If you’re serious about getting somewhere, it helps to have a map.
Professional storytellers—novelists, dramatists, screenwriters, advertising creatives and the like—get stuck all the time. From writers block to funding shortfalls, there are so many hurdles to overcome to get a story into production let alone out into the world.
So we’ve had to develop tricks and processes that can get us out of trouble or prevent us from getting stuck in the first place.
Story mapping is my go-to unblocker and I’ve been using it for years (although I haven’t always had a name for it): for branding and brand activation projects, when planning campaigns and product launches, in the context of workshops and training environments, on my own writing projects and in my personal life.
I use it because it’s simple yet oddly detailed and concrete, and you can use it to plot any kind of ‘journey’—speculative or specific.
A story map is a kind of story prototype that exists in the intersection between planning and creative. A frame on which to hang strategic thinking and test concepts and story ideas. And because it can be done quickly and with minimal input, you can be creatively bold, try out different directions, dare to push against the prevailing wind, and iterate fast.
I recently did a story mapping process to help a client scope an ambitious new program to tackle systemic racism and lack of equity in the fashion industry and make sure that Black People of Color (BPoC) have a seat at the table and that black voices are being heard. Clearly this is a multi-layered and emotionally charged theme, with a complex set of audiences, and it was important to bring in different stakeholders early and secure buy-in around a shared narrative as well as strategic goals.
And here we see one of the major benefits of making a story map. Because while program details were still being fleshed out, we could already get the story moving. Having a story map in place gives everyone involved with a project a sense of where it is headed, and some of the milestones and hazards that await. As the project progresses, the map can be updated and improved. Like a roadmap or a project plan—except, the focus here is the narrative.
Why focus on narrative? Because whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re all heroes of our own stories and participants in the stories going on around us. This is what motivates us and it accounts for many of our behaviours and the decisions we make. Defining roles and setting goals is a storytelling practice as well as a project management one. (Project management is a form of story management i.e. storytelling, as is any kind of leadership.)
Do you see where I’m going here? What I want to say is that story impacts EVERYTHING. It’s not just what you put out on social media or into your keynote address. If you’re involved in designing a product or a process then you’re shaping a story and you need to know where you’re at and where you’re going—or else you’re going to lose your way.
Of course, even with a story map, we still get lost. The fog comes down, or a global pandemic hits, and we must deviate, reroute, retrace steps or start over. The difference is that if you’ve got a map, as well as your wits, your grit, your buddies, your courage and your luck, you have a better shot at getting where you need to go.
If you’d like to know more about story mapping or how you might use narrative to move your projects or your business forward, drop me a line at email@example.com or via LinkedIn.