater good of inspiring our dreams as a society and making us think beyond what we deem possible.
All that is about to change, when in about four days time, the Curiosity Rover will begin it’s descent to the surface of Mars. It is our next great “Moon Moment” - defined by the sheer audacity of how we will manage to safely land what is in essence a one ton car on another planet. Take a look:
As the engineer says, “when people look at it, it looks crazy. That is a very natural thing. Sometimes, when we look at it, it looks crazy. It is the result of reasoned engineering [and] thought, but it still looks crazy.”
The craziness one associates with ambition and audacity is not something we should run away from, it is something we should embrace and celebrate. We should all dare to do mighty things, and we should, by way of example, encourage our children to do the same. So tell your kids about Curiosity, and this Sunday at 10:30pm PST share in the experience of watching it land and humanity driving around on another planet.
Limbo is a beautifully produced video game by the indie game developer Playdead. Thoroughly eerie and amazing to play, it will draw you in and, after a few seconds of game play, you will not be able to stop. The overall visual aesthetic, sound design, and score are also worthy of special mention as they are flawless.
But one of the most unexpected aspects of Limbo is how much fun it can be just to watch someone else play, which is a testament to the story the player is helping to tell as they advance from one puzzle to another. See for yourself in this YouTube series where you watch and listen to someone else play the game. We should warn you though, this is full of spoilers and hints you may not want to see.
ToyTalk, at it’s core, is an entertainment company. We approach everything, ever tiny little detail, with that understanding, hoping that through it all we will create something that will help our audiences have fun, laugh and yes, possibly even feel something. Staying in that frame of mind, however, is not always easy. That is why creativity is as much a discipline for everyone in this office as it is an activity some people on some teams engage in from time to time.
Several months ago Oren wrote about how inspiration can come from anywhere and how creating an inspiration reel, which as a process and as a thing, can serve as a touchstone to remind your team of the beauty within what you are building.
At ToyTalk we are committed to capturing and sharing delightful moments, stories and experiences with our customers. Doing so is at the heart of our product, and in all that we do - be it our newsletters, Facebook page, Pinterest Boards, Twitter feed, and now our blog.
Our blog will be different from some of our other channels however in that we hope it provides a better medium for us to chronicle our journey as a startup, share our thoughts on family entertainment and provide insight on how we build and what we are building.