IAM Talking: Crowdfunding and Storytelling – Structure and Creativity through Cards




Welcome to IAM Talking, a periodic podcast interview series, with your host, Dan Keldsen, Chief Engagement Officer at Information Architected.

Today IAM Talking with BJ West – he is a writer, filmmaker and graphic artist, and has worked on some of the best selling computer games of all time including The Sims, SimCity 3000, The Sims Online and The Sims 2, as well as some of the worst selling games – although the world of games are a topic we will address in a separate interview.

He was the editor of “Fog City Nocturne,” an anthology of original detective fiction, as well as contributing two novella length stories to the book. He has written numerous screenplays, including his adaptation of Keoni Chavez’s short story “The Smiling Man,” which he produced and directed as a short film in 2007. He is the Owner of Kelp Entertainment.

In this interview, we are talking about his Kickstarter project, launched in early 2012, the Story Forge Card deck – which you can still purchase outside of Kickstarter, at storyforgecards.com.

All the World’s a Stage – But are you Telling the Story?

My interest in BJ West’s Story Forge project had several dimensions to it.

  1. Physical props as creativity tools, are something that I use in my own work, whether as an individual, or in team exercises, and innovation card decks in particular, I’ve found incredibly useful.
  2. Crowdfunding as a phenomenon, particularly for non-technology oriented projects (tech projects being the primary Kickstarter project), are great examples of how to address the non-obvious crowdfunding projects that are out in the wild.
  3. BJ’s background in game design provided a hook into gamification, although we’ve tabled that discussion for a later interview.
  4. The much more extensive than usual video presentations that he put together for the potential “presumer” (pre-buying consumer, or crowdfunder), are great examples of the level of previewing of the final product and more importantly, many ways it can be used. Showmanship is vastly underrated.

In this series of crowdfunding interviews,  we are looking into what drives entrepreneurs to lean on the crowd to power not just the money, but the energy to spread the word and engage their own networks in making a project come to life.

And simply because “all the world’s a stage” does not mean that we are all equally equipped, or that by choosing to leap onto the Kickstarter stage (as one crowdfunding platform example), is going to guarantee your success.

If you are going to understand how to tell your story most effectively, whether for a crowdfunding project, or to seek venture capital, or to get internal funding for a new initiative within your organization, are you ready to tell your story in a way that finds it’s mark?

What better way to learn, than to listen to someone (in this case, BJ West) who’s offering is explicitly about creating better stories, and to hear how it unfolded before, during and after the crowdfunding pitch?

Pre-engage or fail…

To a certain extent, any crowdfunding activity, or for that matter, any marketing, sales or delivery of goods or services, is ultimately “owned” by the crowd.

Crowds and the individuals in those crowds, are buried in a sea of information glut, just as we all are – and as BJ West describes in this interview, while word of mouth helps to power the positive and negative feedback loops of your engagement, he easily spent at least 2 months finding and pre-engaging his potential audience, wherever they currently lived – in many different “storytelling tribes.”

Some people rebuffed his attempts to introduce himself into conversations, seeing it as “too commercial” to the discussion, while most others saw his conversations as outreach to fellow storytelling members, whether scriptwriters, game designers, novelists, marketers, or other roles.

That pre-engagement identification, outreach, and consistent presence, was a key to his success, ultimately, almost doubling the funds he’d initially hoped to raise for the project.

Crowd-funded Equals Social Connections

Crowdfunding isn’t suitable for every project, and the bottom line is that crowdfunding is a SOCIAL phenomenon. If you aren’t finding a connection with a crowd, then it is highly unlikely they will crowdfund, promote, or engage in any way with what you’re attempting to accomplish, and that doesn’t matter whether it’s a crowdfunded venture, or an employee engagement attempt.

It doesn’t particularly matter if you’re looking to raise $500 or $1,000,000 – if you are not finding a connection to the crowd of volunteers who could, with the right motivation, fund (or over-fund) your project, then you are likely to find that your project remains just a vision, rather than a product, service, or movement that has taken a life of it’s own through the efforts of your engaged crowd.

Comments or Questions?

Wondering how to apply crowdfunding to your project? Can you use similar techniques inside your company, as a modern form of internal skunkworks?

Are you wondering how to tell better stories at work? Not as watercooler gossip, but perhaps to get grassroots support for your project? To bend the ear of other executives? To talk more intelligently (and to the emotions) of your customers?

Comment below if you have any questions we can answer publicly, and we’ll answer and discuss together, or contact us at 617-933-9655 to talk about your crowdfunding, enterprise social or collaborative innovation project, change management or marketing strategy.

Listen now!

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