The power of storytelling

 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Aristotle’s model of influence balances the use logic (logos), emotional connection (pathos) and personal credibility (ethos) to persuade others. The tech industry has an excellent ability to highlight and expand of facts and data (think of all those PowerPoint decks and spreadsheets out there!). What is missing is an awareness and a skill to create the pathos and ethos of Aristotle’s’ model.

Storytelling is one of the techniques we can use to address this imbalance.

Storytelling is a vastly underutilized tool in leadership. Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Stories are how we explain how thing work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the work, create our identity, and define and teach social values.

Evolutionists point out that we’ve used stories to pass on information. Using myths, legends and cave paintings, homo sapiens has ensure knowledge is passed to the next generation. Psychologists note that stories are how we make meaning of life as they help us build mental models and schemas of how things work.

The tech sector relies heavily on data to prove, persuade, and convince. However, the presentation of facts kicks in what psychologists call the confirmation bias. That bias has you searching for more proof on why your belief is true and ignoring the data that disproves it.

Our assumption is people are rational. We live in the age of enlightenment, right? Assumptions of being – we are aware of what we do, we know why we do it, and we remember things as they really happen. Wrong.

Brain research shows that most of decision-making occurs in the reptilian brain whose chief purpose is concerned with our survival. Motivated by trust, this decision-making hub has us go with the safest choice that guarantees our survival.

We don’t need more data and facts to persuade us. We need more stories.

There are different types of stories. The personal story allows the listener a view on how you are and what’s important for you. This is a great skill in developing trust in your team and with your peers.

Check out Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement speech where he tells three stories about life, death and connecting the dots  – and all in the service of a message around choosing the job you love.

Another story type that’s critical for the technology industry is the change story.  One of the reasons underlying the high degree of failure in IT change programs is the resistance of staff to change and adapt to the new processes and technologies. We don’t need more data and facts to persuade us to change. We need more stories. We need to trust the change being asked of us.

For the sake of building trust in our teams, for the sake of persuading our colleagues to change, it’s time we got better at telling stories.

8 Comments

  1. Michelle
    October 19, 2013

    What a thought-provoking post, Catherine!

    Two parts that I loved:

    “Our assumption is people are rational. We live in the age of enlightenment, right? Assumptions of being – we are aware of what we do, we know why we do it, and we remember things as they really happen. Wrong.”

    and

    “We don’t need more data and facts to persuade us to change. We need more stories. We need to trust the change being asked of us.”

    All I can say is “hallelujah!” – you are so right on both counts!

    Reply
    • admin
      October 20, 2013

      Thanks Michelle – so pleased it resonates with you.

      Reply
  2. Tina
    October 20, 2013

    A book I recommend re:storytelling or getting your ideas across is http://heathbrothers.com/books/made-to-stick/

    Reply
  3. Ramesh Ramakrishnan
    October 21, 2013

    Nice post Catherine

    When people try to sell a view they use data to back their views, then others resist. When people try to teach a view they use stories to project their views, then others learn.

    As we enter a whole new world where technology is destroying and creating business models, with little or no data on futuristic business models, storytelling is the only option left and we have to ensure its interesting.

    Here is my favorite quote.

    People can’t believe you if they don’t know what you are saying,
    and they can’t know what you are saying if they don’t listen to you,
    and they won’t listen to you if you are not interesting ( Bill Bernbach of Doyle Dane Bernbach)

    Reply
    • catherine
      October 23, 2013

      Nice quote, Ramesh – I will add that to my list. Thanks.

      Reply
  4. Phil Wolff
    October 21, 2013

    if only you’d told this as a story! ☺

    Reply
    • catherine
      October 22, 2013

      Great point Phil! Love the suggestion.

      Reply
  5. Why it matters we fall in love with our own story | Belgrave Street
    January 14, 2014

    […] For a view on storytelling in organisations, see my other post The power of storytelling.  […]

    Reply

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