Storytelling has evolved. It went through the three stages: storytelling 1.0, storytelling 2.0, and storytelling 3.0.

Storytelling 3.0: the evolution of the art of storytelling

A few years ago, marketing gurus were assuring us that storytelling was dead.

In their opinion, the art of narration gave way to creating stories and the ability to live them. The concepts of “story-making” and “story-living” replaced the storytelling.

However, the leadership storytelling expert, Steve Danning, doesn’t agree with that point of view. He considers that storytelling isn’t dead. It has evolved.

During its evolution, the art of storytelling went through three stages:

  • Storytelling 1.0
  • Storytelling 2.0
  • Storytelling 3.0

In this post, I’ll write about the evolution of storytelling. I’ll also focus on the characteristics of each of the three stages it went through. In the end, I’ll discuss the relationship between storytelling and communication 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.

Would you like to know more about these topics? Let’s dive into them!

What is storytelling 1.0: once upon a time

Storytelling 1.0 is the first stage in the evolution of storytelling. At this stage, the goal of the narrative is to convey a message or moral. The effect the message might leave on listeners, viewers or readers isn’t in the spotlight.

In the beginning, it was simple. The story begins: “Once upon a time…” or equivalent, and we are off, traveling on the wings of the narrative imagination. It’s a story, without a care in the world or any thought as to where it might lead or what consequences might follow.

Leadership Storytelling 3.0: From Arithmetic to Calculus, Steve Denning, Forbes

Storytelling 1.0 and communication 1.0

Communication 1.0 is unidirectional. Storytelling 1.0 is also unidirectional.

Two factors make storytelling 1.0 possible:

  • Narrator – a subject who tells the story
  • Audience – subjects who listen to the story

Both narrators as the audience assume their roles and can’t — neither want to — change these roles for the others.

Storytelling 1.0 channels: Books, radio, press, traditional television and the first websites

Example: Narratives with closed endings

An excellent example of storytelling 1.0 is traditional children tales. These usually begin with “Once upon a time” and end with “And they lived happily ever after.”

The goal of storytelling 1.0 is to teach lessons and instil values to the youngest ones. Adults tell the story, while children listen to them.

More information: I provide you with ONE LINK in case you’re interested in reading more about storytelling 1.0.

What is storytelling 2.0: twice upon a time

Storytelling 2.0 is the second stage in the evolution of storytelling. It focuses both on the goals and the effects of a narrative. At this stage, storytellers understand the narrative mechanics and make conscious use of the stories.

In the second generation of storytelling, narrative consciousness awakens, and there is an explicit recognition of the potential effects of storytelling as well as the beginnings of an explicit understanding of mechanics of narrative.

Leadership Storytelling 3.0: From Arithmetic to Calculus, Steve Denning, Forbes

Storytellers also recognise the need to turn to different story types, according to the purpose.

One of those types is the springboard story, whose purpose is to bring the audience to a higher level of understanding and action.

Storytelling 2.0 and communication 2.0

Communication 2.0 is bi-directional. Storytelling 2.0 might also be bi-directional, depending on the goals narrative should reach.

The main characteristic of storytelling 2.0 is replacing monologue by dialogue. For example, while telling a brand’s story, the storyteller should ask customers to describe their experience with the brand. In other words, they should converse, explaining and listening to both brand and customers’ story.

Storytelling 2.0 channels: All channels that work according to so-called “walkie talkie” model of communication (telephone, social networks or website with a comment section)

Example: Narratives with changed endings or open endings

Unlike traditional children tales, featuring monologues and closed endings, storytelling 2.0 is more like:

  • Narratives with changed endings – The authors of the Spanish book series “Twice Upon a Time” decided to rewrite some of the traditional children tales. Due to what they considered poor attitudes, teachings, and morals, the authors replaced the messages in the tales. However, the endings remained closed.
  • Narratives with open endings – Instead of ending their stories with the famous “And they lived happily ever after”, some authors prefer to allow the readers to create an end. For example, “And they lived…”

More information: I provide you with TWO LINKS in case you’re interested in reading more about storytelling 2.0.

What is storytelling 3.0: three times upon a time

Storytelling 3.0 is the third stage in the evolution of the art of storytelling. At this stage, the focus is on interaction with the public and content adaptation.

In this third generation of leadership storytelling, with the shift in vocabulary to NPS, user stories, story points, planning poker and team velocity, we are a long way away from the innocent world of “Once upon a time…”

Leadership Storytelling 3.0: From Arithmetic to Calculus, Steve Denning, Forbes

Three elements make storytelling 3.0 possible:

Storytelling 3.0 and communication 3.0

Communication 3.0 is interactive and based on adapted messages. 

Depending on how the audience reacts to the first message, the communicator will adapt or even personalise the following ones.

Storytelling 3.0 is also interactive. The storyteller should analyse the information he or she obtains through dialogue with consumers. The goal is to use that information to make the audience participate in the creation of the future brand narrative.

Storytelling 3.0 channels: Email marketing automation tools have potential when it comes to storytelling 3.0. 

Example: Narratives with multiple endings

Traditional children tales sport closed endings. Reinvented children tales sport changed, whether open endings. However, when it comes to storytelling 3.0, these may be either open or closed. The choice is on the audience:

  • Choose your own adventure – The books from this series empower the young readers to make decisions about the way the characters act. That way, the readers modify the story flow.
  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – This interactive movie is another example of storytelling 3.0. The movie sports multiple endings, challenging the concept of passive viewers.

More information: I provide you with THREE LINKS in case you’re interested in reading more about storytelling 3.0.

Storytelling isn’t dead

To sum up, instead of claiming that storytelling is dead, we should better ask ourselves if it has (really) died.

I agree with Steve Danning’s point of view and his negative answer to this question.

Storytelling isn’t dead. On the contrary, it has evolved.

  • Storytelling 1.0 is unidirectional, and sports closed endings. It starts with a “Once upon a time” and ends with a “And they lived happily ever after.”
  • Storytelling 2.0 is bi-directional, and sports changed endings or open endings. It starts with a “Twice upon a time” and ends with a “And they lived…”
  • Storytelling 3.0 is interactive and multi-ending. It starts with a “Three times upon a time” and ends the way the audience chooses.

A Writing-Friendly Question: How would you define storytelling 3.0?

Stasa Durdic

I'm a content writer, copywriter, and UX writer. Serbian by birth, in Barcelona by occasion, writer by decision. I'm in love with the yellow colour, the art of storytelling, and the following phrase from Don Draper (Mad Men): "The client loves to pay the media, and the CREATIVE loves the PENCILS."

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