The Oldest Story In The World

I recently had breakfast with a good friend, Ken Parker, who is the Founder and CEO of NextThought. Ken brought breakfast tacos to the office and we sat in a conference room and ate as we talked. I love talking to Ken. He tells stories. On this particular morning he was telling me the story of the first company he helped create and how it had gone from a few people in a makeshift work space, to a publicly traded company that counted many of the largest companies in the world as its clients.

What struck me as I munched on a breakfast taco and listened was how Ken had recognized events and people who were instrumental in the eventual success of the company. He said that it only took years of hard work to become an overnight success. Ken didn’t take credit for their success, though the truth is that none of it would have happened without him. He chose to acknowledge that none of it would have happened with God’s blessing and the hard, and very insightful, work of all the other people involved.

This was so much a part of their company’s DNA that when they had their IPO on Wall Street, 200 team members rang cowbells out in front of the NY Stock exchange as the opening bell. Maybe you’re beginning to understand why I like to spend time with Ken. He is inclusive and other oriented. His story isn’t about himself, it is about all the marvelous people he has done life with and the difference knowing them has made.

As Ken will readily tell you, the most profound means of transmitting information and values is storytelling. What is interesting to me is the impact of storytelling is consistent regardless of the story being told. Let me unpack that a little.

Ken tells stories about his community, other people’s impact on his life and the great things that the team has accomplished. His stories are engaging, and you cannot help but be moved and motivated to be more like the people and community he is describing. His stories are attractive, and they inspire others to emulate what he is describing. Impactful.

Conversely, we have all spent too much time with someone who only talked about themselves and their accomplishments. In fact, it doesn’t make any difference how long that time is, it is too long. Those stories are repelling and off-putting at best. At the worst they sometimes lead other people to emulate this behavior and try harder to direct attention to themselves rather than seeing how they can serve and life others up. Impactful.

The Plimsouls wrote a song called “Oldest Story In The World.” The chorus says:

“It’s just the oldest story in the world
Lost the key to paradise
That’s the oldest story in the world
Today we gotta set it right
And that’s the oldest story in the world
You’ll hear it again and again
That’s the oldest story in the world yeah”

Dr. Nathan Mellor often talks about how our brains are not fixed. They are plastic, changeable, moldable. The stories we tell ourselves and others have significant impact on our brains and how we perceive the world around us. Often the story we are telling ourselves is one that was given to us when we were young. We tell ourselves that we are not smart enough, attractive enough, talented enough…not enough.

The truth is that we are all enough. We each have the ability to change our future and the most effective way to achieve this is to change the future of the people around us. When we tell stories about how other people have impacted our lives and made a difference, we don’t just inspire others, we inspire ourselves. When we acknowledge others and lift them up, we find ourselves being lifted up by them.

As a leader you have a responsibility to transmit the values of our culture and the information necessary to maintain that culture to everyone you serve. Stories about how people around you have affected you and their team are the most impactful way you can accomplish this. As you tell stories to others you are also telling them to yourself, and you need to hear them too.

We haven’t lost the key to paradise, so let’s set that story right today. We choose the way we tell our story. Let’s tell it in ways that encourage and inspire others. It’s the Kimray Way.