Nimble Thoughts

Micro thoughts and minor insights.

A collection of storytelling nibbles by:

© Cole Akins

Storytelling [For Marketing] in 47.8 seconds...

Storytelling is:

Language

Problem/Solution

Intention/Obstacle

Contains A Hidden Structure

Transformative (Character/Audience start and end in a different place)

Informative and Entertaining (No matter the platform)

Promotes Intentional Feeling

Successful storytelling focuses on incorporating the following elements to enhance audience attention:

Access

Takeaways

Talent 

Nostalgia/Heritage

Aspirations

Accessibility

Escapism

Unique/Timely Events

The audience is both ignorant and bright. Intelligent and dumb. Concepts should be translated into messaging simple enough for a 7 year-old to understand. Take heed the nuance of the collective audience as a whole, and the individual pair of eyes. 

There are lots of books on storytelling geared to marketing. All marketing is storytelling, yet marketing didn't invent storytelling. Storytelling is a craft. An art. So to understand the craft, be aware of the masters.

Start with Aristotle. "Poetics" has been studied by storytellers long before marketers started pitching The Hero's Journey. Read James Blake. Go to a free museum. Value diverse experiences and observations.

Audience attention = currency. The new goal is to get people online to get offline. Empathy 1st, data after. No ego.

A Message From Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He is a senior art critic and columnist for New York magazine.

When I meet an artist I try to assess their character. Not to glean if they’re a good or bad person, smart or dumb. I look for artists who have the character to consistently assess and address the problems that will inevitably arise in their work. Character has nothing to do with skill, proficiency or popularity. Having character is about discipline, daredevilry, openness, courage, the ability to withstand days and nights in hell not knowing. This is the character that will help you make your work never stand still, be willing to fix what needs fixing, and always follow the river of your work to where it leads you, however daunting or lonely. To always “beat on against the current.”

Weekday Reads


Ghost of Churchill Haunts Parliament!

NOTE: I spent a couple nights rewatching Darkest Hour. First the theatrical version followed by the director's commentary which had great insights from Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina [2012]). Then I caught a photo circulating Twitter of Donald Trump sitting in Winston Churchill's favorite chair.

I wondered ... what words might Mr. Churchill expel forth in these modern times.

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Ghost of Winston Churchill Haunts Parliament!

Noble Lords Scream 'Mirage'!

Churchill's Ghost to Trump: Get Outta My Chair! 

July 10, 2018 [900am PST] White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweets photo of American President Donald Trump sitting in Winston Churchill's favorite chair. British response toward the American President's UK visit further soured by President's sedentary act.

*UPDATE* July 10 [1:30pm PST] 

In a shocking turn of events, the ghost of Winston Churchill appeared before British Parliament requesting a quorum on the floor. The freedom to speak was granted with trepidation. Witnesses say the former PM looked tired and ashy-white. The great orator of world history puttered about as he spoke to parliamentary officials before stalking for the exit and disappearing. 

See transcript below:

<BEGIN TRANSCRIPT>

 

[EXCITABLE CHATTER]

UNIDENTIFIED PARLIAMENTARY MEMBER:

This is absurd. Who are you? I insist you identify your true nature at once!

WINSTON CHURCHILL:

Prove my own flesh and blood?  Preposterous … absurd indeed! [INAUDIBLE]

MR. SPEAKER:

It's a legitimate request. After all, sir, you are long dead -- that is without question.

WINSTON CHURCHILL:

Mr. Speaker, do you not see me standing before you? I do believe I hold the floor. I see no other way to prove my very existence than hold true to our nation’s gentlemanly traditions and proceed.

[PAUSE]

UNIDENTIFIED PARLIAMENTARY MEMBER #2:

This man ... this ghost ... does not have cause to control the floor of Parliament. I must--

WINSTON CHURCHILL: [INTERRUPTING]

ON YOUR WATCH, SIR! ON YOUR WATCH [PAUSE] Did the American President very recently disrespect our sitting Prime Minister? And is he attacking NATO like some silly schoolyard howler? Is he attempting to weaken international stopgaps to conflict rightly constructed to prevent a repeat of Heir Hitler's war?

And ... AND ... in a final act of disregard, did the American President take a seat in my chair?!

MR. SPEAKER:  

Yes. Just today in fact. Several hours ago, I'm told.

WINSTON CHURCHILL:

Then Mr. Speaker, I believe our island is indeed in peril once more. I shall do my best to provide sage guidance.

[CLEARS THROAT] 

Where was I... Oh, yes... 

(MR. CHURCHILL CLUTCHES HIS LAPELS.)

WINSTON CHURCHILL (CONT.):

On the click-clacking train ride to the destination of my afterlife, I looked out my window and saw flames rising through the furnace of hell.

[PAUSE] 

My seat-mates dabbed at their temples. Unbuttoned stiff collars. These were men I did not know. And yet we sympathized alike nonetheless. Men from different backgrounds with equal fears. Different nationalities. Differing advice from each of their fathers. The train slowed. Upon pausing at this feverish junction, several individuals were escorted off the coach by an invisible, dubious force. The tears of the departing passengers evaporated as steam from their very eyes.  Clouds of sorrow like nothing I have before witnessed. 

To those of us who remained aboard, it was optimism that united us. Optimism for our souls. Hope that the sorrow and loneliness of death might become a more bearable enterprise. Even in the most difficult of times, it is more endurable to exist on the sunny side of the mountain. For only there do options for progress still exist. 

When I felt the cooling shoreline breeze of hope, I rejoiced. My train hastened itself onward, to the good fortune of my character ... and my soul.

MR. SPEAKER:

Sir, it is a fine view of Heaven and hell, but we really must get back to the business of the Queen. 

[MUFFLED AGREEMENT]

WINSTON CHURCHILL:

All do respect to the Queen, Mr. Speaker. It is the business of the people I am here to discuss.  

[PAUSE]

WINSTON CHURCHILL:

Where was I? Yes. Heaven. 

Noble lords and ladies, no one plays poker in Heaven. The house dealer, a mute and portly fellow, sits with idle hands. That very first round of cards were dealt at the dawn of man and remain untouched at this very hour.

There is a treachery, you see, to the act of winning in poker. To win means to lie well. To perjury oneself in Heaven … well, I would suggest against it. For without honor, there is no sense to linger in such a place. Without truth, there is no sense to linger in the mortal earthly realm, nor any other.

Truth. Truth. Truth. 

The quest for truth is the one thing that binds men of a different breed together. Truth flows downstream. Always. It is a sweet, crystal liquid that sifts through cracks in every category of darkness on its sojourn to light.

This is truth. And so shall be. For all time. 

When there is nothing left. When a society is taken apart and its very core is exposed; it is truth and honor that standalone. Hand-in-hand. Beneath the judgmental spotlight of prying eyes. 

I call on you today because we are at war. Not with a foreign battalion charging our shores, but to a more sinister enemy: our very selves. Our very humanity!

In large doses, from time to time, a man must come face-to-face with an unseemly character — one who pounces with unjust cause onto the backs of those less fortunate.  Be is stout athletic thespians of the American football pitch. Or our very own Prime Minister, a plethora of examples abound across our Western world. 

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned.

We have, simultaneously, and at odds with normal course of action, an American President who refutes truth and caters to lies to propagate his own purpose. An American President who disinclines to follow common rules and procedures of great import. This, and ... and ... and the isolation of our own United Kingdom due to a campaign of equally ambiguous lies and deceit. Something noxious is spreading. An invisible threat I did not see coming. 

Where is the unity? Where is the boundless enthusiasm and optimism of great nations?

Where is the shame?

We find ourselves at a precarious turning point in human history. A decision must be made at the highest level — with and among my very countrymen seated before me. 

Truth. Not an alternative rational.

Truth. Not the short term strategic whims of power.

Truth. A kind born and crafted from honest dissension and debate. Compromise!

This is truth in its brightest form. It cannot exist in the shade. Whatever the chosen decision, right or wrong, the path to it must be made honorably. There is too much incentive for intellectual dishonesty, with no consequences or remediation for such egregious and offensive dishonesty.

We crumble toward haphazard dereliction.  We must act with grace in the face of uncertainty and fear. When faced with difficult choices act with courage.

I have never seen these London streets so clean and prosperous, yet so full of doubt. Our citizens amble about bombarded by the fodder of alternative fact. Lies and deceit line the high ground like howitzers.

I share these final thoughts:

To continue this current course of action… To ignore the litmus test of old will be disastrous to our civilization. To redefine truth and honor into something ambivalent, without the safety net of concern for reputation, will bury this chamber — and that noble chamber across the sea — beneath rubble just the same.

And it will bring to end the longest period of peace our island — and our world — has ever known.

There, Mr. Speaker, you have the floor. I shall cease to exist once again.  

 

<END TRANSCIPT>

 

 


The Rise of E-Friendly Fire

Ping! 

I'm in the middle of a job hunt. Every incoming email is a welcome moment of hope.  I could run a half marathon with the sudden dose of adrenaline.

Ping!

G-baby in one arm, diaper in hand, iPhone in the other hand, I-must-check-email-now. 

So imagine the disappointment when that intoxicating ping! is nothing but spam. But not just any kind of spam. I'm talking about a form of unsolicited email that cannot be blocked, flagged, or ignored. These messages are not sent from some Constant Contact bot or faraway stranger selling diet pills. I'm talking about the ballistic onslaught of incoming political emails from known family members and friends. 

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Often times, I'm cc'd as a recipient in an email chain. Come COB on a weekday, the 'reply-all' responses start flowing.  It's the sweet sound of a sudden winning streak ... until reality strikes. 

Every time an op-ed piece or news story on Climate Change hits publications like the Economist or Wall Street Journal, I receive an email from an opinionated and well-intentioned family member sharing the article as ultimate "proof" that Global Warming isn't real. A hoax; nothing more than a political stunt from a well-organized scientific community with a well-coordinated agenda.

P.S: Global Warming is real.

Since November 2016, unsolicited headlines are turning family and friends into notorious email spammers -- merchants of information fodder in a war for real news.  The familiar whoosh and ping has become the battle cry in the latest round of the ongoing nonverbal political argument.The incredible polarization in today's national social and political policies, along with the quest to validate one's political position, have lead to the rise in politically overt messages sent to American email inboxes. 

If you're like me, you've received a hefty amount of emails from family members and friends caught up in the nation's divisive political theatre. 

I'm happy that friends and family members are reading and getting involved in political conversation. But this trend inspired me to have a little fun...

According to data acquired by B-team pollsters from Season 3 of the Bartlett Administration, since November 2016 overtly opinionated and unwanted spam emails from known parties are up 46% during the ten-day period of study (±8%). 

A deeper dive into the national data unveils percentage increases by relation:

Grandfather/Grandmother: 56% (from single Yahoo account)
Stepfather: 92%
Brother/Sister: 34%
Aunts/Uncles/Cousin: 37% (combined)
Mother: 53% (includes 57% chance of follow-up phone call)
Close Family Friend of Mother: 74%
Best Man/Bridesmaid: 37% (born in 1963 or later)

How to solve the influx of spam from known parties (amateur couch pundits)? How to win the argument presented, save face, and take the moral high ground, all while limiting unsolicited political emails?

Might I suggest, the non-binding legal response? This method elevates the argument to a level not worth a rebuttal due to the significant time and effort required to respond in equal measure. Best of all, the retort offers an intelligent solution with no direct confrontation required!

Upon receiving an email from a family member with a particular viewpoint that Climate Change is a hoax, I decided to take my counterargument to a higher level by mounting the following non-binding legal response:

 

Page 1

Page 2

What do you think? Would Harvard Law accept me? 

 
 

So ... What's Your Story?

One of my most enjoyable responsibilities in the reality TV industry was the free reign to discover interesting people with fascinating stories to tell. My job was to identify, recruit, and empower undiscovered storytellers to tell their stories and unite global audiences on cable networks like Discovery, TLC, or History. Stories come from anywhere. Sometimes they smack you in the face out of nowhere. Other times you gotta consciously open the blinds to let the sunshine in.  

My first attempt at nonfiction storytelling came back in 2011 (it feels so long ago) as a film student for a classroom assignment. My task was to interview an interesting individual and cut together a monologue with an emotional storyline. These early experience helped influence the kinds of dramatic, personal stories I want to share with the world. 

I ended up interviewing two different individuals:

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi

Dr. Siddiqi is the religious leader to thousands of Muslims in Southern California at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove. On September 14, 2001 -- at the invitation of President George W. Bush -- Dr. Siddiqi spoke at the National Cathedral to help mourn the deaths of the 9/11 terrorist attack.  I figured he might have a story to tell and wanted to gain his perspective at being Muslim in America in the days following the collapse of the Twin Towers. 

Ms. Violette Bender

A kindergarten teacher of 33 years (2011). One of those unsung heroes, pure at heart, motivated by the service of others. I'd called up the local elementary school, curious to meet the teacher with the longest tenure. That teacher was Ms. Bender. My goal was to find out what powered her to return to the classroom year after year with unwavering enthusiasm and a deep personal connection to her students. 

 

My interest in telling impactful human-interest stories that add value to the world has continued since these early lessons in 2011. Here's a brief glimpse of a more recent project I was developing in late 2017:

 

Draft(2018)_BORDER CLASH (RMM) (dragged).jpg
 
 

 

Dear Howard Stern...

In 2014 I was engulfed in a complex interview process for a role with the in-house development and production company for Discovery Communications. This was a competitive situation to become the development assistant to a gritty, hardboiled, demanding Executive Producer. A native Aussie, this titan of champagne tele was a maestro at the boomerang toss. Time and time again, we met, then I departed only for me to circle back for another interview callback.  

Then he asked me to write an email. One final test to gauge my creativity and writing skills.  I thought the race was over, only for the mile markers to shift again.  

His prompt: Write an email to Howard Stern convincing him to join a reality television show titled, "All Men Are Liars."

The following is my creative response:

Dear Mr. Stern,

I’m contacting you on behalf of Discovery Studios, the development and production company associated with the Discovery Networks.

We’re in a bit of a jam and hope you can help us out. I’ve spoken with Don Buchwald and he’s agreed that our project is right in your wheelhouse. He also provided me permission to e-mail you directly. Mr. Buchwald further mentioned that you’re growing bored of the “nightly hula-hoop acts and the latest Swiss family chorus singing fucking ‘Kumbayah.”’ While that may be true, you still contribute immensely to the particular program I speak of and we remain all the more impressed by the creative spice you consistently contribute to your professional commitments.

To The Point:

Jesse James just broke his verbal agreement with us (believe it or not, we didn’t see that coming) and we need a celebrity guest to fill in as a host for a single, high-profile episode. Our show is called, All Men Are Liars, and in case you’re not familiar with our program, it’s a weekly, hour-long (48 min. taped) show that explores how far men will go in order to impress his potential lady. But instead of unveiling the bright plume of feathers, we’re curious to see how our Male Contestant unveils his bravado, ie.) how easily will men lie in order to win a woman’s favor? We’re exploring the deepest, darkest truth about our human instinct and we believe you and your plethora of experience in the matter of human sexuality and desire will be able to shed light on the matter.

The Show:

The signature show in the Discovery After Dark lineup, All Men Are Liars is focused on creating moments of high sexual tension for an adult, late-night audience. Each episode is set in a different city, with a dif- ferent male demographic. We’re curious about stereotypes. For example, does the white New England WASP lie more frequently than the blue-collar Texas oil driller? How about the tech-savvy Asian in San Francisco or the African American Police officer in Chattanooga? Or do all men lie the same?

As a last-minute contributor, your talent would be required in one city only — in this particular episode, New York. There are two (2) Female Contestants and two (2) Male Contestants. The only way to win the “game” is for both Female Contestants to choose the same male — that male, the winner — is only allowed to keep his prize if he DOES NOT LIE. The Male Contestants are aware they must win the “hearts” of both females, but they are UNAWARE that they automatically forfeit if they tell a single fib which producers thoroughly cross-check and track, allowing the at-home-audience to follow in real-time.

As part of your responsibility as episode host, you choose the two Male Contestants from our short list. You will also interview and profile the Female Contests to uncover who these females selected and why. At the beginning of the episode you make a winning prediction. If your choice wins, that lucky contestant receives a further prize.

Most importantly, Mr. Stern, we request that you COME AS YOU ARE. We need Howard Stern to be his favorite self. This show airs on cable television, at 11:30pm (EST) for good reason.

The purpose of this e-mail is to garner interest and start immediate dialogue. I have cc’d Mr. Buchwald and hope to hear from you soon. If you have further questions, please let us know. If you are interested in working with Discovery Studios, we will gladly move to the next step of negotiation. We hope you will continue to push the envelope with us.

We appreciate your time and consideration,

 

Warm regards,

 

Cole Akins* 

*Candidate for hire. This email is not real. This show is not real. Cole Akins is not currently em- ployed by Discovery Studios, though he would be thrilled at the opportunity to contribute to the development of high-quality, nonfiction television.

Working at Discovery was an awesome experience. The EP is a lifelong mentor and friend. 

 


Venice With A Side of NW Soul

San Francisco, Chicago, New York, LA; these are the "foie gras" cities of America's culinary identity -- they're fancy, elite, luxurious, creative, and force fed with praise.

Finally, another city was added to the list. 

I was fortunate to live in Washington DC when it joined the upper echelon of the American fine dining. The Nation's Capital, home of transplants and nutty political cycles, officially arrived on the world food scene in 2016 with the publication of its own edition of the Michelin Guide Book. I believe Aaron Silverman's Pineapple & Pearls and Rose's Luxury were big reasons why. 

Foie gras is a common fine-dining menu option made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened through forced feeding.

There is a size, scope, and culture to DC that made Michelin's focus inevitable. But what other metro hubs may be deserving of national recognition as a serious food destination?

How about Seattle?

The land of Amazonia, Grunge, and complex seasonal variability may be too pocketed in our geographical corner of the country, too small, too techy, and not international enough to be included. Seattle is a laid back adventure's oasis, not a preeminent culture center. But what if? Cool things are happening here in food, from old-faithful Canlis, to Junebaby, Spinassi, and Altura, just to name too few.

How can Seattle enhance its food identity on the world stage?

One solution is the continued infusion of talent from abroad. Rome? Paris? Tokyo? I believe the arrival of a chef with a clear understanding of their local traditions and resources -- a personality with curiosity to fuse old world and new -- would lead to an influx of national. Madrid? Copenhagen? Lima?  

Or how about ... Venice, Italy?

Sheltered away from the cruise ship crowd and crooning gondoliers is an exceptionally delicious osteria, a minimalist kitchen run by steely and apathetic Venetian, a mighty man on a mission to protect his pocket of the world from an insurgency of foreigners and tourist traps.

Giovanni is the owner, server, dishwasher, host, chef, and sole proprietor of I Rusteghi Osteria Enoteca.  He provides locals with an authentic evening of conversation, wine, and Cicchetti -- small plated Venetian dishes. In this secret courtyard, food and Venetian conversation comes first and tourists don't exist.

While visiting Venice last September, S and I found our way to Giovanni's courtyard. 

Giovanni arrived 15 minutes late. The Italian neither acknowledged nor bothered us as he set chairs and balanced his menus against the jeroboam of red wine at his courtyard entrance. He moved slow. A line of laundry dangled above us. It began to rain. This particular day was like the one before it and the one soon ahead. We waited and watched. We succumbed to his pace. There was no rush.  We had plenty of reason to rush off for a meal elsewhere.  

But we couldn't leave. On the kitchen window was a random sticker with the familiar logo of Caffe Vita, a mainstay local coffee roastery owned by Seattle native Mike McConnell. It's a small world, but this was too bizarre. I had to know the story of this sticker. 

During out meal, we watched tourists enter the courtyard and leave. Giovanni stuck to his rhythm and passed each curious party with a blank expression, a total and meticulous failure to acknowledge. The potential customers pivoted and left. A simple smile may have welcomed them. A menu in English would cinched the guarantee. Customer after customer chose to spend their euros elsewhere. 

It's difficult to describe a good meal. Flashy flowy adjectives conceal the reality and leave too much focus on the critics themselves. I'll put it this way: people visit Venice to cross it off a bucket list. I have fair reason to return for the food. The collection of local small seafood dishes were delicious. I'm not confidant I can find the equivalent in America. 

Giovanni delivered the next course and sat with us. We chatted in English. He explained that he was just one man. One man in one small minimalist kitchen. No bells and whistles. It doesn't take much foot traffic to keep busy.  If a patron wants to sit down, they'll sit down.  Sit or go. Don't make me cook for you if you don't really want me to. 

Of course I asked about the Caffe Vita sticker. 

Mike McConnell figured it out first. A man like Giovanni would bring great value to Seattle. As of last September, the plan was for the Venetian solo artist to fly to Seattle in November and take the first big step toward joining forces in a new Seattle restaurant venture. 

I keep my hungry eyes open. One man. A small kitchen. A bottle of wine and the fusion of Northwest ingredients and Venetian tradition. Maybe Seattle doesn't need the Michelin Guide, the starched white napkins of fine-dining foie gras couture. Maybe the point is that Seattle food isn't extravagant, nor out of reach. This little pocket of the world isn't bloated by exclusivity and hype, it's accessible to all. You just have to choose to take a seat.

French speaking lessons not necessary. No maître d` required. 

 not required.

Mike McConnell is also the owner of Via Tribunali on Capitol Hill. Inspired by Naples,  it's a fantastic happy hour and pizza spot.

Bookshop Buy: "Brothers of the Gun"

"BROTHERS OF THE GUN: A Memoir of the Syrian War" by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple (artwork)

"BROTHERS OF THE GUN: A Memoir of the Syrian War" by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple (artwork)

A young journalist comes of age during the start of the Syrian Civil War. As his country fragments and ISIS devours his hometown of Raqqa, Marwan Hisham courageously preservers.  An original and creative contribution to the complex Middle East conflict and the war memoir genre. 

 

 

All books mentioned in the Bookshop Buy segment are worth adding to your stamp card at the Elliot Bay Book Shop, or elsewhere, such as the One-Click Wonder

The rule of 3's is real. It cannot be explained, like using odd numbers in jokes instead of even numbers. So here's two more hardcover titles worth a buy:

War On Peace by Ronan Farrow
The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Hey, @Starbucks

Coffee is the greatest unifier of all.

More than food, war, poetry, Renaissance art, or the universal fear of car trouble.

Below is a spec pitch I put together for Starbucks. It's a concept I created to support the Reserve brand and the company's innovative social-impact initiative. Starbucks is a great example of a brand that is enhancing its relationship with consumers through storytelling.

Click  HERE  for the pdf

Click HERE for the pdf

And check out the Starbucks original digital series, Upstanders

NICU Nights & Coyote Cries

My wife, S, and I have a Star Wars baby. Our son, Graham, kicked a tripwire and arrived 8 weeks early on May 4th with a coyote cry - a 3 lb 14 oz late night hunger yip that would send a rabbit to scurry. 

We were unprepared. 

S was admitted to the hospital two weeks ahead of our official hospital tour ... we had no "go bag" by the door ... no crib ... no diapers. S mentally prepared to spend as much as 4 weeks in a hospital bed to hold off Graham's arrival and provide the little kicker more time to develop. The biggest concern at 32 weeks is lung development and nothing is more effective than hanging out in the womb. So we canceled our baby shower. 

It could have been worse. The morning S's water broke, she had her Tom Bihn bag packed for a convention in Austin. As this post is published, we could be watching out little man pack on the ounces in a NICU in Texas. Instead we're close to home -- 6 minutes without traffic from our home to Swedish First Hill. Cut 30 seconds if you run that red light off Broadway, which I've done ... but just that one time. For the thrill. 

Welcome to the world G-Baby, our little coyote. I love it when you're deep in a snooze then pop one eye open for a quick peek, like a curious submarine commander raising the periscope for a cheeky check of the weather. 

S -- this will be our greatest collaboration. XO