I'll Make A Claim
Importance of Storytelling


I attended a public presentation last week for a local development project called CentrePointe.  The presentation was led by Jeanne Gang of Gang Studio Architects.  For those that live in Lexington you know the history and controversy.  For those that aren’t familiar with the project it is a proposed major private development in the heart of downtown Lexington.

What struck me about the meeting was the importance of story telling.  Gang did a masterful job of drawing the audience into her world of contemporary design.  She explained the genesis of Gang Studio’s design response for the project and its origins in central Kentucky’s equine constructs and natural landscape.  Those stories provided context for what I’m sure many people in the audience would question as an  ”appropriate” design for Lexington.  The overall mood of the room seemed upbeat and supportive of the design and project in general, a stark contrast to the venomous opposition that surrounded the project just a year ago.  Yes, the design is different but so was the way the project was explained to the public.  I’ll claim the story is as important as the design in winning the audience.

I practice my own story telling too.  A local tech group called IN2LEX that I’ve been involved with recently hosted an entrepreneurial conference in Lexington called the Startup Advantage Conference. I picked up a couple of our speakers from the airport and took them to the Gratz Park Inn, a local boutique hotel in the heart of downtown.  For those that haven’t had the pleasure of flying into Lexington it is a spectacular landscape.  There are beautiful thoroughbred horse farms for as far as the eye can see.  The picturesque rolling terrain, white fences, and star equine athletes are unique to Lexington and make for great conversation on the ride from the airport to downtown.

Over the years I’ve learned some of the reasons Lexington became the center of the world for thoroughbred horses.  During the Revolutionary War wealthy horse owners on the east coast moved their prized possessions inland to prevent their theft by the British.  The rolling natural terrain surrounding Lexington is perfect for exercising the leg muscles of thoroughbreds and the natural limestone underlying the bluegrass is good for bone strength making central Kentucky a perfect spot.  My little bit of knowledge about the history of “why” the thoroughbreds are in Lexington makes the 20 minute ride from the airport to downtown fly by and gives my passengers context to accompany the natural beauty they see when they arrive in Lexington.  I’m “selling” Lexington in a very authentic, unassuming way.

I think storytelling is one of the most important aspects of a startup.  Stories about what value your product offers and why anyone should care become the primary means of interfacing with potential customers and garnering much needed feedback as you measure the accuracy of your assumptions.  Refining a good story or stories as backdrop to your shiny new product or service will help take the edge off what might otherwise seem confusing when first encountered.

I’ve been telling stories every day over the past year about my new startup Punndit.  The stories have evolved and through practice are getting easier and more exciting to tell.  Context matters, and a good story, be it to sell a building, a community, or a new product, is key to moving your vision forward.

If I Were King

Lexington, KY

If I were King of Lexington I would be a benevolent king. Here’s what I would do…

I would sell the UK Coldstream Research Campus.  I’d have it on Craigslist tomorrow.  Done.

With the $250,000,000+ (conservative #?) that the 735 acres of prime commercial real estate on the intersection of two major interstates would bring, I would reinvest it in further bridging the University of Kentucky with Lexington’s urban core.  I would purchase the ~35 acres of property bound by Maxwell and High Street, Rose and Limestone for development by UK.

I would donate the city-owned development rights for the top of Lexington’s transportation center (it’s designed to be built atop) to the University of Kentucky and require them to build graduate student housing there, anchoring UK with the heart of downtown.

I would take the remainder of the 1/4 billion $ windfall from selling Coldstream and have the university build the much needed new facilities for its colleges of Architecture, Business, and Law on the newly acquired property between Maxwell and downtown.

Overnight my benevolent ways would inject hundreds of UK’s annual residents and future leaders into our urban fabric helping to support our downtown grocery stores, restaurants, and nightlife.  They could live there car-free, lightening traffic congestion in our city core while bolstering the use of our public buses that would be an elevator ride away.

Students, downtown residents and professionals alike would interact more frequently, sharing knowledge and new ideas.  We’d all be exposed more frequently and easily to the cultural, academic and professional opportunities that are growing in our fair city.

I would set the growth path for the University of Kentucky on a course to merge with downtown Lexington over the next century rather than pushing ever outward, away from our urban core.  A century from now these moves would be lauded as the catalyst of Lexington’s urban renewal and a check against sprawl.

Ah, to be king.