Telling stories is one of the most effective means that people have to influence, teach, and inspire each other. For me though, the most powerful application of story telling is in learning.
Storytelling can forge connections among people, and between people and ideas. Stories convey the culture, history, and values that unite people. This is evident at family gathering when we trade stories from our own histories to ensure they live on in the future. We understand intuitively that the stories we hold in common are an important part of the ties that bind.
This understanding also holds true in the business world, where a company’s stories, and the stories its leaders tell, help solidify relationships in a way that facts and figures encapsulated in bullet points don’t.
Good stories do more than create a sense of connection. They build familiarity and trust, and allow the listener to enter the story from wherever they are in their lives, making them more open to the meaning in the story. They can also contain multiple meanings so they’re surprisingly economical in conveying complex ideas in graspable ways.
Stories are everywhere, affecting us at every moment of our lives, but we rarely notice them. Stories provide implicit explanations for why things are the way they are. If we stop to think deeply, we are often able to identify several stories that tell us about how the world works, the story of our culture, and even the story of ourselves. Such stories provide frameworks for how we assess and understand new information, provide a storehouse of values and virtues, and provide a guide for what we might, could, or should become. Most importantly, they do not just convey information, they convey meaning. They bring a sense of significance to our knowledge.
Stories are powerful because they mimic our experience of moving through the world – how we think, plan, act, and find meaning in our thoughts, plans, and actions.
We are in a constant process of creating stories. When we wake up, we construct a narrative for our day. If we get sick, we construct a narrative for how it happened and what we might be able to do about it. Through a wider lens, we might look at the story of our lives and construct a narrative for how we became who we are today, and where we are going.
Stories are powerful because they help us make sense of the world and navigate our own experiences.