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Lost: In search of Simplicity

Good or evil? Is that the core question Lost's finale will answer?

Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly just posted a 12-page summary of last night’s episode of Lost (the Richard Alpert episode).  You can read it here if you have nothing better to do or need someone else to theorize what’s going on.

I hope Lost is not going to turn out to be as complex as this guy — and others — make it out to be.  I think it will turn out to be a relatively simple “good vs. evil” story where the resolution hinges on which of two character (Jacob or the Man in Black) is evil and who among the castaways is going to step up and be a hero (Note: I’ve thought the island is Purgatory from about the third episode).  And where all of us feel the journey and investment of time was worth it.

Regular viewers will need to feel their questions have been answered and that the key moments from the show are consistent with the answers provided in the last few episodes.  It will also be critical that you don’t need a PhD in literature or the willingness to Google each and every plot reference to understand the show.

The show’s executive producers claim they’ve know where they were headed from Day One.  If true, that’s impressive.  They’ve done a great job of storytelling, but then they’ve been granted the time to do that by loyal viewers

Even if Lost has a simple core and a simple resolution where everything ties together, their approach probably won’t work with your presentations or business writing — even if you know where you’re headed from the outset.

How many viewers have left the show out of confusion or because they feel the production team thinks they’re smarter than everyone else?  The ratings indicate that that number is high.  Even if all the loose ends are headed toward a single strand, your audience won’t stick with you if they don’t believe the payoff will be worth the time invested.

I’m struggling with a couple of presentations right now for two reasons.  First, I need to crystallize my core message.  What’s my “one thing,” which I’ve referenced on these pages before?  I want to keep the message simple, using stories and examples to make my case, and I’m trying to strip it down to achieve that.  Second, I need to ensure my slides (and my stories) don’t take my audience down seemingly divergent paths.  I can’t have too many strands, even if they lead back to that single point, or I’m going to lose my audience.

As communicators in search of simplicity and clarity, we often walk a thin line between the Lost approach (trust me, and I’ll get you to a great place) and the 24 approach (trust Jack Bauer, and he’ll get you to a great place but he’ll need a bunch of implausible plot twists).   We can’t get so familiar with our subject matter that we forget the audience doesn’t know where we’re going and isn’t emotionally invested enough to stick with us.

What do you think?  Is Lost an example of great storytelling and are there lessons that great communicators can take from the producers’ approach?