My team of content creators often faces the frustration of having others come along and rewrite their storytelling. Sometimes, a subject matter expert insists that critical technical aspects are missing. A field marketing or campaign manager sometimes feels the value proposition doesn’t resonate with the target audience.
The content creator has to decelerate and navigate the turbulence developed by these additional edit requests. I agree with my team. It is frustrating — especially when there are publication deadlines to meet.
But the frustration is misplaced. I tell my team to be thrilled that others want to take ownership of a story.
It’s April 19, 1983. I’m sitting at a table directly in front of the stage as we wait for Tina Turner to perform. I can touch the edge of the stage if I lean to my right and stretch. My best friend is sitting across from me. Tina will take the stage in minutes. We’re a bit concerned.
A local radio station (KIKI AM) promoted the concert, but I’m sitting at a table reserved for the clients of KGMB, the local CBS television network. No one else has arrived to claim their seats. Maybe it’s because it’s a Tuesday night. Perhaps it’s because few people want to drive into Waikiki and deal with tourists and traffic. An empty table is bad optics.
But it is the reason I’m there. My best friend’s mother is KGMB’s general sales manager. Earlier in the day, she realized there were no takers. It’s not a big table. I think it was set for six. At least now, there would be two seats filled.
Tina slays the audience. My friend and I persuaded people nearby to join us at our front-row vantage. As a finale, Tina has a tall wooden stool brought out. She sings “Private Dancer.” The concert ends.
My friend and I have no desire to sit in exhaust fumes as cars queue to exit the parking garage, so we remain at the table. Soon, the Coral Ballroom is empty, save for us and the cleanup crew.
Tina walks back out and sits on the stool. “What did you think of that last song?” she asks. “Did you feel the story? Could you own it?”
“You sure own it,” I said. “I’m a writer, so lyrics make a song work for me. The story it tells — wow. Please say you plan to record it for your next album.”
“I’m trying it out,” she said. Tina told us how Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) had written the song, but he and the band agreed it wouldn’t work for them. “They couldn’t be the storytellers,” she explained. “It’s unusual and maybe a bit uncomfortable. People will think it’s about a prostitute. It’s not. It’s about a taxi dancer. I need to get that part across. It would be a challenge for any storyteller to get across. Mark knew that, but it might be me.”
“It is you,” I said. “You can own this song and this story.”
Tina looked down at me from her perch on the stool. “I want you to listen to me,” she said. Those dark brown eyes locked me in a tractor beam of attention. “You say you are a writer, a storyteller. Then, you need to understand something tough and fast. You don’t ever want to own the story.
“Would I like to be known for this song? Yes, I do believe so. But storytellers can’t own stories. They have to find the right way to make others own it. Because if they don’t get others to take it from them and make it theirs, the story dies. Tell the story your way. Then step back. Let people claim it and do whatever they like to make it theirs. You have to be okay with that. Other people deciding to participate in the ownership of the stories you tell is proof of your success.”
Tina Turner released her album “Private Dancer” at the end of May the following year. Of the 14 tracks, seven were released as singles. She won three Grammy awards. The album has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. At the turn of the decade, the Library of Congress included it for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
I apply Tina’s advice to my storytelling. I don’t want to own them. Take them from me. I want you to own them.
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