Business,  English,  Gânduri

Story Telling. Friend or Foe?

I LOVE Storytelling!

Just wanted to make this clear statement from the start, as I guess I will be questioned in a couple of minutes, once you finish reading this small paragraph…

Storytelling is great because it wraps data in digestible layers of meaning. It connects the dots, it concentrates our attention from vast arrays of numbers and charts to the take-away, to contexts and conclusions.

Stories are memorable, they could be better recalled, they imprint in our memories. They are the music of numbers and facts. Imagine trying to learn by heart hundreds or thousands of musical notes. It would be quite a challenge for our brains. But as long as we overlay music, we retain songs even from the first hearing. Effortless…

Stories are great because they reconnect us to childhood. They are efficient tools in communicating to audiences because, using stories, one can keep people interested, involved. Stories could use fun, intrigues, surprise moments, analogies, examples, and so on…

Having all these benefits (and many more, for sure), why on Earth would I bother to question storytelling, in a despicable act of corporate heresy?

The main reason for my controversial perspective resides it the intrinsic quality of storytelling, namely seducing the interlocutor (aka the receiver, in a more general definition). A smart use of stories could dilute our reasoning, could detach us from facts, from objectivity, from the bigger picture. We get immersed into the flow of the story (coincidentally or not, being “in the flow”, by Csíkszentmihályi’s definition, makes us lose awareness of all other things).

I will emphasize two pitfalls of storytelling (with a kind recommendation to watch for others as well):

Stories often use emotional triggers. Real examples of utter sorrow, of despair, of life challenges, extraordinary achievements, incredible turnarounds in life, and the list goes on. They don’t necessarily describe the whole context, they are…stories, meant to impress you. And, (yes, this sucks!) to reach the same conclusion as the narrator. A guy shooting a bear furiously approaching a group of kids could be ostracized by responsible citizens who find about this event from a skilled story teller on TV (can you visualize an intro about humans killing animals and responsible for extinction of so many species – depressing music in the background, the “killer” being a not so good mechanic of East European origins, confirmed by two decent unhappy customers who complain about his arrogance, etc, etc. And, in the end, an emotionally-affecting blurred image of the dead animal, commenting about the deep psychological impact the scene would have on the children watching it live, a joyous teddy-bear shot down by this immigrant). Catchy story. Not quite true, though…

Stories could be tiki-taka for the mind. Pleasant to watch, hallucinating, hypnotic. If an author places a few stories in a book, or in a report, you may get the feeling that those 5-10 examples are more than needed to confirm the case. You may disregard the fact that, for every given example, there could be one thousand counterexamples. Objectivity may suffer as we subdue to charisma, to conveyed emotions and to the mastery of the storyteller.

I feel the need to get back to Popper’s falsifiability. I guess it’s a good advice, still valid. Use (positive) criticism when exposed to impressive stories, be alert and inquiring. Enjoy them, laugh or cry, memorize them, but judge them into broader contexts. And, yes, use story telling whenever fit for making your communication more impactful.

I said I love storytelling. Then why all this? We all know the famous proverb “love is blindness”. I’d say this wraps up perfectly my concerns on the topic