Origin Stories: Why you need to uncover yours
Crafting your origin story and communicating it to others can boost the success of any personal or professional endeavour. Whether you’re a business trying to win over customers, a charity trying to build your reputation, or an individual who wants to connect with people, there’s lots to gain by unlocking the power of your beginning.
So, what is an Origin Story?
A quick Wiki search throws up a simple description of an Origin Story as “a backstory, or established background narrative, that informs the identity and motivations of heroes and villains.”
Although that definition is used in entertainment and literature, it’s useful when we are looking to describe real-life accounts of individuals and organisations too. It represents a shortcut that our pattern-seeking, story brains love to take.
Despite the prevalence of Origin Stories, often, we’ve never considered our own. And, if we have, we don’t always see why we should share it. Perhaps we don’t want to take the spotlight or don’t deem our stories interesting enough. Whatever your reason, I want to help you see the value in yours and support the growth of your good ideas.
Personally, knowing where something started has always piqued my interest. I’m not alone in this, the truth is that wanting to know the origins of something is uniquely human.
Origin Stories are everywhere. They don’t just appear in superhero franchises, but also across society as a whole. Think of Raheem Sterling, who shared his powerful origin story, building empathy with fans on his journey to Wembley. Or CEO’s, activists and socially conscious entrepreneurs who harness theirs to help build support and empathy for their mission. You could even argue that the subjects of History, Geography and Geology are us trying to understand the origin story of humankind and our planet.
Why do you need to tell yours?
1. You can’t back someone you don’t know.
What do Wolverine, Amazon, Oprah Winfrey, J.K Rowling and Greta Thunberg all have in common? We all know how they started. In fact, how they started is one of the most memorable things about them, and is a huge factor that contributes to their mass appeal. Hearing about how Harry Potter was first penned on a napkin, or how a 14-year-old girl skipping school to take on her government layers our understanding of Rowling and Greta – and makes us want to root for them even more.
Nobody can be invested in the story of someone they don’t know. Revealing how you started is a simple but powerful way to build credibility amongst your audience, as they can verify that you’ve stayed true to your core aims from the jump. It’s a chance to prove why others should believe in you and validate your motives.
For example, if you’re looking for investment or shareholder buy-in, no matter how good your idea, they want assurance that investing in you is a good move. Knowing where you began goes a long way in making that happen.
Essentially, revealing the start of your journey to the world is a form of transparency, openness, and vulnerability. It humanises you and your organisation’s motivations and gives people the room to empathise with you.
2. Sharing your origins helps people understand your present and trust your future
It’s why we like lore, why we have history books, why we ask people about their childhoods on first dates. We’re a curious storytelling species and crave narratives. We want nothing more than to relate to others. We love to hear stories of JK Rowling, the single mother, writing her bestseller in a cafe in Edinburgh, or how Ben & Jerry started their Ice Cream business via a correspondence course in Ice Cream Making.
Instinctively, we trust people more when we understand a little of their past, it helps us gain insight into what drives them in the present and offers a valid prediction about what might guide their future behaviour.
Because of this, stories that explain where it all began can be even more interesting for those that joined you in the middle of your journey.
You can also frame and share your origin story as a bit of bonus content for people who already have you on their radar. Prequels are more interesting to existing fans of the story than first-time watchers. Getting the gaps filled in about where everything started only deepens our connection to the characters.
If your audience only knows where you are now, and not where you started, it might hinder their complete commitment to you or your brand. So, fill in those gaps!
3. Origin Stories are important for your tribe
The origin story also carries importance for a tribe – whether that’s a geographical community, a community of interest, a corporation or brand, a nation-state etc. Stories that document the beginnings of a community have the ability to anchor and unify groups in robust, seemingly eternal ways.
For instance, The Pride movement has origins in the Stonewall Riots, and this story has been an unending source of fuel to draw on at times when keeping the momentum up has been difficult.
People may have different beliefs, values and ways of living but sharing a common beginning can provide a sense of solidarity.
If you’re the leader of an organisation, it’s important your tribe knows why you started it all. They need to understand why you have skin in the game, and will be more invested in seeing your shared mission realised.
When times are challenging, the mere act of remembering why you started in the first place can grant you the resolution to keep going.
Your origin story helps frame who you are and why you do what you do. It’s more than just introducing yourself; it’s an exercise in being vulnerable and provides an opportunity to establish a connection through the creation of trust.
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