Nagging doubt about the story thing

Seth Godin has done his usual excellent job of provoking thought with All Marketers are Liars. He seems to have a knack for taking an idea dramatising it, and packaging it in a way that gets people thinking and talking. He writes really sharply. And, as ever, people are busy making their own meanings out of what he says.

I wish I could put my finger on what it is about this that troubles me. I have this sense that something is missing here. And I’m not sure if it’s about what Seth says or what others are saying he says.

It might be this: an awful lot of storytelling is done after the event. Stories rationalise action. If they are great stories, they sometimes provoke action, setting in train some more actions which will later be post-hoc rationalised as another story. Somewhere in this, there has to change and surprise (otherwise, it’s not much of story).

But if the aim of the storytelling is to conform to an established world view, where’s the surprise? Somehow it feels like storytelling is being reduced to a calculated exercise in getting people to do things. Somehow that feels undynamic to me and lacking in the disruptive, unreasonable persistence of many entrepreneurs. The way some people are parsing Seth, the element of disruption and risk taking is getting lost in favour of what feels a bit paradigm-sustaining, rather than paradigm-changing. Find out what people think and recycle it to them with a bit of flourish. Where’s the author’s own passionate world view – the risk taking?

I was thinking about this reading Evelyn’s post about the writer who took Einstein’s brain on a journey. Did he set out to identify a valuable market niche… or did he act on impulse? My hunch is that he followed an impulse.

Does this make some sort of sense? Comments, brickbacks, sarcastic remarks welcome.

9 thoughts on “Nagging doubt about the story thing

  1. seth godni

    This is a fine point, Johnnie. I don’t think my message came through as clearly as I would have liked.

    A worldview is very different than “everything you know”. A worldview is about biases. You can certainly surprise someone within their worldview. Spamalot is a broadway musical that appeals to people who

    a. like broadway musicals


    b. like monty python

    the surprise comes after the door is opened. The smart thing the producers of spamalot did was understand that they needed a foundation, a place to start, somewhere their story would be heard.

    does that make more sense?

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Seth, yes it does make sense. (By the way, by “fine” do you mean pernickety or good? 🙂 )

    I like the way you put it, makes it clearer. In Improv, I’d call it the “Yes, And”. You “Yes, And” people by acknowledging a world view and then taking the narrative somewhere else. The tilt I guess. That’s what Spamalot seems to have done. You could say most of Python is a giant tilt; embrace a stereotype and then take it to new places. The Ministry (existing worldview) of Silly Walks (tilt).

    That sounds like fun. I think the radical interpretation of everything being a lie is that it gives us more scope to let go of our certainty and go explore possibility. Which I like.

    I think I was reacting against interpretations which suggest people don’t change, tell em what they want to hear etc.

    So there are two lies about your book, one that it is deeply conservative, the other that it’s very liberal. I shall choose to believe the latter.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Dustin

    If you want to create a pardigm shift, then you probably should look at introducing peripheral concepts into people’s worldview. If your concept is powerful enough (perhaps full of delightful surprises?), then it becomes more of a focus of that person’s worldview. Then concepts that were outside their view are now in the periphery and also can become focal points.

    The best example I can give is Apple’s introduction of the iPod. The introduced PC-compatible iPods into the periphery of PC only worldviews. Eventually, iPods became a focal point. Now a Mac Mini may be in periphery of a PC user/iPod owner’s worldview. If they buy the Mac Mini, then a PowerBook or PowerMac may slip inside the boundaries of their computer bias.

  4. Bruce DeBoer

    J –

    I enjoy Seth’s writing as many do. He gives a new look to aging concepts better than anyone I’ve read: it’s popularized marketing in a sence. Purple Cow = Innovation + Differentiation. For marketers, Seth is a great reminder of the basics. By basics I mean the most important concepts not the most elemental. I can’t emphasize enough how good a job he does communicating to entrepreneurs; he really resonates with many non-marketers. I think the key is to not

  5. TragicLad

    I try to look at it from a pure storytelling point of view. Surprises are good, provided it’s a surprise that’s expected within the context of the story you’re telling.

    If I’m writing a mystery novel, it is quite okay for me to have a surprise ending where the detective is actually the killer. People would actually applaud such a surprise. But if I were to end my mystery novel by revealing that the killer was not the butler as everyone expected, nor the detective as some may have inferred, but rather the dastardly work of an evil wood nymph who lived in the forest outside of the estate… well, it would be a surprise, that’s for sure. But as there were no intonations of wood nymphs anywhere in the book, the surprise would likely anger the majority of the book’s readers.

    Consistancy and authenticity are the keys. You can shock, surprise and amaze, but it must be within the paramaters of the worldview you’re aiming for.

  6. Leading Questions

    Whence the Origin of the Story

    Johnnie Moore commented on Seth Godin’s new book, All Marketers are Liars. He said:But if the aim of the storytelling is to conform to an established world view, where’s the surprise? Somehow it feels like storytelling is being reduced to

  7. Johnnie Moore

    As a related (?) aside, you might find this little NY Times editorial entitled “Is Persuasion Dead?” (4 June 2005) to be of interest…go to:


    A worldview is more than bias. (I know that Seth is not saying that it is limited to it.) Bias may be an unfortunate term for it has a negative connotation. He could just as easily have said preferences, or interpretive framework, or values. All these things are how we make sense of the world. Some of it is rational, some pure taste, some aesthetic, some emotional.

    For example:My preference for a car is driven by a number of criteria. 1.A car that I can drive for 300,000 miles safely with minimal repairs (rational). 2. It has to be blue (taste/emotion). 3. It has to have proper aesthetic proportion, meaning it looks whole, not a collection of ideas(cultural value). This describes my 1990 Volvo that is on the cusp of 300k, still runs like a top, is blue and frankly, has a classic look that no current vehicle can claim. Its my world view and I’m sticking to it.

    Now my son will get the car when it crosses 300k. And I will be in the market for a new car. What will I buy? What will be my criteria? Partly, durability, classic style, most likely blue, more utilitarian than cool, and not the cost of year’s tuition at Harvard.

    As a result, as a shopper, these preferences/bias, are a predicter of my auto choice. But they are not a guarrantee. Because, we may have a worldview, and as Seth does say, it changes. So, maybe a red or orange car would be cool. Who knows?


    Patti: That’s an interesting article in this context. It seems to emphasise persuasiveness as a skill and I’d want to add that we need politicians themselves to be persuadable – I’d describe that as a willingness to be surprised, rather than reject surprise in favour of maintaining a world view.

  8. Maneuver Marketing Communique


    Got a phone call last week from an old buddy who’s CEO of a small manufacturing company…Smock!! Yup. Bonehead here. Hey Bonehead whats up? Yo buddy called you a liar. Huh? Yea, that Seth guy wrote a book saying all

  9. Adrian Trenholm

    Story and knowledge transfer / management

    Johnnie Moore has a [nagging doubt about the story thing][1]:
    > It might be this: an awful lot of storytelling is done after the event. Stories rationalise action. If they are great stories, they sometimes provoke action, setting in train some more …


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