Origin Stories

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

  • Everywhere we look there are origin stories and the heroes in the story. The origin story often has two components. The first part is something that happened to our hero, and the second part is a choice our hero made. That choice opens doors or possibilities, and they set that hero on a path to his/her destination.
  • These stories have far more impact on our choices and our culture than we usually give them credit for. Our origin story can change how we see ourselves and the path going forward. For many of us, this idea, which we can choose a narrative (our origin story), begins to open doors for us. The story can change how we see our next challenge.
  • The Stanford marshmallow experiment was educational and gave us important insights into this topic. First, it would be wrong to conclude that there is something innate about somebody’s ability to wait for rewards. Our tendency of practicing delayed gratification has more to do with the origin story we tell ourselves. If we grow up in an environment where resource scarcity rules and trust is difficult to come by, it should not surprise us when we act with our survival-first instinct.
  • The origin story impacts how an organization sees itself and which direction it takes. Western Union/telephone, AOL/web, and Yahoo/search are some enlightening examples where the organizational origin story was too entrenched for an organization to see clearly. In the three example, the companies, once considered industry leaders, either failed or did not wish to see how they need to change their stories when the technology/industry shifted.
  • We need to exam our origin story from time to time and think critically about how it affects how we see our environment and challenges. What was the event that got us down this path and what was the choice we made after the event occurred? We also need to realize that our origin story does not have to match our ultimate destiny. We can change our origin story, and we can make a choice for ourselves and for the people we lead.