The Science of Storytelling

One of the things I love most about working in storytelling is that I am dealing with something that is already so familiar to people. Things would be a lot more challenging if I had to help leaders use quantum physics to transform brands, businesses and people. In this regard, I am blessed.

Storytelling is how we naturally communicate with each other. Ever since early hunters first gestured to each other in front of a fire, storytelling has been the way we most readily convey thoughts, feelings and experiences to other people. Stories work because we are, as humans, already hard-wired to hear, comprehend and remember them. Stories help us absorb and process information better, making us infinitely more likely to recall that information and act on it; which is why storytelling has always been so effective for leaders.

Dr. Howard Gardner – a professor at the Harvard School of Education and a thought leader in the way people think – has done a lot of work to link the way we cognitively process information to leadership; and he says, “The single most effective tool a leader has is story.” Here’s why.

By the time we’re adults, the fundamentals in terms of the way we think are more or less set. So, for a leader to come in and try to do something transformational they often have to ask their team to revisit and challenge those fundamentals; and this is hard for many of us to do. To think that a leader can just deliver a message once to a team and that it will work with the established fundamentals of each individual in that team is misguided. Some might get the message if the way that leader delivered it synchs up with the way in which those people naturally process information. However, the chances of that one way of delivery working with the brains of everyone on a team are slim to none.

Layers, richness, and the art of stimuli

When a leader wraps his or her message in a story, they hit the brain from a variety of different angles. Stories are richer and more layered than pure information or directives. They use different stimuli and paint bigger mental pictures, so they tap into and use different parts of our brains at once and, at the same time, appeal to different brains and ways of thinking. Stories surround the brain with a message instead of just attacking it from one angle, increasing the chances of a leader’s message getting through to the very people he or she wants to, needs to act on that message.

So think about how you can wrap your important messages in story to make them more impactful. You see, stories work, because they’re in our nature.

TagsCognitive ProcessingLeadership ToolsMultiple Intelligencesstrategic storytellingThinking

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