Systems thinker, financial wizard, and straight-talking no-bullshit business brain, Ramit Sethi has been teaching me a thing or two about getting my own ducks in a row. Systems systems systems, baby - not surprising to a permaculturist really!Read More
Interview with the Founder
Musings with Yard Narratives Founder, Emmy Jenkins, on stories, business, motivations, and fears.
1. What is your earliest memory?
I have quite a few early memories so I’m not sure in which order they really occur. My Mum and I chat about this a lot so I know which ones are my own and which are implanted — at least I think I do. I guess some may have slipped through the cracks.
One is super early. I remember my Mum sneaking a bottle of milk to me when we lived in my first house. I must have been a baby because I’ve never liked milk as an adult. She told me not to tell Dad! Sneaky!
I remember a memory of my father where I was toddling through the park and he told me not to run with my ice-cream or it would slip off the top. I toddled fast but I couldn’t run. It slipped. Instead of scolding me, he broke the bottom off my brother’s cone and scooped a small dollop from his ice-cream and made me a mini one! My brother was jealous. I don’t know if this taught me a lesson or not!
2. Who are the prominent characters in your life?
My mother. If she wasn’t first I think she might flip out. She is intrusive in every area of my life but then she is very good at sorting out my messes. I think there’s a very deep bond between mothers and daughters and ours strengthens as we get older. She’s my biggest fan though. If I had a gig, she’d be there with my face on a t-shirt schooling everyone about how to grow tomatoes and write good speeches.
My best friend Hanna has been there through thick and thin. She’s my oldest dearest friend and she always smells like home to me. She cooks a killer spaghetti bolognaise and sorts out my grumpy messes. We drink and muse and change our hair and laugh and love and roll around snuggling fluffy things. We’ve made some daring stories of our own.
My Dad’s up there but he’s not a big words man. He taught me a lot and he keeps me sharp. He debates with me and helps me put the world to rights. My boyfriend, as cliché as it is – while we develop new stories – also is stepping into this role for me.
I have a great deal of friends worldwide and they know who they are. They all play they’re characters as I do to them, and I’m grateful for them all.
3. What have stories taught you?
Stories are perhaps the reason I have such a good memory. I mean I don’t have sharp memory. I can’t recite things well but I have a great analogous remembering trick I do in my brain. I can’t always remember names or even faces but I will remember someone’s story and I guess this has helped me to associate certain triggers with that story.
My science teacher, Dr Emms told me I had a great memory because I worked out about density in my year 7 class from something someone told me about a concrete barge on the Thames when I was sailing. I don’t think it’s just memory — these stories create pictures which allow you to deduce certain conclusions.
This logical process may help with prediction, which helps to see feedback of things going wrong before they happen — I don’t know. But I know that stories help me to remember and to piece puzzles together to form a picture to understand what’s going on and what could happen.
Telling stories also allows you toweave your own plot. By observing what happens when you tell certain stories and fulfill particular actions, you can see how that affects life around you. If I’m mean to everyone, soon people will be mean back and call me a mean person. I’ll be a mean person.
If I want to be a fit person, I have to tell myself I am this fit person and ask myself what a fit person does. A fit person walks 10,000 steps every day. So each morning I go for a walk and before I know it, the storyline has led the happily ever after I desired, actioned, and manifested.
4. What do you think causes tangents in our storylines?
First off, disruption causes us to go offer kilter…
I think disruption is the first thing to think about. Consider disruption to the soil like a big digger coming in and ripping out a chunk. The hole will fill with plants relatively quickly without any action ebbing taken.
To the untrained eye, those plants are weeds. Unwanted and conspired unnecessary, we bypass the value these plants give us and the story they’re trying to tell us. Stinging nettles tell us the soil needs nitrogen and starts to plug that gap, filling in that for the requirement. Dandelions tell us that the topsoil needs minerals, and uses its long taproot to mine deep down, bringing them to the surface through leaf drop. Both plants are nutritious and medicinal edible wonders.
Those plants are taking advantage of that disruption as an opportunity to spread and succeed. We need to take advantage of the surprising opportunity they bring.
When we have a disruption in our lives, like a heartbreak for example, we find ourselves with this baron emotional landscape and we just can’t fathom what to grow or if anything can or will grow again. It appears we come to a full stop as the story ends.
However, with time and observation the soil begins to heal itself in ways we didn’t imagine could be possible. As people, we pick ourselves up, using that disruption as an opportunity to see what our previous storyline was missing and how we can move in a more fulfilling direction.
In my life, especially, this has led to many an unexpected twist and turn.
You’ll find in the tech industry, for example, that disruptions to bad patterns of behavior are creating opportunities for pioneering companies to develop new modes of operation. This term ‘disruption’ has become a techspeak jargon term — pregnant with possibility as it allows us to tell a better story, a hand-crafted, tailor-made and infinitely imaginatively better.
Disruption opens up the cracks to let us take a look inside and to utilize the marginal. This is a permaculture term that we see unfold in social crises. When protests erupt on street corners like lit fuel, we see these cracks bursting as our social costumes start to unravel at the seams. We find social rights blossoming from these moments of disruption, helping to pave the way for more egalitarian harmony.
Trying to stop the flow of change…
You also see tangents occur when you try to pause change. They say the only constant is change and that’s a real kicker for you. I think the Coke bottle analogy fits well here, you know.
So, there I am, a live Coke bottle with all my fizz and bubble. Life comes along jostling me about and I find that sometimes I start to get fizzier than normal. For some, we keep the lid off and we tend to bubble over bit by bit, spilling here and there as the jostling comes and life moves us.
For others, we keep the lid on. When those jostles come, the pressure builds up. Eventually, no matter how tight you screw up that bottle lid, it’s going to blow. When it does, you can’t always be responsible for what goes spurting all over the places and the consequences can dramatically reroute your life plans.
This is why stories are so important because they’re emotionally driven. By allowing subjectivity to guide us, we’re allowed to be hurt and criticized and analysed and still ride our donkey into town, without screaming down the house. Stories allow us to make sense of the world around us and in these moments of outburst — when the tangents come — we can sail with the change into new opportunity. We can only do that if we recognize the new story we’re in.
Excitement is a big driver…
I think we get tangents we’re excited too. The impulse to move in with someone or to travel around the world for someone you just met. The electric jolt that makes you send a daring picture or book a holiday or go on a first date. These are those little ‘turning new page’ moments.
I think all in all, tangents come out of surprise and opportunity. Whether the opportunity is seen in the surprise or the surprise is the opportunity, when something shocking happens, our reactions chart the new course for our outcome. If we vision this right and created a bridge to the other side, we won’t get eaten by crocs or gnashed up my piranhas.
5. Tell us a random story from your life.
Ok a quickie, quickaroo one. This happened recently. Earlier this year my boyfriend and I were on Koh Samui in Thailand. We were spending some time with a couple, of whom the guy was old friends with my boyfriend. It was raining extremely heavily one night and we found ourselves locked in by the rain inside the hotel restaurant.
I can’t really remember why but the boys walked down the beach and us girls stayed. I think her boyfriend wanted some time and they hadn’t seen each other for a while so we let them go.
A little angsty about him, she wanted to find him about 30 minutes later. Now it’s bone-shakingly hammering down and I wasn’t in the mood to move. Anyway, we go running through the rain and find the only open bar with lights on and there are the pair.
Drunk as skunks in the bright light as everyone dances.
I’m relieved, wet, laughing. She’s a bit cross but pursed lips seeing the funny side.
We go to buy drinks and literally all the drinks are free all night!
6. What is story engineering to you?
Having met Ben and him defining himself as a story engineer, this idea had been planted in my head. I think to me, story engineering belongs to future stories. We’re asking ourselves where we want to be ahead of time from now, and creating visions that tell stories.
Imagine reading a newspaper from the future. What are the headlines? What does the content say? Is your business or idea or philosophy featured in that periodical. Are you mentioned? Is this important? How do we make our lives different and how to we define the tangible elements of that now? Hopkins addresses this in his book The Transition Handbook.
We do that by painting a mental image, a picture. We use analogies and stories to remember lessons we learn from others, to teach and share skills and experiences, to reminisce and make friends, to warn others.
By putting our stories together, we can create timelines that take us from the sad tragedies we find ourselves in to the happily ever after we’re asking for. Stories give the details of the timeline, the actions of the protagonist, and they document and predict the reactions of the antagonist.
With stories, we tell each other how we want things to be and we craft the blueprint for how we can shape the physical world.
We either do this subconsciously or we engineer this consciously and intelligently. We use our creatives; our artists and painters and architects and designers and illustrators, and we use our technical minds; our engineers and our scientists and technicians and tradesmen. We retell the story using all the expert voices that can present well-researched and qualified angles and we paint the picture that we all want to see.
7. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
All the work I’ve ever done has been stitched together as quite a colourful resume, I must say. While I was at university, a company I used to work for allowed me to come back and put some shifts in. I used to work the office for export from Turkey for this big import/export company.
They seemed nice when I left, offering for me to come backed but I soon realised by naivety when they put me in the warehouse.
Now I think about it, this was weirder than I realised. I used to unpack products from department stores that had been sent back — some I think were used but don’t quote me on that — and repackage them or sometimes throw them away.
A lot of boxes, a lot of pump trucks, and it was cold. The people were all strange, from fairground workers to a Mum picking my brain about university selection every day. Very strange and cold, but I worked so hard with white knuckles and a bobble hat on!
8. What scares you about storytelling?
Storytelling is super powerful and I think people underestimate its full capacity to move mountains. We truly see this when the wrong story gets out and we just don’t know the truth.
Stories are inherently subjective, retelling an event from memory that happens to be someone’s own viewpoint. Sometimes they’re entirely fictional.
When stories get out of hand we see the reaction. When a story has the wrong facts, we see this happening.
When I was a kid, my parents were fighting and I walked in the room as my Mum closed a window. Pulling it shut she smashed it.
At that exact moment that the winter shattered, two cars crashed into each other on the forecourt of the pub we lived in at the time.
From asking my Mum, all of this is pretty much true from memory.
However, the next bit for me is muddy.
As I recall, the doors of the car open and dogs smoking cigarettes, walking on two legs, dressed in suits (like the poker picture), get out and start arguing and shooting.
This bit isn’t true. This is a red herring false memory that my mind has made up. Probably merging it from somewhere else — this memory has blatantly wrong facts.
Imagine if this story got out — the uproar! Not a lie as such, I just remember it wrong.
You also get deliberate misinterpreting of facts though, and that’s real naughty. You’ll find the i doing this to get a story. By misconstruing the piece of information, we get two different outcomes that aren’t lies but subjectively tell very different tales.
Say, a study concludes that more poor people are fat. A left-leaning argument may look at this and say that more poor people are fat due to the high content of unhealthy ingredients in cheaply produced food. A more conservative newspaper may say that more poor people are fat because they don’t have jobs so they sit on the sofa and watch TV.
In both scenarios, the fact is the same. However, the story gives a completely different rhetoric, leading to vastly different resulting attitudes in the public sphere, and diverging actionable solutions.
I also worry about bias — especially confirmation bias. We like to talk to people who agree with us and make us feel important and correct. Our dopamine monster guzzles up that reward like candy and we just love to feel like we’re Kings of our Castles.
However, finding stories that back our own without reading stories that debate ours leaves us with biases that we can’t shake. I want to tell stories that are truthful and paint a congruent image of a better future.
I’m not standing here helping an oil company dig up a pipeline; I want to work with companies who have integrity, who work toward localisation, who believe in community and good work ethics.
I want to tell the stories we all interweave together to create the vision we all picture, but without trying to lead that with my own bias — in case we miss something.Read More