Homo sapiens have been telling stories since we learned to speak and language developed, and we have been producing and creating content as a species since our ancestors drew or painted on cave walls or rock faces or put things in tombs.
All that is different is technology. Whether you’re telling a story around a campfire thousands of year ago about the day's boar hunt, or texting or Tweeting about your day, it’s basically the same. So I cast my mind back to the documentaries and exhibits I have seen and books I have read, and asked myself: “What can I learn for your business from our long ago ancestors?”
For starters, we can learn that there is a lot we didn't invent! What we did was come up with new ways to transmit information. History does repeat itself in recognizable ways. And it doesn't hurt to give credit to those who came before.
The next thing I realized is that words are not enough. Words and languages don't always tell the whole story, hence the fascination with cave paintings or rock drawings or the contents of an old tomb or trunk. And the fact is, writings on parchment or rocks or paper have lasted for thousands of years. Can we say the same about what is written on a computer, saved on a flash drive, or stored in the cloud?
What happens when oral tradition is put into writing on rocks or stone or parchment or paper? And what happens when the words are translated into different languages at different times in history? Does the meaning of words change over time, and do interpretations change meaning?
What does this all mean for storytelling and content these days when stories can spread across the world in seconds? Words and documents can be changed, or sites can be hacked, and there goes the story!
So what is a company to do?
Stories survive and have survived in multiple formats for many thousands of years. Comparatively, computers are very young and the internet and mobile devices even younger, no more than what amounts to a millisecond in the history of humankind. We don’t know precisely what will happen technologically in the future, but we can guess that the odds are there will be more online and fewer hard copies. And that is a real problem.
People have to ask themselves:
- Will people even 10 years from now be able to read what we write today? What bout 200 years from now?
- Is there anything we need for legal or tax reasons now or in the future?
What can we do:
- For starters, buy acid-free folders and boxes, arrange for storage, and put copies of the most important papers in them. This should also include articles, photographs, audio/visuals, minutes, and annual reports, because someday your company may need them.
- Think about your company’s 10th or 25th or 100th anniversary. How can you celebrate without your history available to you? It is valuable in branding, launching a new product or service, and relaunches, as well as celebrating an anniversary.
So what can we learn from our own history?
- Telling stories is something people have done for thousands of years.
- Transmitting them in any format is transmitting culture, as well as personal stories.
- Telling stories preserves corporate memory, which is a powerful marketing and branding tool.
- It’s important to write stories down, and in a format that will last.
Phyllis Barr is president of Corporate Culture Marketing by Barr Consulting Services, which helps companies leverage their history and heritage. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.