An idea is a story. A story about how the world could be. Great ideas are often described as having an almost ethereal source. Beyond the mind—as if the mind were a receiver, and not a generator. Some people think, I’m not an ideas person. They just don’t come to me.
But, and apparently like every other damned thing in this world, ideas appear to be nothing more than stories. They fictionalize the present, and imagine what an alternative could look like. You don’t have an idea for an app, or a website, or a service—you imagine a world in which that service existed. You create a story about how the world would look with your invention. You imagine the fame and glory it will bring you. Your consciousness submerges in a flash flood of thought and creativity, and you emerge after it all with a wild look about your face. A wild idea has appeared, from whence unknown! But really, you just told yourself a good story.
Nations, religions, and cultures are stories of the collective human mind, a la Sapiens. But I think so are products, and apps, and websites, and services. They are stories first and foremost, with the physical manifestations appearing soon after.
A year or so ago, Dropbox released a huge redesign of their brand. Their new visual design and story communicated something along the lines of: We are no longer a folder syncing company. We are a collaborative solution that enhances creativity and efficiency amongst teams. They rolled out this messaging across their entire digital presence, including website and social profiles, but, their product remained exactly the same. Quite literally nothing had changed in their actual interface (yet). And I thought, what a con. Who are you fooling? You’re not a creativity-inducing company. You’re a folder.
But I think now I admire what they did. They told a story about who they wanted to be. The problems they wanted to solve. And though they were not that today, they knew it was who they wanted to be tomorrow. First you tell the story. Then you build the story. It’s a technique that has worked wonders for, dare I say, the greatest storyteller of our generation: Elon Musk.
Expectation and reality may not always meet, but the only way to keep advancing and innovating is to keep telling more innovative and creative stories. Reality follows, with some delay.