Day two and they’ve just cracked the concept that will underpin their idea, watched on by one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs, Lee Robertson, but now comes the execution.
Think Shark Tank, or Dragons Den, we prefer to call it Angel’s Circle — where storytelling of the 21st century is interrogated. Design-thinking is one thing, artistic thinking in journalism and storytelling is another where disruption to causal methods is fundamental. Riding pillion with tech e.g. bots, block chain and HTML/ java design the scope to produce something original is magnified.
We know unequivocally, and I speak as a science grad, journalist and artist, that the way to leave an indelible memory, to motivate people is not first through facts. It is by an ancient ritual of characterisation and emotion e.g. ethos, pathos and logos. One that is on the zeitgeist of audience’s tastes, emerging culture, and corresponding eclectic art. Basquiat before Basquiat, cinema essay films before Chris Marker, or sweeping epic brush strokes that assault that amygdala before you’re even aware.
That’s what we do on the digital and interactive storytelling LAB, that I head up as I addressed London’s most dynamic guild of entrepreneurs as a key note speaker.
How do you get into this space?
Generally, one of story telling’s main functions has been to throw a cohesive narrative blanket over events in order to exert control, irrespective of whether its true or not. Religion, science, and the selective documentation of history benefit.
Journalism in the 17th century sought to re-engineer its method by insisting truth be the armature upon which stories were spun. Yet the doctrine of power would prevail, soft or egregious. For instance the launch of a swathe of UK Tory government newspapers e.g Mail etc in the 1900s bore one function, Journalism as a weapon to control the narrative and what people saw or heard.
Almost a hundred years since one of the world’s best journalism-engineering bodies, the BBC, set out to homogenise journalism domestically and export a standard approach internationally, we find journalism under fire.
It’s as if it’s wedded to a Newtonian law of cause and effect communications when Einstein’s special relativity is the current eco-system. Freud, Bernays, Lakoff; we’ve seen this shift in impact in literature, art and even technology, but generally in journalism storytelling we’re in stasis.
Technology has been a useful, sometimes necessary sibling, as has for the more astute communicators an understanding of how the mind works to stories, and the myriad of conscious and subconscious patterns we’re unlocking. Production methods are key beneficiaries, but there is a coefficient often overlooked by storytellers where audience’s tastes, culture, and the pervasive art of the moment prevail.
The importance of these shape cultures and societies in a loop receiving and shaping narratives. Scholar W. E. B. Du Bois would reference a phenomenon he called double consciousness thinking, what we might call cognitive dissonance. How if you’re of another race, there can be two yous, two Starrs exemplified in film The Hate we Give.
Our LAB engages in these philosophically, culturally, within behavioural sciences, and how technology both wows, but creates problems. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Last week we rounded of a sprint in Hack week which questioned participants ability to recognise, engage and execute stories of impact.
Our approach, in line with several disciplines is to use stories to solve problems, just as designers, medics, engineers do. It requires making use of immediate and parallel knowledge. Knowledge from outside the subset of your discipline. How do you change behaviour? How did drivers finally take to seat belts? How did the incubator become an integral part of the hospital? Why and how is Donald Trump running rings around journalists and how do you approach some of the most intractable problems we have today?
The distinguished French historian Professor Olivier Wieviorka’s Histoire du Débarquement en Normandie just over a decade ago made an important discover. Wieviorka uncovered that during WWII French soldiers fought alongside Africans and colonial forces as shown in the the Oscar nominated best foreign film of 2006, Days of Glory.
Mostly two thirds of the units were African, yet the first Allied Forces comprising French troops to liberate France on D-Day would feature no non-whites. British and French Commanders led by General Philippe Leclerc decided months in advance that colonials would be excluded.
Only white soldiers could be seen on parade. This story of impact of this deceit would later change policy in France. Yet it’s only now that a momentum is growing through design-thinking with younger audiences that colonial forces played a huge role in WWI and WWII.
In know this now and telling stories of D-Day to incorporate colonial forces, what bigger problem are we solving.
Storytelling at disLAB
Nasma, one of our recently distinction-graduate students employed this approach, which we re-introduced in the hack.
The problem for Nasma was much of the dominant narrative that you might know about Syria, if any, followed a pattern on the news. What could she do with her voice? Who were her exemplars? Why should anyone care? And what psychological sciences, and behavioural theories could help in her quest to tell a story that was her truth?
The result, nurtured over several months, and finally coming to life in a 12 week sprint, working with an agency Motif was to create for young people The Journey. Herself, resettled in the UK via Turkey, she undertook rigorous research with refugees to create a layered story whose richness is immersive and contagious.
Hack Week was the opportunity for us to think like engineers and create stories of impact, bringing together world class organisations and personnel, such as Google’s Vincent, IBM’s Sean, Entrepreneurs from the Guild of Entrepreneurs in Lee Robertson and Steve Wheatley and young MIT Entrepreneur winner Islam Alaybeyoglu with our international students.
Their contribution threaded together the tapestry of new age storytelling. The question for moving storytelling forward isn’t just a quest for technology in, say, A.I, Bots, VR, et al but acknowledging meta thinking.
For instance, in my own practice called cinema journalism I share with our cohorts, cultural myth and how unconscious thinking frames, amongst other things, how you receive stories. What if you could relearn not to look at the world in perspective? What could happen if you threw away 500 years of mindsets, and imagine storytelling in a world where there was no fixed point? That would be the essence of VR, and the regions most at ease with it were excelling in Edo (Japanese) paintings, or otherwise Musqueam Indian’s First Nation in Vancouver.
In practising what we preach on the LAB, is something that’s been the source of knowledge, collapsing several disciplines and it’s a model we’re looking to collaborate with partners, such as the with London’s Mayoral reception.
To get in contact with the LAB or know more about my ethos, reach me here.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is head of the disLAB, a multidisciplinary course on innovation, storytelling and critical research. His background here.