Innovation in Storytelling

Circumstances sometimes require a change in strategy


“I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, or how lonely the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1907


One of the great joys of life is immersing ourselves in stories that transport us. Whether a short story, a novel, or a movie, there are talented individuals who can bring worlds to life that are strange and different, or eerily familiar.

To me, those familiar ones are the most creative. Shows or stories that seem plausible, but stretch our imagination just a little further.

I’m talking about science fiction.

While stories have always been with us, at some point, someone had to innovate and determine that they wanted to incorporate science into adventure stories.

These go beyond the classic mythology of ancient cultures — stories that fused man, nature, and religion that in many instances provided fanciful explanations for natural phenomena. Science fiction done well is so plausible as to cause us to suspend our disbelief.

 

Forced innovation

When he was a teenager, Jules Verne’s father sent him to law school. An attorney himself, the elder Verne thought that a respectable and profitable career lay ahead for his son.

But the young man, while he was a decent enough student, found his joy in literature. He was a devotee of Victor Hugo’s work, reading the corpus multiple times. And he was beginning to explore his own writing skills through an association with Alexander Dumas’ son, writing some short stories for publication, and an appointment as secretary of the Théâtre Historique, where he wrote some comic operas with his friend and flatmate, a young composer named Aristide Hignard.

He knew that a career in literature was his future, and the additional pressure he received from his father—including an offer to set him up in a lucrative law practice—was enough to cause him to make his move.

These influences caused Verne to spend time at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, conducting research for his stories and inspiring a passion for science, recent discoveries, and especially geography.

During that time, Verne met Jacques Arago, a renowned explorer and geographer, who continued to travel extensively despite going blind in 1837, nearly 20 years previously. They struck up a friendship, and Verne was inspired by  Arago’s innovative and witty accounts of his travels. This led Verne to develop a new genre of literature: travel writing.

But not any just kind of travel writing. While Verne’s tales took us all over the globe, they were adventure stories that incorporated fantastic use of technology—technology that didn’t yet exist.

 

Technologies predicted by Verne

His novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea introduced us to electric submarines, as Captain Nemo’s Nautilus traversed the oceans.

In Robur the Conqueror, we find a character who builds a contraption out of pressboard with high-speed rotors that propel him into the sky: a helicopter.

In The Carpathian Castle, Verne tells a story in which villagers live in fear of a mysterious castle that produces odd voices and projected images. The people later discover that the images were a hologram, paired with recorded sounds.

There are many other examples of Verne’s inventiveness. This creativity sprung not only from his mind, but from the careful research Verne did at the library. He was careful to combine the known with what he saw as trends, piecing them together in a way that made them seem strange, yet familiar at the same time.

 

This is exactly how innovation works.

We get inspired by people, books, shows, events, and everything around us, we juxtapose it with what we know, and, with the help of others around us, we develop the idea to something we can bring to market.

All it takes is a little imagination and perspiration.

 

Coming Up

Joining us this week on Timeless Leadership is Carla Johnson, author of RE:Think Innovation.

We’ll be talking about Innovation — how the world's most prolific innovators come up with great ideas that deliver extraordinary results.

We'll be live on Fireside Chat at 12:00 pm EDT. If you can't make it, be sure to follow the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.