So… once upon a time, there was a leader/coach/teacher who wasn’t getting through to their people/clients/children as well as they wanted to…and then they discovered the art of story. From then on…
You can decide what happens next. Maybe they become a best-selling novelist, or comedian or inspire their pupils in a most profound way…
‘Story’ is a most trendy idea, currently, despite being a form of communication we humans have used since developing language. It’s one of our core sense-making devices – the other being how things are similar and how they are different. Or comparison and contrast.
Most of our beliefs about our world and our interpretation of events are based on story. Very often a vivid and apt story, a parallel depiction of what we want others to do or think will be much more inspiring than a barked ‘You have to do this, because-’
Why? Well, story taps into our fantasises and our feelings – deep influences on our decision-making – however rational we may like to view ourselves.
Here’s how story works:
Something happens: there is an incident of some description : ‘a much put-upon and down-trodden person would like to go somewhere amazing’
Something blocks this: a complication gets in the way of what the incident sets up : ‘ the person has vile other members of their family who would not entertain the idea’
Tension and conflict build: behaviour and events move to a crisis: ‘the vile family members abuse the put-upon individual till they can almost tolerate it no more’
An intervention occurs: something external or internal affects the central character and there is a reversal : ‘the vile family members go to the amazing event, and a character from another world appears to help the victim’
Events escalate: once fortunes have reversed, events happen quickly and end in some sort of resolution: ‘the victim goes to the amazing event and meets her saviour there, who has to battle to save them. The vile characters get their come-uppance’
And yes, you’ve just read Cinderella.
The more inevitable the sequence of events, the more compelling the story.
All stories have dynamics which revolve around the quest, the voyage and return, the comic – where confused goals and interpretations feature, the tragic – where lack of self awareness and metaphorical blindness features, an overpowering enemy – fate, the environment, alien power for instance.
Transformation and reinvention often figure and so do spectacular rises and falls in fortune.
There is over 700 pages of somewhat meandering description of all this here.
The extent to which a story grips usually depends on how much we identify with characters and their goals and the tension and fear created by the conflict.
Whether we like it or not, in meetings, presentations and interviews, as well as more obvious contexts like media and colleague briefings, we spin stories.
And our most compelling stories tap into what is currently happening in the zeitgest and have a vividness that humanizes their impact. They have a collective sense-making impact.
So, what’s your story and what makes it worth sharing?
ps ‘About the Author’ by John Colapinto, is a wonderful piece of fiction about story.