We have made up something called “The New Year”. TNY happens arbitrarily on December the 31st at midnight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a grand tradition and we’ve imbued it with useful layers of cultural mechanics. It is a nod toward biblical “Jubilee”-the erasing of old debts and a new start, although banks and credit card companies haven’t quite signed on for this yet. To be sure, the start of the new year is not the only time cultures do this, but it is one of the big ones.
We are living in what one Chinese saying calls “interesting times”-with tongue firmly planted in cheek. No matter how this year went from your personal point of view, I doubt it was a yawner. To smooth out the rocks (and deep pits) in the road, I like to adopt the system that my Strava app uses when I have it track a bike ride. Strava averages your pace over THE WHOLE RIDE. Its not a speedometer or an instant replay device depicting just a slice of time. When you’re done with a segment, or done for the day, it’ll tell you your average pace over the ride. For me, that’s useful information because I can factor in wind, hills, relative level of fitness, sleep the night before, etc. and over time, build a picture of how I’m riding and what I want to work on. So when I think about our work at IDEAS, I weigh the past year along with the preceding ones (on July 1st of 2018 we will be 17 years old as a company).
What are we proud of? Everything. If that sounds pompous, I apologize. I don’t mean that we think we’re perfect or that we don’t make mistakes. We’re a creative ensemble, we do a kind of “design-improv” for our daily bread and the nature of the craft is that you MOSTLY make errors and then tune them so that they become solutions. We’ve gotten good at that. Right now, that looks like crafting a fantastic new experience for middle and high school kids called Flight Works Alabama where they can get their hands on and play with how aircraft are designed and built. Some of them will, we hope, find a passion and help Airbus design and build the next generation of planes. Why not create a new kind of immersive, location-based entertainment pulling every guest deeply into the storytelling as an active participant? THAT’S WHAT WE SAID! As long as we’re at it, we might as well build it on a Caribbean island and mash up tales and characters from as far away as Norway. Speaking of the Caribbean, the Port of Cartagena, Colombia has a new green jewel to share besides their world-famous emeralds. We’ve spent the last couple of years helping our friends there evolve the Eco Park. It’s hard to describe so let me just go right here-you can have your picture taken with a rescued baby sloth. I’ll pause so you can book your cruise… go ahead…c’mon, upgrade that stateroom…OK. Well done. Closer to home, we get to use the raw materials of experience design-great dining, great live entertainment, unique shopping and singular attractions- to forge a new brand and raise the bar to “must see”.
That’s a sampling of what’s in our sandbox and what we’ll roar into on January 2nd (well, no, not at the crack of dawn, but you know, maybe 10:30-ish). Blending these great opportunities into a 16-year context is what I love. I’ll spare you the peaks, because we’ve worked on Super Bowls and at the bleeding edge of the innovative commercial spaceflight and I can go on for hours. I’ll also spare you the depths, as we lived through a rough recession and a difficult boot-strapped company turn-around. So why are we proud of everything? Because we’ve been conducting a grand experiment and so far, the results match the hypothesis. It turns out, a dedicated team of professionals can blend their skills and passions, use storytelling as a design system and stay in love with each other well enough to create “an exceptional experience of collaborative creativity, valuable innovation and transformational results”. It turns out also that that’s our brand promise. When we started, we had a vision of “an enriched, diverse, and flourishing worldwide community connected through stories”. We’re not done yet. Our world, our beautiful, tragic, singular, broken and vital world needs a new story. Stories come from people and belief in people is why we value integrity, respect, openness, compassion, quality, and community.
We’ve watched with both approbation and horror as storytelling has crept into the business and cultural milieu. On the high side, it’s great that people are rediscovering what our odd brain evolution graced us with 20,000 years ago. On the low, we cringe when we see the number of companies and “gurus” proclaiming the “new discovery” that Story is key to everything from your brand to your tax-return. We already knew that-and by “WE” I mean our species. Story as a trope, story as a buzzword, story as a “thing” is a ruse. Its frosting with no cake. It’s as useless and dangerous as a fad-diet or a magic hair growing potion and vigilance is appropriate.
The real deal, the making of authentic stories, the conscious practice and discipline of narrative world-building is fundamental, rich, rewarding and powerful. The “New Year” is a story. It’s made-up. The planet simply orbits its star and we, the Story Makers, imbue one particular part of that orbit and one annual rotation of that planet with character, voice, plot, emotion, conflict and setting in order to liberate the magic of a new beginning. May we always do so and with kind intention, consciousness and vigor. Our next chapters are what we call “The Future”. We have a responsibility to craft them well.