Everyone has a personal story to tell. Some people are just better than others at telling those stories.
Learning to craft and share an origin story is a valuable communication skill that every entrepreneur and small business should strive to sharpen. Storytelling skills will help you differentiate your idea or the products and services you sell.
An origin story means exactly what it says–it reveals the origin of an idea. Where I live, in Silicon Valley, the most famous origin story started in a garage. It goes like this:
In 1976, two friends started a computer company. One person was a brilliant engineer, and the other had a passion for marketing and design. Together, the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) created Apple in the garage of the house where Jobs lived with his parents. Together, they revolutionized the industry and made computers easy to use for the average person. In 1985, Jobs was kicked out of his own company after a failed boardroom coup. He returned triumphantly a decade later to save the company from bankruptcy and turn around its fortunes. In January 2022, the brand founded by two guys in a garage became the first U.S. company to reach a market value of $3 trillion.
The preceding paragraph is a short origin story of about 100 words. It contains four elements that origin stories should offer: structure, characters, conflict, and resolution.
An origin story is just that–a story. And stories, according to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, should have a beginning, middle, and end. Aristotle’s advice still holds 2,300 years later.
An origin story captures the company’s values, mission, strategy, and purpose. Those are abstract concepts that need to be fleshed out.
We see ourselves in other people’s stories. The key word is “people.” Abstract ideas can be embedded in a good origin story, but real people should be the ones who carry the message. If those people challenge the status quo in some way, they’re even more compelling to follow.
I went to a screening of the Aaron Sorkin movie on Steve Jobs. Sorkin, a famed screenwriter, was there to explain the premise, and his was to focus on the tension between Jobs and the Apple board. Every great story is about “intention and obstacle,” Sorkin says. In other words, a character wants something and something gets in the way.
A story must end. But how? With closure and, in most cases, a happily-ever-after. After a character struggles and overcomes daunting odds, audiences are relieved that the person finds what they’re looking for–or at least is transformed by the experience.
In a business origin story, the ending simply wraps up the story with a solution to the problem or a resolution to the conflict.
I’ve been a full-time CEO communication coach for nearly two decades, and I can confidently say that investors, the media, and the public all crave an origin story. But they don’t want to hear just any story. Instead, they want a compelling story that pulls them along on the journey and inspires them at the end.