8 Brilliant Insights About Story From Robert McKee

Len WilsonStoryLeave a Comment

I am embarrassed to admit that after 15 years of preaching story to church people, I’m just now reading Story, by Robert McKee. No other book about story, including my own, should take precedence over this bible of narrative. The credentials that trail it around, while impressive, don’t begin to do justice to its inspiration. From chapter 1 alone come these eight brilliant nuggets:

1. The archetypal story unearths a universal human experience, then wraps itself inside a unique, culture-specific expression.

2. Screenwriters [storytellers of any kind] learn that economy is key, and brevity takes time.

3. No one can teach what will sell, what won’t, what will be a smash or a fiasco, because no one knows.

 – This is true of Hollywood and was true in my time in book publishing as well. If someone says they’ve got a guaranteed market killer, run. They’re just selling you the idea of selling itself.

4. The storyteller’s selection and arrangement of events is his master metaphor.

 – This belies easy comprehension, and requires a meta-awareness of the way a story unfolds, which has as much meaning as the narrative itself.

5. Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality.

6. Values are are at the soul of our art. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism – a great confusion of values. This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story.

7. Don’t mistake verisimilitude for truth. This writer believes that the more precise his observation of day-to-day facts, the more accurate his reportage of what actually happens, the more truth he tells. But fact, no matter how minutely observed, is truth with a small “t.” Bit “T” Truth is located behind, beyond, inside, below the surface of things, holding reality together and tearing it apart, and cannot be directly observed… What happens is fact, not truth.

Or as I say in Think Like a Five Year Old, 

Truth and honesty are not the same thing. Someone can be truthful and not be honest. A truthful response is precise but not necessarily honest, because it’s only concerned with the outcome. When we’re detached, we can be truthful and precise, but we may not always be accurate and honest. Honesty is deeper; it’s a form of soul alignment that marries intent and spirit with outcome. The creative life – and the spiritual life – is concerned not with truth as extrinsic precision but with honesty as intrinsic motivation.

8. Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.

- This last one is disheartening for most people I know. But do we dismiss story as a result, or strive for more brilliant storytelling to match our profound material?


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Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len Wilson8 Brilliant Insights About Story From Robert McKee

The Myth of the Right Brained Thinker

Len WilsonCreativity, Leadership, Strategic ThinkingLeave a Comment

right brainleft brain Recently I posted that, in spite of our conventional wisdom, creativity doesn’t necessarily equate to the arts. Creativity is more universal than the gift and skill of artistry. Yet this false belief is pervasive. I heard it again this week.

The entire association of creative/artistic/right brained is rooted in a false dichotomy of the left brain and right brain.  A 2013 research study of over 1000 people aged 7-29, found no evidence for categorizing left vs right brained people. (Even the assumption that we can verify our identity through empirical evidence is messed up. This is a topic for another post.)

In my work in the church, most mentions of the word creativity seem to come in relationship to worship and the arts. These can benefit from creativity, to be sure, but the potential for innovation in church life goes far beyond worship. Innovation happens wherever there is creative thinking, applied.

The myth of the right brained thinker isn’t helpful because it suggests that we’re either hard wired for creativity or we’re not, and also because it suggests that the only kind of creativity is that which is related to artistic expression. Creativity is just as possible in electrical engineering as it is in songwriting or the culinary arts. Every one of us is capable of creative ideas.


Here’s the action step.

As a leader, give all of your people—including yourself—the freedom and encouragement to dream of better ways. This includes the maintenance team of your organization, or the accounting people. Schedule time for this to happen.


Ahout the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len WilsonThe Myth of the Right Brained Thinker

3 Characteristics of Creative Innovation

Len WilsonCreativity, Leadership, Strategic ThinkingLeave a Comment

In grad school, I worked down the hall from the ENIAC. Fortunately, it had become a museum piece, life was in color and we worked on Silicon Graphics terminals instead.
What happens with our creative ideas? Applied creativity, whether in our personal or professional lives, becomes innovation. We innovate when we put creative ideas into action.

Engineers John Mauchly and Presper Eckert started construction on the first modern computer in June of 1943 in Philadelphia. They called it the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. (Their creativity was in engineering, not branding.) It was operational in November 1945.

“There is a world market for maybe 5 computers.”IBM Chairman Thomas Watson, 1943
Prior to the ENIAC, a “computer” was a person, usually a woman: a data entry employee who punched keys and cranked handles on desktop adding machines. Not everyone saw the need for a room size computer, either.

That’s the way it is with new things. Most people don’t get it.

According to what constitutes a computer – not a woman, but a machine – the ENIAC was the first computer. It functioned for 10 years. Motley and Eckert weren’t the only ones, though. Others had the need for a more efficient way to do compute mathematical equations, and some had been proposing solutions for decades. The first written works for mechanizing mathematical operations appeared in 1820. But nothing had stuck.


True innovation, as opposed to the person tinkering with a prototype, is difficult to achieve. Just ask the other people working on computing at the time. Consider these three characteristics:

  • Fully functioning and in constant use.
  • Working for a long period of time. (The ENIAC worked for 10 years.)
  • The basis for subsequent innovations. (The alpha dog.)

This last one is critical and may seem like a high bar for innovation, but it is the distinguishing factor. Think of it this way: innovation is influence. We celebrate the story of Walt Disney because his was the basis for all theme parks to come. Innovations are trend setters.

Your idea doesn’t have to affect an entire industry, but it can’t be a one-off. It has to be something on which others build.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Writer. Story lover. Believer. Branding philosopher. Breakfast chef. Tickle monster. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Creative Director. Occasional public speaker.

Len Wilson3 Characteristics of Creative Innovation