A Tool for the Heart: How Steve Jobs Used Shortform Storytelling

The Apple iPod remains one of the most successful consumer electronics products of all time, selling 500 million units.

The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 to market. Nor was it technically the best MP3 player. But it outsold all others by a country mile.

Microsoft’s “iPod killer” Zune was launched as a the most advanced MP3 player in the world. The Zune shipped just 10 million units, 2% of iPod sales.

Why did the iPod create headlines around the world yet the Zune got relegated to a footnote in history?

The answer doesn’t lie in product.

Microsoft had the better product but Apple had the better story.

Steve Jobs knew people didn’t have connections with MP3 players. Most didn’t know why they needed one. Most people, however, knew music and had connected with it for generations. For Apple, the story of the iPod was also the story of music. The iPod embodied the shared feelings we experienced in music. When Jobs launched the iPod, Jobs called the iPod, “a tool for the heart.”

A tool for the heart.

That’s what I call a “Shortform Story”.

Apple’s iPod story wasn’t 100s of pages long. And that’s the beauty of stories. The best ones are the ones that don’t look like stories. As we’ll discover a Story can be just one word.

Consider how, for example, Disneyworld calls their employees “cast” not “employees”.

One word changes everything.

That’s the power of Story, and I’d like to open your eyes to their potential in business, not as some “fluff” that you use to embellish your presentation, your story is your presentation.

What are you the X of Y for?

Some months ago while moderating an Agtech event, I met am Indian startup that described itself as like “Facebook for Farmers”.

This was a great Shortform Story. While it may not be 100% accurate, it captures the spirit of what they were trying to build – a social network where Indian farmers could exchange market information and data just like we exchange status updates on Facebook.

The power of Shortform Story is that it encapsulates an accepted plotline. We know that Facebook grew from nothing to a $500 billion market cap. The assumption in this Story is that the startup too can achieve significant growth. It may not be the same, but by buying into the Story you also buy into the direction of the narrative.

Shortform Stories save a lot of time and help align your conversations. Shortform Stories take time to evolve though.

Some people won’t “get it” and will walk away. This is the desired effect you want. You don’t want to waste time justifying and explaining to these people, you want to find the 10% who love the idea and want to find out more.

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