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Messages from Homo Sapiens

14 Sep 2016 | Posted Under History

I was writing to a former professor about story telling and content and it hit me: 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. After all the contents of an ancient tomb or an old house or an old suitcase is content(s)! Now this may seem obvious, but I haven't read it in any article or e-mail about story telling or content which often is treated as something oh so new.
All that is different is technology. Whether one is telling a story around a camp fire thousands of year ago about the day's boar hunt or testing or tweeting or whatever it is we do today, it is basically the same. So I cast my mind back to the exhibits I have seen and books I have read and documentaries on our ancestors, including some animal groups, and asked myself: “Self, what can you learn for your business from our long ago ancestors and some animals too.” After all many communicate with their own languages whether chimps, or whales or elephants or birds, for example.
Well 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 as in this case.
History does repeat itself in recognizable ways. And it doesn't hurt to give credit to those who came before like the homo sapiens of thousands of years ago.
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 that 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 even in the cloud?
Then I thought about how “hiStories” have been handed down orally in countless cultures and societies and at some point some were written down in one form or another and 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 story telling and content these days when stories can spread across the world in seconds and words and documents can be changed or sites hacked and there goes the story!
So what is a company of any size to do? The next part may not be popular, but it is necessary:
As I wrote above, stories survive and have survived in multiple formats for many thousands of years. Computer are very “young” and the Internet and mobile devices younger, no more than what amounts to a millisecond in the history of man and womankind. We don’t know precisely what will happen technologically in the future, but we can guess that the odds are there will be more on-line 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. (I have worked for companies that are 5 to almost 300 years old and the paper records are still with us and readable and very useful.)
Is there any we need for legal or tax reasons now or in the future?
What can we do:
Well 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, 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, re- launching as well as celebrating an anniversary.
To get back to earlier homo sapiens and ancient tombs and old trunks:
What can we learn?:
Telling stories is something people have down for millennium;
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. A great deal is being lost in part because people who were with a company for a long time no longer are. One way to copy our ancestors is to have an Oral Historian interview people about their work and lives and perhaps even do so in front of a fire place or on a camping trip around a camp fire!
We can also learn the importance of writing the stories down and in a format that will last. Clouds can disperse! Will the clouds of today be hear in 25 years?
As for how to tell the story using social media:
Put the “hiStory” or “herStory” on your website and include old photographs. Remember the cave drawings and all the art from the past and what they tell us; Perhaps create a wall with your own version of cave drawings or pictographs on Pinterest.
Create a virtual time capsule and use it to tell your story; in orientation;
and perhaps even as a game for customers or consumers. People can vote on what to include not only about the company but about its times.
Ask yourself, what objects and documents from the present and past will tell people in the future how you and your company lived.
What about content(s)? I suggest watching PBS’s “History Detectives,” “Secrets of the Dead,” WNYC’s “ Secrets of New York,” and “Antiques Roadshow” to see how objects and documents from the past can come into the present and the future. Look for a show on ancient tombs and sites in this country, Egypt, England and Central America and the Middle East for example. There is a reason these shows are popular and funded. And there is also a reason that “Downton Abbey” and other costume TV shows and movies are popular. Visit the American Wing historic rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the galleries of objects and paintings and see what they tell you.
And go visit historic buildings in this country. I was a docent in The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum in Manhattan (formerly the Abigail Adams Smith Museum) in a building owned by John and Abigail Adams n’er do well son-in-law. I told the story of the house in words and highlighted  the objects such as the old pie chest or cooking pots. The combination of words and objects helped people travel to the past.
Also visit The New-York Historical Society which now has a children’s museum and is a story teller’s dream place to be. It also has a huge manuscript collection and library full of information on the City, other cities, and companies and organizations.
And if you have an attic or old storage site from your family’s past, go through the attic or storage bins and see what is there that tells you how your ancestors lived and what you can learn from that today. You might even find something valuable.
Then follow the “advice” of our ancestors and tell your company’s story
in a traditional story telling format with words and pictures. History doesn’t have to be musty and dusty. It can be very “alive” if done well just like the ancient cave paintings in France that are so popular that copies have been made in another cave as the breaths of people were damaging the originals.
Or as in children’s stories such as the “Little House on the Prairie” books and series.

And lastly, thank those who came before us and the telegraph, telephones, radio, TV, the Internet and mobile devices for showing us by what they left behind how to tell our story, our company’s or family’s.

What is yours? I would love to hear from you.

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