Markus Gull

Storytelling for scaredy-cats: Are you wearing brown trousers or a red shirt?

Do hope and self-confidence drive us, or do insecurity and fear determine our behaviour? Fear is probably our most effective emotion, our instinctive protection and survival mechanism that keeps us from starving to death or being eaten by other creatures, struck by lightning or washed away by stormy seas. - Dangers that have long since ceased to surround most of us. Nevertheless, fear is more popular than ever before.


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

Listening to the public conversation, there's no doubt: fear dominates us and our times. Insecurity seems to be the dominant zeitgeist in the world. Even through our part of the world, where the vast majority of us are not exposed to any real or even acute threat scenario.

But fear takes many forms:
Fear of the Corona virus.
Fear of the climate crisis and environmental disasters.
Fear of terror.
Fear of the foreigner and of strangers.
Fear of the food that makes us sick.
Fear of the digital that robs us of our jobs.
Fear of the pensions that we unfortunately won't get after all.
Fear of what could be, even if it's usually not the case.
Fear of the realisation that we have missed something - FOMO.
Fear of making a wrong decision that makes everything much worse.
Fear of failure.
Fear of failure.
Fear of what others will say.
Fear of loss.
Fear of the loss of belonging.
Fear of losing relevance.
Fear of the unknown par excellence and of the sky falling on our heads.

Fear protects us.
Fear sharpens us.
Fear pushes us.

The best thing we can do when we want to bring something to the people - ideas, cars, chocolate - is obviously and naturally to activate a fear, the fear-variant list is well stocked - see above. Fear is the best trigger, because:
Fear brings attention.
Fear brings voters.
Fear brings conflict and clicks and money.

But not only.

Fear makes us lose our minds and our future.
Fear holds us back.
Fear makes us small.
Fear drives us on and drives us apart.

Yes, fear strangely drives us apart, although we clearly know since "Avengers" at the latest that we can even defeat the Chitauri and achieve any other goal if we bring our individual special abilities together and steer in one direction. We don't even have to be friends for that (although that would be better and more fun anyway).

What helps us get over this destructive fear? I think it is courage.

Dress code for scaredy-cats.

Two generals stand on their commander's mound and look out into the field where enemy troops are massing. The number of enemies is growing rapidly, and one does not have to be a military strategist to soon realise with the naked eye that their numbers are turning into a breathtaking superiority. In the face of this situation, perplexity spreads through the general staff when one of the two generals instructs his adjutant: "Bring me my red shirt!"
To which the adjutant replies, "Yes, General, but if you don't mind my asking, why do you need your red shirt right now?"
"If I wear my red shirt and am wounded in battle, my men will not see my blood, will continue to follow me and continue to fight!"
The second general then thinks for a moment and orders his aide-de-camp: "Bring me my brown trousers!"

What do we wear when it gets tight?

What helps us get over the fear and into the red shirt? Courage helps us get over it, as John Wayne said: "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway".

Only, where does this courage come from? What helps us into the saddle, anyway?

I think it's our story, because Tyrion from Game of Thrones is right: "What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories! There's nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it."

What are we talking about with Story?

When we talk about story, no one knew better than Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else."

When we talk about it, when we talk about story, then suddenly the future looks like hope again and doesn't smell like the clutch grinding with the handbrake on, like everyone against everyone, like Ichichich, or even like brown trousers....

Provided we talk about the right things in Story, Story gives us strength and courage - as people, as teams, as companies and as a society.

This requires encouragers.

But who could be such an encouragement? John Wayne, perhaps?

I think it's you.

You are the general in the red shirt. Because I am too. Any one of us could be. We could be the Avengers , and if we want, we could even be friends.

First and foremost, it is companies with their phenomenal momentum of communicative possibilities and real effectiveness with which they can encourage and otherwise also a lot. More and more people see that they should also do this.

According to the international Edelman Earned Brand Study, 53% of respondents agree that brands can do more to address social ills than governments; nearly half say brands also have better ideas to do so;
64% say CEOs should initiate positive change, not wait for governments to mandate it;
54% believe it is easier to get brands rather than governments to initiate societal improvements. No wonder, politicians have been skipping their jobs for many years as leaders into a world as it could be, as innovators and creators, as projectors of images of the future that excite and attract. That attract people and not brown trousers.

Brand story can really work.

This new understanding is catching on with a growing number of companies, as I can already tell from the questions I am asked by clients and potential clients.

Many people are looking for simple, quick answers to drive their sales curve upwards. For them, there is a proven effective answer: lower the price! That will work tomorrow, maybe even the day after tomorrow.

Most, however, ask differently. They want the turnover curve to stay up and their company to remain resilient - that is, resistant despite the unpredictable developments of the time. Price is not an argument for this. Nor is short-term success through staff savings, efficiency gains and the like, which can have its justification.

But there is also an effective answer to the new questions: A stable-elastic brand is created when the attitude of a company is right and is carried by the idea of usefulness, a usefulness that goes beyond the factual solution of a task, far beyond debit and credit.

It has to do with the culture of a company and how it thinks about itself and its importance and what relationship it wants to have with its audiences. That has an effect from the day after tomorrow, maybe even tomorrow.

As a rule, this requires a painful move out of the comfort zone, a departure from the familiar world, as it is called in the Hero's Journey. The urgent desire for positive change, the realisation of urgent necessity. Those who do not understand this and do not want it, should lie down and wait until death comes. It will come, just a little patience, perhaps until the day after tomorrow.

What it takes.

For people and organisations who want to work with me, I have therefore put together an operating manual that describes what is absolutely necessary. It also applies, mutatis mutandis, to those who do not work with me because it is necessary.

It takes:

  1. Your commitment to something new and the willingness to actively engage with it! Don't continue on the same path as before, only faster, or extend the present into the future - just retell it. Do something new!
  2. Your declared will to build up the nutrient-rich humus for a long-term powerful, resilient brand. This does not bring short-term effects, but development towards elastic stability, substance and resilience.
  3. Your commitment to work with story away from the storytelling hype that only clings to form, frame and dramaturgy. Go into the space, work holistically, paint the picture. Only this will really bring you the substantial success you desire. - Welcome to the no-bullshit zone!
  4. Your commitment to the readiness for a transformation from within, not just a change of presentation.
  5. The clear understanding that you have to work on your so-called purpose, on your deep concern or that of your company and your brand, because that is where the story is rooted. After that, and through it, the business with all its economic success comes into being.
  6. A clear understanding that it's about substantive work on corporate and brand management, not content for communications or advertising campaigns, or developing sales pitches.

Some companies then understand that they want something different from what I recommend and lower the prices.

Many courageously say "Yes!" and we walk the path together.

Some say "Yes!" but hope that it won't be as bad as I say. But it will.

Departure - uncomfortable, but necessary.

Because the operation "get out of the comfort zone" sounds reasonably bearable until you realise that the comfort zone is wrapped in a thick protective layer. It consists 100 per cent of fear.

Out of fear of the unknown.
Out of fear of what could be, even if it's usually not the case.
Fear of the realisation that we have missed something - FOMO.
Fear of making a wrong decision that makes everything worse.
For fear of failure.
Out of fear of failure.
For fear of what others will say.
Out of fear of loss.
Out of fear of the loss of belonging.
For fear of losing relevance.
Fear of the unknown par excellence.
Fear of the sky falling on our heads.

This thick cushion of fear feels like an airbag, but acts like a brake block, tied tightly around the comfort zone with two sturdy strings. One thread looks like a lack of self-confidence, the other like excuses. If we can manage to push these binding threads aside at least enough to create a narrow gap through which the light from the lighthouse of our heart can shine, then we will see that John Wayne and Viktor Frankl are waiting at the intersection of comfort zone and fear pad. John Wayne holds your saddled horse by the reins, Viktor Frankl a red shirt that is still a little too big for you, and he hands it to you with the words: "He who has a why to live, endures almost any how."

Then it's off - at a stretched gallop towards the lighthouse against which Joseph Campbell is leaning, with a jaunty "Follow your bliss" on his lips.

Welcome to the league of encouragers!

Story - beyond good and evil.

At this point we should not overlook one thing: Story is neutral, value-neutral. Because with the same momentum that is available to encouragers, fearmongers also achieve their goal. In an amazing way, they are often even more skilful, quicker and more perfect in their craft than the positive forces are capable of being. And particularly effective! Probably precisely because fear is our strongest primal instinct and can therefore be activated particularly easily.

No parricide, no grand swindler, no dictatorial terrorist - not even Hitler thought he was in the wrong. Every fear-monger in our history is the courage-monger in his own.

Even Nazis had/have - this must be known in all terrible clarity - a story that was perfect for them: precisely a clear value profile to which they committed themselves, a vision, a mission, their enemy from the outside ... abominable, but true.

With the story mechanic "We are the many, the morally superior, dominated by a powerful elitist minority" you can demand "America First" like Donald Trump, or introduce the Macintosh to the market like Appledid in 1984. A small group of righteous people fighting for liberation from the bondage of the all-dominant Big Brother IBM.


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The brave good guys against the ruling fear power of the elite. That is the story mechanism of the Nazis, that is also the story mechanism of the Christians of 2,000 years ago. They are all firmly convinced that they are pursuing a mission, fulfilling their duty, at least doing what has to be done. Even if it requires sacrifices.

Story knows no good and no evil. - While the courageous put on their red shirts, there are still more than too many brown shirts loitering around in the dull chambers and causing fear. This requires massive counter-pressure, counter-courage.

Story - our human courage motor.

The ability to tell stories and thus to lead has been programmed into us humans by evolution. It is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. The principles of story are very simple and universally valid, across generations and cultures. This is how Neanderthal man became Homo sapiens - Homo narrans - Homo ludens - Homo faber ...

Let us use this ability with all our strength and urgent responsibility. For no tool knows morality. What the hammer does is determined by the person; what is posted is determined by the user. Barack Obama has a Twitter account, as does Donald Trump.

Martin Luther King Jr. didn't have a Twitter account, but he did have the dream that one day "we" would mean "with each other" and perhaps one day there would even be a universal "for each other".

The keywords "economy" and "business" are not the next best backdoor into the excuse that one is not meant by it. After all, companies and the economy are not fat economic bosses and overpowering systems. "The economy" is us humans making choices in search of our meaning and purpose. We should demand more of ourselves than just doing our job well, because only then does our own meaning emerge - through shared values, shared longing, shared story.

"The planet no longer needs successful people. The planet desperately needs peacemakers, healers, innovators, storytellers and lovers of all kinds," says the Dalai Lama. By this he means both of us: you and me - a too-much-meaning.

Courage protects us.
Courage sharpens us.
Courage pushes us.
Courage brings attention.
Courage brings voters.
Courage solves conflict beyond clicks and money.
Courage does not hold us back.
Courage drives us and propels us towards each other.
Courage makes us great.
Courage needs brains.
Courage needs commitment, and commitment is the best come-along.
Courage makes with.
Courage makes courage.

Our disturbing times need stories, storytellers and even more: story sharers who give courage and take away fear. This is what makes us strong - as people, as companies, as a society. With the values of our story, with our cause, we lead our lives, we lead our teams and we lead into the future - if we find them, recognise them and share them.

Regardless of whether it is a global corporation, an SME or a heroic lone fighter as an EPU: every person, every brand, every company has and needs a strong concern beyond turnover, profit and market share and the story activated by the concern so that it remains resilient. If you don't have a magnetic concern as a living theme, there is only one other thing left: the price. And price here is just a short word for: brown trousers on sale .

So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me, and it certainly doesn't apply to my brand," I would urge you to consider the words my grandmother, old Story Dudette, wrote on John Wayne's bathroom mirror after a long night out with her fiery red lipstick: "No Story. No Glory."

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