SSP014 What It Means to Be a Story Studio

Sterling & Stone as we know it has existed for about seven years, but we’ve been on this journey together for ten years. We all started within months of each other, giving us a collection of thirty years of experience between the three of us (Johnny, Sean, and Dave).
This is the first episode in an arc. We’re going to start by talking about our foundations and how we got started as a way to catch you up with what Sterling & Stone is, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you know how many mistakes we’ve made and how quickly we learn from them.
If you’re here for the first time: buckle up. We’re going to make more of them. But we’re going to make fewer of them. We’re very dialed in, and the company has been reborn. We’re taking the “hedgehog concept” and doubling down on our allegiance to it.
One of the primary reasons we write is to learn. We write to discover how we feel about our ideas and ourselves. We write to build on the old ideas that got us to where we are now. Sometimes you have to tell a story to understand a story.
We’re a company of writers and storytellers. And for storytellers, context is everything. These next few episodes are the story to understand the story. They’re for us as much as they are for you. This is a how we can give context to everything we’re doing going forward.
We’ve said for a long time now that 2018 is our year, and opportunities are slotting into place for that to happen. Right now, the most significant way that our plans are coming together are:

  • We know what our company is
  • We know what we’re good at
  • We know our trajectory
  • We have a team that can accomplish it

Most startups fail within the first year. Likewise, most people overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in ten. If we were to rewind ten years, there would be no way we could conceive of the breadth of Sterling & Stone in its current state.
There are things that we “realized” early on in our journey but then walked away from in an attempt to chase a new shiny opportunity that was not in alignment with said realization.
We’re getting close to the point where we’re no longer a “startup.” We’re growing up as a company, and our vision needs to be sharp. Our latest hire was for a HR position because we’re honing in on our individual superpowers with a keen focus.
We define superpowers as:

  1. Things we are very good at
  2. Things we can enjoy
  3. Things we can be the best at

It’s basically the hedgehog concept for each individual person within the company.
Dave’s dad taught him that “work isn’t fun. It’s a job. Do it, and shut your mouth.” However, there are many times that we’ve decided not to do something explicitly for the reason that “it wouldn’t be fun to do.” The times that we’ve said “it’s not fun, but let’s do it because it’s best,” was usually the wrong choice.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of our “let’s do it because it’s best” decisions paid off in the short term or even taught us something important that we hadn’t realized before. But in the long term, they were merely detours off of the course we’re on now.
This is a key part of the journey—of growing up as a company. It’s not just getting to the point where we’re financially solvent. The risks that we can afford to take are less about money and more about culture.
What does it mean to be a story studio? It means that we create stories. The moment that we see ourselves slipping away from that, we have to ask ourselves: why are we doing this? What are we hoping to get out of our actions?
Our company mission used to be: “We make stories and smarter artists.” And it wasn’t quite right because it made us divisible.
Our new six-word intro is: “We change the world with story.”
It’s a grandiose statement, but we’re a grandiose company. We like to push the industry and try things that have never been done. We like to live on the edges of what a creative career can offer us. We answer questions with the stories that we create. We want to change the lives of everyone who is in orbit around our company. And we do that through story.
We want to have a lot of presence in the book world, but we also want to branch into film and television. All of these mediums inform the world, direct conversation, and influence the way each of us thinks about our environments. We want to be a part of that.
A hallmark that we keep circling back to is that we view Sterling and Stone as a family business. We think of the people in our company as a family. We literally include our families in the business. We behave as if it’s a family.
Sean grew up in a family business. He’s had a family business before. He even made a business around his family when he owned a preschool. This is a deep part of who he is, and it’s an important value that the company wants to cultivate.
Another value pillar is collaboration. We started the company when Johnny invited Sean and Dave to work on a podcast with him. Sean and Dave were already working together, but, eventually, Johnny and Sean began writing together as well.
Flash forward, we have about thirty people working together in our circle, and all of these relationships and collaborative in nature. This even extends to the vendors and outsourced work. Every project we engage in, we want to grow a bit more with everyone involved.
We also strive for open communication. This is something that a lot of companies claim to value, but we really put a concerted focus on it.
Lastly, we try our very best to learn from our failures. We’re perfectly comfortable making mistakes. In fact, we don’t even call them mistakes. We call it experience. As long as we don’t make the same mistake twice.
If you look at where we are right now, it’s where we always wanted to be, but we took some major diversions. And we’re forced to ask ourselves: Why weren’t we here four, or five, or six years ago? The answer is simple. We weren’t ready yet. We didn’t have the tools we needed to understand where we needed to go. We had to make those mistakes and iterate forward.

Are you wondering what the ever-growing demand for superb storytelling skills means for your future? Check out our latest interview as Johnny and Sean dive deep into that question in “Storytelling Is the Future: How to Build On Your Self-Publishing Success.”
Download the interview from the info box or show notes in YouTube or head over to https://www.sterlingandstone.net/future.

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