How Storytelling Can Help Our Industry

By / 2 months ago

I was returning from a trip, visiting LBM customers in Ohio. It was late and the 900-mile road trip had me ready for the weekend. Pulling in to home, the phone rang and my good buddy told me a branch of his company was forced to close. Damn…another one goes down. In my first five years in the LBM industry, I witnessed numerous businesses close, and thousands of people lose their jobs in an overall unwinding of an industry.

Keep in mind, I was in my early- to mid-twenties, I didn’t have a family to support, but I still felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Too many of my co-workers and friends were forced into feelings of uncertainty for their families.

This experience created a strong distaste for any talk of scarcity, contraction, or pain. Maybe someday, I thought, if the “stuff” hit the fan again, I could help companies make one less cut. Maybe I could simply save one more job. Maybe that would fulfill my debt to the company who brought me into this space and made it easier for me than it certainly had to be.

Industry Knowledge

In order to make things better for you, your team, and your community, the younger people in this industry need help from those who have survived through the hard times. We need to learn what you’ve learned and feel what you’ve felt.

It has been noted (more than once) by a number of industry veterans that the younger generation is “soft.” Whether you agree or not, I think that to understand the millennial generation is to first understand their life experiences. Or more importantly, what they haven’t experienced.

Think about this: They don’t know the bad times in this industry. It’s no fault of their own, but individuals 30 years old and younger came to the party after the housing crisis.

Those born after 1987 don’t remember the Dow Jones dipping under 7,000, or if they do it was a signal to “stay in school longer because it sucks out there!”

If you’re still here in this industry and reading this article, you most definitely have learned to keep running while the ground beneath crumbled (circa 2008-2010). You lost co-workers and friends, you feared for your own job or company, your heart ached for the bad things that were happening to good people every single day. No classroom in America can teach an individual how to do business in such an environment. But could we assist those in control the next time a downturn should arise?

Share Your Story

What if we could do something impactful today that lives on for years, even after many of us retire? What if we could help the next generation of leaders learn from the past, so that they were prepared for the future? What if we could document the stories from the harder times and provide street smarts, the kind only learned through experience?

I think we can, and here’s my theory: The next generation coming into this industry can go from zero experience to understanding the tough times if the older generation can share their stories.

Here’s how: When you go home tonight, make your favorite drink (preferably one that stirs your creative juices). Then tell your family something like this: “I’m perfectly fine but you might hear me talking to myself for a few minutes.”

Next, get comfortable in your favorite chair and press record on your smartphone, tape recorder, computer, video camera, whatever you have. Then, speak in detail and let the stories roll.

Reminisce about what you saw in your own marketplace. Tell specific stories of the crazy things that happened inside and outside of your business. What was going on? What was the feeling? What kept you up at night?

Next, dig deep and be honest. What were the signals you missed about the housing crash? Looking back, what could you have done differently? What could the industry have done differently?

Now share your recording with someone else on your team, the next leader in line for your company. No editing is necessary…simply sharing your thoughts and experiences is more valuable than you realize.

Many of you will retire soon and God bless you for your decades of dedication to your business, people, and industry. But before you go, please share your stories. We need the lessons from your dynamic career to live on. With your wisdom and passion, let’s arm the next regime to win.

Isaac Oswalt

Isaac Oswalt is an entrepreneur, investor, author, speaker and marketer. He owns 21 Handshake, a sales and marketing agency in Ada, Mich., working across multiple industries to help businesses succeed. Reach him at 517-899-0123 or Isaac@21handshake.com.