A plurality of stories will create new political and social discursive spaces from which new realities can grow. But first they have to be written.

Weapons of Choice (2016)

“Were he around now, Foucault would likely remind us that history is a series of fictions — the most interesting thing about history being not what happened, but how people were brought to think what had happened.”

After the farce of the Brexit referendum, the US presidential election, and the absurd fallouts of both, it should be clear that today’s political leaders are skilled in writing ‘winning fictions’ from any squalid discourse they choose.

Electioneering and political success rests upon it. But so does resistance. That’s why we should pay closer attention to the twinned fictions of Trump and Farage. They are masterful in form and style.

The Wall

While their narratives could be pigeon-holed as populist (an anti-elite discourse in the name of the People) I feel uneasy with that label and it’s aptness.

A zero-sum narrative is a much better fit. One side’s loss is the other side’s gain. Not everyone can flourish. There’s nothing to be shared. All is finite and to be fought for.

The Wall is the primal symbol of the zero-sum game. It is signifier and signified, physical and metaphysical as and when needed. The Wall reduces complexity to manageable binaries. It dispels dialogue and makes argument malleable.

Its erection and embrace is both male and female — inclusive of both, excluding all else. By promising to protect those within and keep those without at bay, the Wall fixes and directs, records and controls.

In a perfect resolution, Trump’s border Wall with Mexico will snake across the Atlantic to embrace Farage’s dystopian Kingdom at Breaking Point.

We are close.

Having broken the UK’s back across his own hyper-nationalist wall, Farage left. May stooped to the gutter to pick up his baton, which she would, having built her own leadership bid on a Westminster speech on immigration that even UKIP called ‘repellant and xenophobic’ and ‘damaging to the nation’.

May now leads an insidiously nationalist government, her polarising rhetoric setting up Sturgeon, who’s still in the starting blocks for a Scottish independence referendum. The DUP too, when they tilted at May, had a super-smart play. No power then, but with a controlling union for their part in the Wall?

Let’s make no mistake, good deal, bad deal, or no deal at all, the Wall will be built, and the Wall will be tall.

As from the start, the Brexit paradox is that, in the pursuit of taking back illusory control the UK must cede more actual power and sovereignty than at any other time in its history.

A much diminished Kingdom is on the cards for decades to come. As more Tories bail the UK, even avid Brexiteers believe it might take 50 years to reap the rewards — if there is any at all.

And the unstoppable Farage is now back, claiming May’s betraying Brexit and he’s here to fix it. He fawns over Trump’s UN speech on upholding national borders and sovereignty, calling it ‘music to my ears’ and Trump’s defining political philosophy.

But Trump has no truck with something as fancy as philosophy. All he needs is the Wall, a mic, and an audience in front of him.

You Talkin’ To Me?

Trump’s lying is not a chink in his armour, so don’t even go there. Lying takes learning, focus and craft, none of which Trump possesses by half. As Harry G. Frankfurt would say, Trump is a bullshitter. His focus panoramic, not particular. He doesn’t tax his brain to insert falsehoods inside arguments, so he’s not bound by truths around  surround it. He fakes context too, when he needs it. Palms up, eyebrows to the sky, shrugging, ‘Who knew?’ Fuck you, ’45, and so democracy dies.

Bullshit offers opportunities for improvisation, colour and imaginative play that facts never can. In this light, Trump’s Kavanaugh conference should be easier to understand. Slammed by the media as incoherent and unbelievable, they miss the point by a country mile. Trump’s performance was a masterclass in style, closer instead to Niro’s improv genius of ‘You talking to me?’… Desperately linguistically limited, empty of sense, chock-full of meaning and intent.

Trump remains unscathed because he knows truth is relative to one’s position in society. He knows that people vote socially, from identity, not politically, and that performance beats policy.

More importantly, he knows that bullshit is the best raw material from which to write meaningful, and therefore; winning fictions.

Where Power Lies (2018)

“ … And at the time of the Unravelling itself, many took shelter inside, mourning the loss of all that had been familiar. Others walked outside to watch the skies as the ancient binary referents slowly descended to be reabsorbed into the earth; hyponyms fracturing, antonyms dissolving, tiny gasps of joy accompanying each new possibility …”

The rhetoric of Trump and Farage is exceptional… in all senses of the word.

They know you cannot ‘defeat’ a performance. They build their narratives around the Wall, the most powerful signifier of them all. And the binary mechanics of today’s democracy, immersed in cash-gobbling meme-driven media, provide the most fertile discursive space in human history.

The zero-sum is the one narrative to rule them all, because social heuristics run deep. Not a single critique will ever create a new reality. I’m right, you’re wrong. She’s weak, I’m strong. Tory and Labour, Republican and Democrat, smart and stupid, rich and poor, white and black; these are the fault lines through which democracy is fracked.

Thinking in binaries is our mortal enemy when meaning at stake. Meaning is messy and complex, contrary and contradictory, just like history. We literally write our own reality. Because the Achilles heel of the zero-sum is plurality.

A plurality of stories will raze the breeding grounds of prejudice and entitlement that keeps incumbents safe. It will destroy the credibility of the zero-sum game.

But they first need to be written. Literally written: gotten out of our heads and homes, into the digital wild, through our laptops and phones into zeroes and ones, where they can be surfaced and shared, scaled and mutated by artificial intelligence, to form new discursive spaces …

… From which new realities can grow.

There really is no other way.

Be splendid,

—  Steve


Storytelling Tips from Obama’s Speechwriter, Unpacked

by admin on May 30, 2017 . Views: 3,442

Storytelling Tips

In Five Rules of Storytelling, Jon Favreau, Obama’s former Director of Speechwriting, helps improve your speechwriting skills. But with some judicious unpacking, Favreau’s advice can also help you become a more effective storyteller, regardless of discipline.

Download Storytelling Tips from Obama’s Speechwriter, Unpacked pdf  for your leisurely viewing pleasure. No info required. Meanwhile…

1. Outcomes first, words last

“In my experience communications too often focuses on finding the right words. Of course, words are important at some point in the process. But the first question you have to ask yourself is, ‘What’s the story I’m trying to sell?’ That is essential, and should be the starting point”—Jon Favreau

On first being tasked with a story to tell, it is tough to resist the temptation to immediately sit down and write. I still have to resist, after more than 20 years in the game. Jotting down initial ideas helps. Having done that, follow Favreau’s cue and ask, ‘What’s our end goal?’

Terms such as engagement, influence or persuasion are not end goals. At best, they are means to an end. Engage, influence or persuade to do ‘what’ specifically, is what you need to define. It takes time, but stick with it. It influences all that follows. Read more …


Five Communication Principles for Adaptive Content Design: Towards the Holy Grail

by Steve Seager on September 29, 2015 . Views: 1,581

The Holy Grail of Communication

Thanks to the groundwork done by content strategists seeking Intelligent Content, Adaptive Content (personalised content, driven by data and automated to the max) is now within reach. The potential and benefits are enormous. However, as was recently pointed out, for the most part, communicators have no idea how to design content so it can become adaptive. In this post, I share five tried and tested communication principles to help pave the way. In my follow-up post, I’ll share my Seven Building Blocks of adaptive content design. These should kick off thoughts about how agencies and in-house teams could make their digital content creation processes that much smarter.

[Download Five Communication Principles for Adaptive Content Design as a PDF for your leisurely viewing pleasure]

These are exciting times for digital strategy and communication! Last year, when content strategy married content marketing at the Intelligent Content Conference, Joe Pulizzi and The Rockley Group raised the content bar to a whole new level.

It seems that we have a new Holy Grail within reach: right message, right audience, right format, right time — driven by data, automated to the max.

Standing on the shoulders of early information scientists, content strategists (as opposed to content marketing strategists) have been laying the foundations for more than a decade. Today, they’ve branded this Holy Grail, ‘intelligent content’.

The potential benefits are enormous: Read more …



Hero’s Journey image above excerpted from Action Philosophers! © Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente.

[DOWNLOAD this post for your leisurely viewing pleasure here]

For most storytellers and communicators structure is an anathema to creativity. Yet all storytelling has inherent structures. Exploring them can unlock new approaches to digital storytelling — and digital content design more in line with the bits and bytes of our digital ecosystem. Here are four innovative models to get you in the mood.

Roland Barthes, master linguist and semiotician once said: “There are countless forms of narrative in the world.” And yet the majority of western storytellers have been ploughing just one narrative model for well over 60 years: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey from the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

While it has its value, Campbell’s model is not a useful model for digital story design on a structural level. Down below, I offer four alternative narrative structures that we could use to design intelligent stories more fitting to our digital context.  Read more …


Storylining: the best-kept secret of successful strategic communication

by Steve Seager on October 20, 2014 . Views: 11,119

What we have here is a failure to communicate

As a rule, every business discipline has tried and tested processes and techniques others can understand, learn, and even apply for themselves. These give credence to that discipline. Communication is often seen as an exception to the rule — its success determined by the art of storytelling. In reality, it’s not true. Welcome to GAME — a four step process to improve the quality of your communications — and storylining, the step that comes before storytelling.

[DOWNLOAD this post as a pdf]

You know you have to step up your core communication skills when:

• An incredible 83% of execs say their business strategy isn’t well understood internally (Strategy&, 2014)

85% of marketers fail to connect their content marketing with any business value (BMA/Forrester, 2014) and;

Fewer than 50% of communicators believe all of their work is aligned with strategy and goals (AlignYourOrg, 2014).

With all the hype on storytelling today you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is the ultimate panacea to all business communication ills — and that great business and brand stories are the result of an arcane creative process that only comms-types are privy to.

It’s a nonsense. The truth is, the communications industry is seriously under-performing, and storytelling is not the solution. Read more …


Marshall McLuhan | Steve SeagerAt almost every conference I attend, in almost every conversation I have with innovative digital or communication thinkers, I hear echoes of one of my heroes, Marshall McLuhan.

I’ll be referring to a McLuhanesque concept (media literacy) in an upcoming post on strategic management competencies soon, so I thought I’d share this post with you on the off-chance you aren’t familiar with him.

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase the ‘global village’, and know and understand the meaning of ‘the medium is the message’ (Sure? Nice podcast, that) but the depth and breadth of his work might be surprising.

McLuhan’s thoughts covered not only tactical effects of ‘electronic media’, such as the dominance of the image over text way before it was technically feasible, but also observed that:

‘The medium, or process of our time – electric technology – is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing – you, your family, your neighbourhood, your education, your job, your government, your relation to ‘the others’. And they’re changing dramatically.’

He also summed up my mum’s worries (and probably yours as well) about Facebook when he said: Read more …


Why Great Stories are Important in Business: the Essential Truths

by Steve Seager

Despite all the hype on storytelling, articulating why stories are so important in business can still be tough. It helps to make the distinction between story and communication a little clearer. Down below is a write-up drawn from the introduction of a workshop on story and communication I recently gave … We can communicate in […]

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Christian Bluemelhuber New Brand Marketing & Communication Model: ‘Porn, Style, and Series’

by Steve Seager

While at EuroComm this year I grabbed 5 minutes with one of our most provocative speakers, Christian Bluemelhuber, Professor for Communication at the University of Arts in Berlin. In the quick interview below I asked him about his presentation on his wonderfully different marketing and communication model for brands. Although I haven’t yet had a […]

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10 Essential Content Marketing Questions and Answers

by Steve Seager

Is content marketing finally coming of age? Despite the backlash, I’d argue it is. From what I’ve seen to date, our backlashers (ahem) are asking the wrong questions – and definitely not focused on making their content great. If you’re serious about your content marketing you need to be able to answer the essential questions management […]

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The Anatomy of Great Content

by Steve Seager

Down below is a free PDF download of The Anatomy of Great Content – a content marketing model for both marketers and strategic communicators. It explains what makes for successful content marketing content. It sounds obvious, but there’s two words in content marketing. Over the past couple of years consulting I’ve noticed that marketers tend to […]

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