This is one of my favorite stories.
I used to think Ryan Gosling was just okay. Sure, he seemed like a good actor. And yeah, there was a bizarre amount of Internet meme activity around him. But, you know, whatever. He was okay.
But then I learned his backstory.
It learned it one day when I was sitting at a boring event of some sort, browsing the Wikipedia worm hole on my phone. I don’t remember the exact occasion, other than I was wearing a tie. After clicking through several random topics, at some point, I ended up on the entry for Ryan Gosling. Here’s the gist:
Ryan Gosling grew up in Canada. His dad was a traveling salesman, so they moved a lot. The family fell apart when Ryan was young, and he ended up being raised by a working mom and his sister. The family trouble affected him. He didn’t learn to read until far later than most kids. He brought knives to primary school and threw them at other kids, because for some reason his mom let him watch Rambo, and it was one of his favorite movies. (Imagine a skinny six-year-old sitting cross-legged in front of a 15-inch TV day after day, watching Sly shoot explosive arrows at helicopters, while Mom works late.) He had ADHD. He loved Marlin Brando. Kids picked on him; he had no friends.
At age 12, Ryan decided to go to a Mickey Mouse Club audition in Montreal. He was a cute kid, and they let him in. He then moved to Orlando, where he was adopted by none other than Justin Timberlake’s mom! (She became his legal guardian, so pseudo-adopted.) He learned to perform. He learned to read. He learned to focus. He grew up.
…and then he became Ryan Gosling.
And now, I watch every one of his movies when they come out. In the theater.
Ten minutes on Wikipedia turned me from apathetic to advocate. I’m on Team Gosling, and I’m on it simply because I learned his story. He still makes the movies he would have otherwise, but now I see them, because I feel like I have a relationship with him.
Think about that. The relationship-building power of story. We’re all trying to win people to our causes, to get them to believe in our companies or products or missions. Fact is, all other things being equal, we choose the products and movies and stores and people we deal with because of their stories. This is why story-driven companies like Whole Foods exceed financial expectations over competitors. It’s why a lot of us bought Apple products after reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. It’s why people who hate sports watch the Olympics, and root for people they’ve never heard of. Once we know the underlying stories, we’re driven to support.
Of course, stories can be fabricated. They can be used for evil—as many a corrupt politician has proved. But in the same way that technology can power homes or power nukes, storytelling has the potential energy to fuel incredible good for business. And the more personal a story we share, the closer it can bring people to us. We all love a good insider’s story, especially when it’s not dressed up in PR trappings.
Ask yourself this: if your company (or you, yourself) could win complete strangers’ loyalty like Gosling won mine by telling your story—knives and ADD and all—would you?
We all can. So why don’t we?
— Joseph Esguerra (@cyrustmybjaz29) March 8, 2014