More than a single story — A look into the Elliance Discovery Process

I live for stories. Simply being in the presence of a good story being told or lived right there in the moment sends adrenaline pumping through my veins.

In what is one of the most inspiring TED Talks I have heard, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares about the impact stories can have, as well as the dangers that come with sharing a single story — or one side of the whole story.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.”

She discuses how, especially in our younger years, we are wildly impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story.

Here at Elliance we are responsible for articulating the story of our clients and expressing the soul of their institution — through images, phrases, video, design, copy and more.

To be able to give a true account of who you are, we must first spend time listening and observing. We call this discovery and it is all about taking in the sights and sounds and stories of a place and its people.

We of course conduct preliminary research, but the goal of discovery is to gain a deeper understanding than the questionnaires or articles can provide. To get the honest perspectives, and hear the stories of the people that bring your brand to life.

In higher education this means stepping foot on campus, taking a tour and getting a feel for the atmosphere, and holding interviews with students, administration, faculty and alumni to gather as many perspectives as we can. It is only in the diversity of stories that we can begin to get a true feel for the spirit of a place.

I couldn’t agree more with Adichie when she says: “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

We’ve seen that many prospective students form preconceived notions of a university before ever stepping foot on campus — perhaps from the single story they were told by a friend who had gone to school there or toured the campus.

It is our job to tell the whole story, to the best of our ability. The collective view —the bigger picture of that place made fuller and stronger by the greatly varying stories of many. It is these diverse stories that allow prospective students to relate and see a character like them in that place. One specific, narrow story does not give opportunity to account for many. It is not inclusive of the population at large.

“That is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become,” said Adichie.

We owe it to our clients and to prospective students trying to find their place in the world of academia to share the whole story, the bigger picture and all its pieces.

“I would like to end with this thought,” Achichie says in closing. “That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”