The Idea Engine has launched a new product. It’s catching on. And it’s led to a lot of work for our fearless Idea Engineers, which is good for business, but bad for their Happy Hour attendance patterns.

On the 10th floor of 1050 Connecticut Ave., the Idea Engineers alternate between huddling over their computers and then bursting up to sketch ideas on whiteboards. Keyboards heat up. Whiteboards get covered. Expo markers screech and beg for mercy before running out of ink and dying.

A co-worker looks up from his laptop and notices Christian examining the exhausted Expo marker.

CHRISTIAN

This marker picked a good time to die. I have to actually take a break and finish my blog.

CO-WORKER

Cool. You should write about corporate storytelling, since that’s what we’re doing so much work on, to the point that we’ve burned through all our Expo markers. Our publicist Amy forwarded us those great Forbes articles “The CEO as Storyteller in Chief” and “Getting your Story Straight” You could cite them. In fact, I have them here.

(reads)

“There is a scientific reason why storytelling beats PowerPoint . . . Stories are essential to our nature as human beings, and that is why they constitute the single most powerful weapon not only for corporate leaders—as the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner has said—but for everyone at every level in an organization.” That’s gold. You should mention that.

CHRISTIAN

Yeah, writing about organizational storytelling is a great idea. And it’s certainly appropriate. What we do is awesome. But I’m afraid that if I wrote about it, or quoted that Forbes article, it might seem like I’m just trying to plug our services.

CO-WORKER

I understand.

CHRISTIAN

Maybe I’ll interview Bruce. He hasn’t made an appearance in OLD IS THE NEW NEW for some time. He’s the boss. He should be a recurring character.

CO-WORKER

But he’s out of town on meetings.

CHRISTIAN

True. But I could call him and maybe get him to talk about that great would you like to keep your grandfather story. The one where, a few years back, Bruce was told by a big autoparts maker that they needed to downsize, and as part of that, they intended to get rid of their collection of CEO portraits. Bruce—always the stalwart defender of heritage—responded by ensuring that those portraits were brought, door to door, to descendants and distant cousins of the dethroned CEOs. Standing there, on their stoops, holding a big oil and canvas portrait that more than likely bore a striking resemblance to themselves, the descendants and distant cousins were then asked, “Would you like to keep your grandfather?” I love that story.

CO-WORKER

Yeah, I love it, too. But how is that OLD IS THE NEW NEW?

CHRISTIAN

Good point. It’s “old portraits in a cool story,” but not necessarily “old is the new new.” Hmm. Perhaps there’s some way to use it as a lens on some current pattern. For example, in this day and age we think we de-emphasize portraits, and we think we’ve moved past the big old oil-on-canvas monolithic portrait on a brown mahogany wall. But maybe the twist is that, in truth, we haven’t.

CO-WORKER

How so?

CHRISTIAN

Because everyone has little personal avatars or pictures on their phones and in their address books. When you scroll over names in gmail, portraits pop up. We’ve just democratized the company portrait. Now everyone has one. Not just CEOs.

CO-WORKER

Hmm. That insight is ok. Not great.

CHRISTIAN

Maybe I should stick with your storytelling idea.

(Beat)

I actually think I have an angle. Here we are—helping organizations, institutions, companies, and countries tell their stories—and we’re always referencing this idea of the classics. We often tell people that our big discovery is that the storytelling algorithms that work for successful movies and books also apply to organizational and company narratives. Of course, you can never mechanize something as creative as storytelling, which depends to a large extent on inspiration. But you can understand and use story structure. Aristotle did. And what happens to the best-told stories? They have power and they last. They endure. They become classics. Whether it’s Shakespeare or Beowulf or The Godfather. To a large extent, it’s because they have strong structure. Structure is the secret to the best-told stories.

CO-WORKER

Right, but basically a classic is old. Not new. If you look it up on the MacBook’s built-in dictionary app, it means, “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.

CHRISTIAN

Right. Which is what any company or organization wants to be. Judged over time to be outstanding. The title of “classic” has to be earned. You know, as an aside, it’s funny that there’s this idea of the “instant classic.” I don’t believe in it. That’s kind of a contradiction in terms. It reminds me of the Acura Legend. The first one that ever rolled off the assembly line was called—on the first day of its existence—a legend. How can you be a legend if you’re two hours old?

(beat)

Anyway, I was just mentioning “classic” as a related phenomenon. The part of this story that has to do with “old is the new new” is yet to come.

CO-WORKER

So get to it.

CHRISTIAN

Ok. We’re seeing that the story structure mechanisms—the guided architecture—that worked for Aristotle and Shakespeare can work today, powering communications in the here and now. Old is the new new. Like we always say, we’re putting Aristotle in the boardroom. Which, if you think about it, is kind of a funny place for him to be.

CO-WORKER

But what we’ve discovered is that he’s very comfortable there.

CHRISTIAN

Yes, he is exceedingly adaptable and has very good social skills.