Is Our Hunger for Story a “Bug” in Our Brain?

I have that “bug” in my brain.

Through my own successes spanning diverse industries including Entertainment, Sports, Technology and Education, I have discovered the best way to persuade customers, employees, shareholders, media and partners to respond to my call to action is by taking the facts, figures and data important to demonstrate intellectual capacity and embed them into the “tell” of a purposeful story. This has been my single biggest competitive advantage. This emotional transportation engages your audience whether it is a customer, client, or patron, political contributor or voter to heed your call. Story powers this process in an incredibly unique fashion. I’ve made it my mission and purpose to share this secret sauce with others so they, too, can benefit from its power for their purpose.

But is this a dangerous proposition? This was the contention of Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of the bestselling books, Free and The Long Tail, when he visited one of my UCLA courses.

Not one to shy away from a contrarian point of view, Chris asserted that stories are too powerful and using story as a call to action can often be a distortion of the truth. To Chris, our hunger for stories- a beginning, middle and end – is a bug in our brain! He explained that stories assume certain patterns of logic that evolution – since the Stone Age – which have trained the human brain to anticipate. We expect something to happen or change over the course of a story to a character or characters we can empathize with. We assume the outcome will be the result of whatever happens in the course of the plot. We not only want the story to make sense, but we assume the events within the story will make more sense to us after the story’s conclusion. The story, as compelling as it may be, in fact, may not be the truth. Chris concluded his point of view by acknowledging that our wiring created an evolutionary skill set that’s allowed us to teach each other and grow, to establish social networks and culture.

I, of course, whole-heartedly disagreed that story telling was a liability to the listener. If it was, evolution would have weeded it from our systems long ago. What’s more, research has proven that we’re hard-wired for stories as is evidenced that long before we had the written word for tens of thousands of years, the rules, beliefs and values of our species were passed along by these stories told around the campfire for our survival and success. And, they are with us now, waiting to leap into action for your survival and success today!

Chris asserted that his problem with depending on the power of story to drive action is that we’re so intrinsically drawn to story telling that we often miss the statistical randomness of life — because it doesn’t fit into our sense of how the story should go. He believes that the tragedy of our species is that we’re wired for narrative, yet we live in a world that’s random.

My view remains that if humans are wired for story telling and story listening, then to ignite action, you must use them.

Chris had a final concession to the magic of story by acknowledging that the marketplace does in fact, want stories. And that’s what he does every day in his magazines and books is to package complicated ideas in terms that resonate with people through stories – making it his business to take advantage of this bug in our brain.

A 10,000 Year Old Tradition – Key to Your Success?

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