About the author.
My name is Ashraf Ramzy, Narratologist, Business Story Consultant, Coach, Author, Speaker, Founder and CEO of MasterStory®. Some 30 years ago I attained a master’s degree in Narratology, the science and study of Story. Since then I have been quietly putting the power of Story to work for visionary brands, organizations and leaders. And, with great success. During those 30 years, a systematic and effective methodology emerged. One that ensured the successful development of a business narrative with impact. Be it a campaign story, a customer story, a target audience story, a brand story, an organizational story, a corporate story or a masterstory. Building further on that methodology I developed StoryMeter®, a diagnostic tool that measures the power of story and its impact on business. In addition I have developed the StoryMaster® program, a 3 day workshop to equip and license you to use the MasterStory® methodology and diagnostic tool. In the weeks, months and years ahead I will post (infrequent) updates on my work, my methodology and my own journey. So make sure to check this page every once in a while. Or subscribe to our newsletter.
My Journey. Origin Story Part 3: 1982-1988. Life is Story.
“Life is a Story. So if I understand how Story works, then I’ll understand how Life works. And then maybe, I’ll get my life in order”. That is an epiphany I had in the summer of 1982 when I stumbled on a book on Screenwriting that would change my life.
Life is a Story.
In the summer of 1982 I was 21 and had just wasted two years of my life studying Psychology on a quest to find answers to life’s big questions. “What am I doing here?” “How do I become happy and successful?” And, “Who am I?” This was more than typical adolescent anxiety. I am a Christian from a Muslim country, an Egyptian in the Netherlands and a European in America. I was confused about social dynamics, other people but mostly myself. Psychology however did not have the answers I was seeking. And after two years I dropped out.
In that summer we visited my uncle who lived in Los Angeles. On the last day of our visit we were doing some last minute shopping and I entered a bookstore. I wandered around until I found myself standing in front of a section called “Film & Performing Arts”. As if my hand had a life of its own, it reached out and pulled out a book titled: “Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field. Just the title alone sent shock waves through my body. That something so magical as a movie had laws and logic that governed the shaping of the story and the manner of its telling, and that you could actually learn those laws, well, that just knocked me off my feet.
I flicked through the pages and read the insights and lessons. Right there and then I found the answers I was searching for. I had an epiphany: “Life is a Story. So, if I know how Story works, then I’ll know how Life works. And then, maybe, I’ll get my life in order.”
The flight between Los Angeles and Amsterdam is about 10 hours. In those 10 hours I read that book five, six times. I devoured it. I couldn’t put it down. When we landed I vowed to spend the rest of my life in pursuit of understanding and applying the power of story.
In the meantime, back in the Netherlands, the Faculty of Literature had established a whole new department. You’ll never guess its name. Yes, “Film & Performing Arts”! This new department introduced a new program: “Narratology”, the science and study of Story. This wasn’t coincidence. This was destiny!
When I enrolled, I knew exactly what I wanted to know. I wanted to understand the Hollywood Film, its blockbusters and its box office hits. I wanted to understand the laws and logic that govern the stories that resonate with audiences all over the world, regardless of country, culture or creed. There were film festivals that showed foreign films. But these films seemed to work only within their own culture and reflect a cultural identity. Hollywood told stories that resonated with people everywhere and touched deeper, on a universal human identity. I wanted to understand exactly how and why. For the next six years I focused on one question: “what is the Story that Hollywood tells us and how do they do it?”
I found the answers and unlocked the secret code behind the Hollywood formula. I wrote my master’s thesis of some 300 pages on the narrative structure and mythology of the Hollywood Film. This body of knowledge still serves me well today. If only because the story that Hollywood tells shapes popular culture and public opinion.
But something amazing happened during my research into the American Dream, the Mythology behind the Hollywood film.
In May 1985 Coca Cola announced that it would change the taste of Coke. A couple of months later they changed it back. There had been a widespread consumer revolt, a public outcry, a popular uprising. There were protest marches on Washington and people even wrote President Reagan. One remark really hit home with me: “You can’t change Coke. Coca Cola is the American Dream in a Bottle. And you don’t mess with that.” Wow! I mean Wow! There I was, studying the American Dream as Hollywood’s Mythology and then this happens. Then and there, in the spring of 1985 I had another epiphany: People don’t buy products; they buy stories. People don’t buy brands; they buy into the myths and archetypes those brands represent.
This phenomenon is known as “symbolic consumption”. The yearning for meaning beyond physical and emotional gratification. But not the derivative meaning from external “lofty” goals. But the internal and intimate longing to understand and define who we are, where we belong and where we’re going, i.e. identity, community and transition.
Successful brands, therefore, offer more than only functional and emotional benefits. They offer meaning. And that is what story does: it gives meaning and purpose to who we are and what we do, to where we are and where we’re going.
This opened up a whole new horizon of career opportunities. It gave me a new path to pursue. Suddenly, I wasn’t lost anymore. All that happened to me from the tender age of 16 started to make sense to me. Apparently I am not the only one with the big questions about identity, community and transition. We all have them.
We all want to know who we are and where we fit in and how to make sense of situations and changes. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We all lose our way, lose ourselves, and lose the plot and learn invaluable lessons through our pain. We all long to be known, to be loved, to be home. We suffer when we’re not. We rejoice when we are.
We’re all looking for answers. I know I still do. But I learnt at an early age where to find them.
And this is how and why I started a career using story in branding and communication.
This concludes, for now, my very own origin story. In the next episodes I’ll continue with my technical exposition on how story works. Plus, I will share case studies on how I’ve applied the power of story to branding and communication.