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Sagmeister: storytelling is bullshit

Sagmeister: storytelling is bullshit

Much has been said, and a lot has been written in recent years, on the concept of brand storytelling. Following this sudden popularity, many have chosen to embark on the buzzword train and turn themselves into "storytellers" in all its variants, a concept which, in a September 2013 article, Louis-Félix Binette described as "selling the storytelling Kool-Aid" [source].


In the United States, researchers like David Boje have been setting the tone of the "storytelling organization" for decades — culminating in the publication in 2014 of "Storytelling Organizational Practices: Managing in the quantum age" (Routledge). 


Yes, quantum. 


Why all the noise?


Buzzwords are abundant in both business and intellectual circles ; they allow academics to sell their ever-reiterated grand schemes, they make for ever new generations of consultants, and they help potential clients distinguish between marketing agencies who are "on trend" and those who aren't. 


While your ability to "pivot" like a startup or your "ambidextrous" nature may be discussed at length by these various satellites, a lot of it is pure bullshit. And a lot of the actors who embark on these missions know it. 


A recent interview with Austrian-born graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister rectifies where, and why, the concept of storytelling should be used. In his opinion, it is not a notion to be sprinkled here and there within organizations. Stories, even the most fantastic ones, are serious business. "I think that all the storytellers are not storytellers", he says, "people who write novels and make feature films don't see themselves as storytellers". A designer should be proud of his or her trade, and not need to change or add prefixes to make it more "cool". 


Everything old is new again


Actually, the new cool is in the print, the craft, the patient dedication of the ascetic . Even in a changing world — or rather, especially! — there is beauty in the purity of postures.


Paradoxically, Sagmeister is rather good at telling stories. But then again, so are many of us. To make an argument, to retell the tale of your weekend bicycle incident, or to build and share the war stories that make up your daily routine, dialogue and narrative are required. 


But storytellers do much more than speak of things past. They take a step back, define the meta narrative, articulate it, make it real. They write, or film, or speak, day, after day, after day. We should find it in us to respect their craft, rather than occupy it with empty notions drawn from the latest, passing managerial fad. 




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