Wes Moore was a troubled youth whose father dropped dead in front of him when he was 4 years old.
It was the 80’s in the Bronx, where drugs were plentiful and relations between police and the Black community were further complicated all too easy to access guns.
After vandalizing some buildings, Wes found himself in the back of a police cruiser.
Soon after, his family sent him to Military School. He ran away but was caught and returned to base where he felt humiliated and alone.
At his darkest moment, a 19-year-old Cadet Captain saw something in Wes and took him under his wing.
Wes knew he had a choice to make. He could return to the corner gangs and probably jail. Or he could aspire to be what his Cadet Captain believed he could be.
Today he is a New York Times Best-Selling Author, a US Army combat veteran, a former White House aide and host of a show called “Beyond Belief”
Paul Lenman is one of the partners of a company that makes the hiring process fairer than any other that exists today.
A friend of a friend started the company, and Paul knew he had a special set of skills that could get it off the ground.
Paul became inspired about the possibilities in the hiring space when he read the book “The Startup of You” which was co-written by Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of Linkedin.
Which story is better?
Both of the above are known as origin stories. Or at least, that’s what they aspire to be.
One, Wes Moore’s, works. Paul Lenman’s not so much.
Lenman’s name isn’t real. But the story is pretty much the one he gave me. More on that in a minute. But let’s talk about what an origin story is.
What’s an Origin Story:
An Origin Story tells the story behind why you do what you do. It gives others a glimpse into:
- your mission
- the values you stand for
- who you really are
When people choose to buy your services or your goods, they want to know that your values are aligned with theirs – or at the very least, not out of line with theirs.
Now, of course, Wes Moore had an “advantage” in creating an origin story.
What’s good for an origin story isn’t always good for your real life. In Moore’s case, he’s had some pretty epic things happen to him.
But all of us have made decisions based on experiences or moments that then shaped everything we have come to stand for.
They don’t have to be big. They don’t have to be earthshaking.
But everyone who has ever done anything worth doing has probably at one time or another had an aha moment that either inspired their great idea or made it better.
And no, “I wanted to make a lot of money” isn’t an origin story. A book may have rocked your world but the reading of it in and of itself doesn’t inspire us.
Nope, you’ve got to dig in and get personal.
- your world was normal
- a challenge presented itself
- in the course of dealing with it, regardless of whether you failed or succeeded, you had an aha moment
- That moment lead you to do or create something that does or could solve a problem or make things better for others
Your origin story will make your values clear or at least your passion.
Back to Paul:
And that’s what’s wrong with Paul Lenman’s story.
Do you see passion?
Do you have any sense of Paul’s values?
Paul’s product brings fairness to an unfair world. That’s a powerful thing to stand for!
Tell me the man never once in his life had a moment where something deeply unfair happened to him, and he thought “that’s not right!”
Tell me he never went for a job that he was qualified got but didn’t get because he didn’t know the right people?
Of course he did.
But no, “he read a book.”
Seriously dude? Who cares?
Lots of people have read that same book. They didn’t drop everything to go start a company that promises to make the world more fair.
But he did. And on the surface, it might be because “it came up at the right moment” or “he liked the people.” That’s just window dressing. Underneath it all, there is something deeper.
We need to see a moment where fairness was denied, and he knew one day he’d like to change that. That’s what we need to see.
It’s not about you:
Your origin story may be about you, but it’s not for you. Lots of people forget that.
I was at a fundraiser for a cancer cause in a private home. The featured guest speaker had battled back from cancer and was sharing his cancer journey and what he had learned from it.
But his story was a rambling mess. And before long, he’d pretty much lost the entire audience.
I don’t think he noticed. He was so impressed with his own story, we didn’t seem to matter.
He punctuated the story with snippets of praise others had heaped on him and the story. And the climax of the story came when the hospital that was treating him told him what a great storyteller he was and suggested he take it out on the road.
This is deep:
Super meta, that, when the defining moment in your speech is the moment that you are asked to give the speech you are currently giving.
It didn’t help that some in the small invited audience of 25 were now hearing the same story, word for word, for the third time in three days. He told the story whenever he could, regardless of the circumstances or the conversation.
None of this takes away from the man’s journey. Or his desire to help his hospital and others who are suffering from this modern scourge.
But he invested a great deal of time, energy and even money to get to this event so he could speak to people who would support his cause. And the only thing getting in the way between him and his goal was him. And his story.
Not every product or brand has to have such a deep story. Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, has a pretty tame origin story that talks about the humble origins of her brand.
But even then, Sara’s story gives you clear insight into who she is and how hard she has worked to grow something. Her origin story makes sure that you know there is a real person behind the brand.
In the end, people buy from people. And if you don’t give them a glimpse into what you stand for and who you are, you might find that they’re more than happy to buy from someone who will.