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  • Writer's pictureJay Whitmer

Misremembering Stories

Jack Bauer is back.

While browsing at a neighborhood garage sale, I locked eyes on a full DVD set of 24 Season One. And I couldn’t wait to introduce my 15-year old son to the gritty and relentless “whatever it takes” federal agent.

Except my boy wasn’t that interested. In fact, after the first couple episodes, he wanted out. “Too grainy, too slow, too predictable” was his shrugged response. And as much as it pained me to see him give up on Jack, something I wasn’t prepared to do yet, I started to wonder why there is such a large gap versus my hope and expectations for him to join me in the nostalgic real-time intensity together.

Was he actually right that this show wasn’t that great? Did I misremember the story arc, acting, or quality of the production?

This isn’t the first time my kids have dogged older shows or movies. They can’t handle The Princess Bride and didn’t make it past the first 20 minutes of Mr. Mom. But this wasn’t a classic from the 80s, it was pretty recent from the early 2000s – with pretty darn good action to boot. This shouldn’t get a thumbs down let alone a yawn if you ask me.

And when I have introduced other past-time favorites like Shawshank, The Matrix, or Die Hard, my son is all in (and he’s adamantly in the camp that Die Hard is indeed one of the best Christmas movies of all time).

So if it’s not the obvious generational preference for 4k and “Fast and Furious” speed of action, what gives? What makes older entertainment as engaging today as it did back then?

What makes something timeless??

This question has been lingering in my head since it seems to echo well past Hollywood and into most modern businesses. It’s easy to get narrowly focused on what we think we remember that used to work, or we do things in a similar formulaic approach because that’s just how we’ve always done it. If it was good 20 years ago, why wouldn’t it work now?

Might our beliefs and preferences get so entrenched that new ideas and ways of working pass us by not just because we aren’t looking for them but because we don’t want to see them?

After studying businesses since Jack Bauer came onto the scene, there are at least 3 common story lines we can learn from 24 to make our efforts timeless – whether in the marketplace or in our personal lives.

  1. Stories must be compelling – the most important element for our engagement is being part of a compelling story. Are we drawn in quickly, what needs to be resolved, and what is on the line? If we can establish relevance and urgency for what is most important or the highest priority, then we have a better chance to be laser focused on getting to the other side. 24 gets a B+ for building a compelling story arc, particularly one that has a very specific clock. Unfortunately we don’t have a visible countdown, and we don’t know what’s coming next. Which means it’s even more important to have a well-defined vision of what we’re chasing so that time becomes secondary in our pursuit.

  2. Stories require the right pace without being predictable – pace is a much bigger deal today than 10-20 years ago, and probably a variable that needs the most attention to course correct. Just because “Fast and Furious” is popular doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for our business or our own lives. In fact, we might actually miss the most important story arc because of our speed or misplaced priorities. Yet if we go too slow and try to deliver results with predictability, the target has likely moved by the time we think we have arrived. Assuming we know how the story ends is dangerous ground, although that’s where 24 actually missed with my son as he correctly guessed all the bad guys after hour 3.

  3. Stories need sequencing and structure – once we have a focused story arc with the right pace, the story boards should then get aligned for the best flow. This requires excellent editing and resourcing to make sure the pieces are in place to get from here to there. Once we make big bets to pursue a specific direction, project, or initiative, can we gather and activate the right resources to pave the way? Jack was always going off book to get results, and while this sometimes created manufactured tension in the story arc, you can’t argue against his relentless implementation of what was required to get the job done. And because he was singularly focused on saving the day even at his own expense, the resolution to each conflict brought a satisfying conclusion to the 24-hour pressure cooker (even if my son wasn’t that impressed).

What does your story look like? Are there gaps in the story or too many priorities to compete with the main plot? Is the pace too fast or possibly not fast enough? And is part of the story out of sequence or not aligned with where you want the story to go?

We all have a unique story to tell, and much of it is still unwritten. But that’s where the fun begins so we can share a story worth remembering.

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