Storytelling lessons for NaNo
When I was preparing for my first job in radio, Ulysses S Gallman, told me to be specific.
Uly was the music director at a station where the music and our access to it was amazing. And so, of course, his examples came from the music.
“Be specific,” he said. He used Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and said, “they don’t say ‘tequilla’, they say ‘Cuervo Gold’. It paints a different picture.”
Uly loved that they said “Up on the hill” without explanation. It drew you in even if you didn’t catch the specific reference. You were one of the cool people who were assumed to know what’s going on.
Uly jumped back to the Cuervo and pointed out that they don’t say they were having a good time drinking the Cuervo and getting high - they speak in incomplete sentences - like we all do.
“The Cuervo Gold The fine Columbian Make tonight a wonderful thing”
They talk about themselves or the character they’ve created for the song and we connect to it and make it about us.
A tiny bit of politics
I need to take a week off from all of the stress from this year’s US presidential election.
I told a story about me that hopefully you can connect to.
Saturday night, Maggie and I watched Harris and Biden speak after the race had been called.
In those two speeches I felt a return to “we”.
Harris told a very personal story about herself and what it means to her to be elected vice president. But she also made it about “us”. What it means to us that someone like her can become vice president. She noted that her being first opens doors so that she won’t be the last.
Biden talked about “We the people”.
He told personal stories about loss and then applied them to our losses as he’s done throughout the campaign.
It was Obama’s “yes we can.”
It’s a small thing but for four years we’ve had a president who has said “only I can.”
Using Uly’s razor, I want someone who speaks from their heart about their experience while clearly understanding my needs and my experience - or more importantly, our needs and our experience.
Once we have that shared understanding, yes, we can.
One more thing
While I’m not discussing politics, I want to say one more thing about Saturday night’s event.
It is striking that Harris spoke.
Can you imagine our current president sharing the moment with his second in command?
Biden not only allowed Harris to speak but he allowed her to speak first.
She’s a better speaker than he is and yet she spoke first. He had to follow her.
You could argue that she’s the opening act. But a presidential candidate doesn’t need to share the stage with anyone when he steps up to accept becoming the president elect.
Add this to what he said in his speech and I felt a return to “we”.
Mitch McConnell not withstanding.
While pundits and GOP politicians lectured the democrats on following the law and being empathetic and inclusive with those who lost, we saw none of it from them.
None of the grace they tell us they learn in church.
None of the commitment to our country that they tell us drives them to serve.
Not even a wee bit of “we”.
And that brings me to today.
Apple just released their third fall event for 2020. The first was all about the Apple Watch, iPads, and the bundled Apple One service. The second was the yearly iPhone event with the four kinds of iPhone 12: the 12, the 12 mini, the 12 pro, and the 12 pro max.
Today’s focused on Apple Silicon - the new non-Intel Macs. We saw the new M1 chip and the first three Macs to ship with it: the Mini, the MB Air, and the MBPro 13”.
Much of Apple’s success has been that they control the hardware and the software in their devices. That’s been a huge differentiator for their phones and has also helped their laptops and desktops stand apart. But for the Mac, the one thing they didn’t own and control was the CPU. This move is as important as when Apple decided to create their own browser.
I was lucky enough to attend every MacWorld and WWDC that Steve Jobs spoke at following his return to Apple. The first was the summer of 1997 in Boston. That was the year that Steve returned and made peace with Microsoft. Bill Gates was up on the screen and Apple promised to ship Macs with the default browser being Internet Explorer.
So much was wrong with Apple when Steve returned. They were close to going out of business. It’s hard to imagine that now.
The Apple events since Steve died feel more and more like info-mercials and more so now that they are prerecorded.
I’ve seen people muse about how Steve would have excelled at this format and I think they are right - but I also think that they wouldn’t look or feel like they do.
And I can’t imaging them being called “One more thing”.
Stuck in the past
“One more thing” is a phrase that Steve would use at the end of a keynote. He’d have gone over the sales figures and store openings. He’d have shown off the products that were rumored or were the big tent poles. He’d thank everyone for coming and then, now and then, he’d say that there is “one more thing.”
The “One more thing” often wasn’t dramatic or groundbreaking. It was the thing that would be added to articles about the event as a plus. It isn’t the gift certificate for a turkey that your boss gives you at the end of every year, it’s the flowers you bring home when it isn’t a birthday or anniversary - just because.
No one stays married because of those flowers but they make you smile and feel good.
“One more thing” isn’t the main course, it’s the amuse bouche that the chef sends out.
I complained online about the use of “One more thing” to describe the event and one friend told me I was clinging to the past and making too much of my heroes.
I don’t think so.
Jobs’ me and we
I remember the keynote where Steve Jobs introduced the iPad because it’s when I first noticed his personal touch.
He took the iPad over to a comfy chair and sat down and started doing ordinary things with it.
We saw the images of what was on the iPad projected on the screen above his head.
Big deal. He can browse the web, watch a video, and immerse himself in an app.
But that was the big deal. The true picture wasn’t what was on the iPad screen.
We had to zoom out to see Steve sitting comfortably while engaged with content meant only for him.
These were always Steve’s keynotes.
There was the year that he demoed the Genie effect over and over. The genie effect is when you tap the yellow button in a window open on your Mac and it reduces itself to the dock.
The genie effect didn’t just linearly shrink the window and move it to your dock. It swooshed it to the dock with a complex and beautiful animation. Steve showed it over and over - and then he showed it in slow motion. He liked this so much that Apple shipped a keyboard shortcut so we could display the slow motion effect as well.
I never really understood Steve’s obsession with things like this. He’d demo the new templates for Keynote or Photos and take forever to show us these things that could be covered in a slide or two.
But we were zoomed out and seeing Steve adoring the products that his team built.
He genuinely loved the things that he shipped.
And he knew how to translate the “I” in “I love this” to “you” in “you’ll love this” to grouping us together into the “we” in “we love this.”
“We’ve filmed an ad for this,” he’d say, “do you want to see it?”
And we did. And we would. And the ads would make us cry.
The crazy ones.
Today we saw three new Macs released and no one sat down at one and showed us how it feels.
In fact the videos presenting the devices started with the chips and showed us animations of the chip being assembled into the board and then into the guts of the Mac and then the Mac built around it.
Don’t get me wrong, I want one of the new machines. They had me at “M1”.
But other than the segment of the presentation featuring developers, I felt no emotional connection from any of the presenters to the experience I will have with these machines.
I was at a WWDC and Steve was onstage talking about a new technology that would allow your devices to discover each other.
This is a networking protocol that allows devices to self-assign local IP addresses and advertise them out using a particular local DNS.
How do you show people the possibility of this technology?
Steve opened up iTunes and invited Phil on stage. Phil opened iTunes on his computer and enabled sharing and all of a sudden you could see Phil’s library available to Steve to listen to on his Mac.
That’s how I fell in love with the simplicity and possibilities of Rendezvous - later given the marketing name Bonjour.
Now as the device on our wrist connects to the device in our pocket to the one playing music in the corner to our laptops and desktops and iPads - we take it for granted that everything will just find each other and work seamlessly.
But when I used to run into you at a conference and wanted to send you a picture I’d taken, the picture would go from my phone to a server far away to another server far away all the way back to your phone.
We were standing right next to each other. Why couldn’t the file just jump from my phone to yours?
And now there is Steve with Phil next to him and Steve wants access to Phils music.
We see them share music and we extrapolate to what we all could do. And even then there were many steps in between and many places things could go wrong.
This might have never shipped.
Or it might have shipped and been abandoned.
But step back and see two people sharing something over a local network.
I see my self using it.
I see us.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 33. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe