Krishna paused in the middle of a war to answer Arjuna’s deepest questions on life. Jesus spoke in parables to convey the deepest truths about the human condition and Hollywood et al have built billion dollar industries around it. But we’ve relegated stories — be it reading, listening to or telling it to children or fiction (books, movies). And, we’ve lost a powerful communication medium in the process.
Stories have been the primary mode by which the deepest wisdom of civilizations has been transferred through the millennia. Every great civilization is known by and for its epics (Greek, Roman, etc). Civilizations and religions are said to be built and sustained through the perpetuation of these stories. I use the word “story” to cover mythologies, historical events and narratives built around historical figures over time without debating about which falls into what category. The focus though is its power to influence and inspire people over generations.
An anthropologist would talk about ancient tribes sitting around a fire, listening to elders share their tales, maybe you remember your own grandparents doing something similar on a warm summer evening. A story’s ability to convey both the message and emotion in the simplest yet most interesting manner is unparalleled. It simply has no competition when it comes to the recall factor.
Somehow at work we seem to have shied away from using this tool. Maybe it’s due to a false (lazy) view that credibility comes only through data and the more dry (boring) it is, the greater the credibility. We’ve confused a lack of creativity as an evidence of objectivity.
Organizations today are dealing with people who are already flooded with a lot of information. So when important messages need to be communicated (e.g, principles to deal with customers/employees, etc), they tend to go for bullet points on a PPT or a set of policies / best practices — either way, effectively sucking the life out of them and ensuring that they’re quickly forgotten.
Mission critical communication has to leverage the power of storytelling if the aim is to inspire /change behaviour (or more importantly, make someone rethink). These stories can range from an article in the newspaper and a personal anecdote to coming up with a brand new story. The point is to move beyond information and present a narrative that evokes an emotion and stays with the person long after the interaction is over.
Go ahead, tell me a story…