On holiday. On purpose.
"Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design" - Ernest Hemingway.
When I’m not seeking advice about how to keep our office plants alive, I’ve noticed that a lot of the discussion in Stories’ HQ tends to come back to what we think makes places special. And perhaps more to the point - what will we do to have positive impacts on the places we work in?
I had a chance to reflect on this a little when I recently took ten days off and went back to Cyprus with my wife, children and parents. My mum is from Cyprus, the youngest of five, and came to the UK with her family when she was seven, not speaking a word of English. She and the family pretty quickly established themselves in suburban north London and then did what all good immigrants do - stick close together, drill their kids through school and in to solid professional careers. With my dad being English (and I am sure this is true for many children of immigrants) my relationship with Cyprus is a slightly complicated one. London is where I was born but Cyprus is very much part of who I am. (Being the son of one Greek and one English parent, born in England, I get called a “Charlie” by the “real Greeks” - as in Prince Charles. All in good humour, but still...). In fact, whilst on holiday my cousins’ WhatsApp group flagged this study in to the “Grenglish” language https://www.grenglish.org/. It delights me that there is academic interest in my lived experience (Even now, I live in Fishbury Park).
Growing up, we would always go to Cyprus for three or more weeks each summer, staying in the house my grandfather (“bapoo”) built when he married my grandmother (“yiayia”). Long hot summers often spent with most of my London family also having done the same. In many ways then Cyprus, and my mum’s old house in particular, represent very special places for me and many others.
So what is it about these places that make them special? What is it that continues to bind us to these places and compels us to travel there? Sunshine, sea, culture, food and family are part of it but I can find that in many places. Ritual is part of it, we often return to what we know. But I actually think it is when you’re confident that you will come away with new stories, that you know a place ‘works’. No two stories are the same and people want different things from ‘place’ - as they want different things from a holiday.
So for me then, to have a positive impact on a place means that we have created somewhere that people want to keep returning to because they know that they will come away with a new story to tell. Good stories have long been shown to follow narrative arcs - even Aristotle wrote about it. Narrative arcs describe the rise and fall of the character’s experiences which, depending on how they end, creates comedies and tragedies. We will be successful as a business when people identify our projects as places that lead to a series of meaningful experiences that can be later shared as stories (preferably of the comedic variety). And this means a commitment to people and the way they experience our projects. This is more than a concern for the quality of materials, the investment performance of a property or the sustainability of our processes.
We can all think of places we consider to be dull, boring or of ‘nothingness’. Dead. Nothing to write home about. No stories.
We need to be creating places that enable people to feel connected to each other through their use of them. If we’re not, or we can’t, then we should leave it to others.
It’s not easy of course but its the only way we intend to operate.
This bold assertion naturally leads us to start to ask how people are telling stories these days and how we help and use technology to support our aims - but that’s for another blog.