The Backstory….Are you getting it? And does it matter if you do?

Do You Know the Backstory?

Superheros always have a backstory that compels them forward in their hero’s journey. Whether it’s the violent loss of loved ones, a science experiment (or science accident) with unexpected outcomes, or a benevolent being gifting them with a powerful talisman, each superhero’s backstory helps to shape their future story. As we watch their bravery unfold on the big screen, knowing that backstory – the context – helps us to understand their current decisions, behaviors, and actions.

The backstory is key to understanding the present moment and being able to make the best decisions to achieve their desired future.  That’s true for each and every one of us too.

Pausing to Understand the Backstory

We sit having our morning coffee. Ward scans his phone to orient himself to his day. He tells me a few details of something that is being reported about an organization we are interested in. They are interesting points. I could come to believe that they make up a true story, but I do not. I ask him for the backstory so that I can plug the details into the bigger context.  This pause to understand the back story helps me to determine what perspective I will have about the situation.

If he does not know the backstory, I set the facts aside as ‘interesting’ but not sufficient for me to create a perspective. I might choose to learn more about the context later, to help me in my perspective of the new facts and before I act on them.

If he does know the backstory, I listen, ask him if he believes the backstory to be a true story, and then we discuss how the few facts he had shared with me fit into the backstory, or if they actually seem to. I develop my perspective. From my perspective, I can make choices and decisions. I make those decisions and realize that as with all decisions, there are consequences. With the context in mind, I feel good about having made the best decisions in relation to my perspective on the situation. I feel confident and know I did my best whether those consequences are the intended ones or not.

Reacting Without Context

Now, imagine a different scenario, one that is common in our times. A colleague shares a few points with me from something she is reading. The points appear to be facts. I ask for the backstory. She doesn’t know the context. I am in a hurry. I create a constellation from these ‘facts’ quickly. A constellation independent of anything else that might be connected to it. The constellation forms a picture that I embrace as my perspective. It takes only four ‘facts’ for my mind to be able to form them into a constellation, giving me a picture.  I make choices and decisions based on this perspective. Afterward, I wonder whether the choices and decisions were good. I did not have the context and so made those choices and decisions without a contextual picture. I feel uneasy, not confident, and do not believe I did my best. If there are undesired consequences of my choices and decisions, it is almost always because I didn’t have enough of a backstory. Without the context, my understanding was flawed.

Does the Backstory Matter?

And so I ask you “does getting the backstory matter to you? Can you perceive how your choices and decisions are affected by whether you know the context or not?”

Whether it’s a small decision like sharing a meme on Facebook or a major life decision, like buying a new home, or business decision, like choosing a new business supplier, being clear about the backstory can make a measurable difference in the outcomes.

“To know an object is to lead to it through a context which the world provides.” – William James


Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

Birgitt Williams
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Birgitt Williams is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, keynote speaker and executive coach. Her business focus is to create inspiring work environments that are highly effective in achieving their purpose and fulfilling their vision.

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