Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's about who can tell the best story.

The power of telling authentic stories -spreading an 'idea virus'.

The power of storytelling is now being recognised .

Rational sensible people believe that if you can produce enough, data, facts and information about anything people will believe whatever you are trying to convince them is the right course of action.

Not so, writes Seth Godin, author of an interesting book called"All Marketers are Lairs'. People are attracted by those who can tell the best stories and that this has always been the case. As our ancestors noticed things they invented stories to explain them . Real facts have little to do with such beliefs.

Such stories are seen as shortcuts when we are too overwhelmed with data. Believing stories make our lives easier even if stories can never tell the whole truth. To make things more interesting, Godin writes, some people cannot handle the truth. No one , he says, buys facts they buy a story. So if you want to sell, or spread, an idea you need to appreciate and respect what people believe no matter how irrational it may seem to you.

So success depends on telling great stories to capture people's imagination. Such stories are not necessarily true or factual but they need to be trustworthy, authentic, credible and consistent. And the less spelt out the better - stories are appreciated as first impressions matching the 'voice' of the listener and appealing to all the senses. Stories however will not appeal to everyone - they need to agree with the worldview of the listener and if they do will make the audience feel smart and secure. Once people believe in a story they then work hard to make them true.

If you are interested in telling, or marketing ideas, understanding the power of storytelling is vital. Children are educated, politicians elected, religions thrive, jobs gained and goods sold by stories believed ( for better or worse) .

Stories, once believed, are then hard to change no matter the truth. Sometimes there is almost no connection between what is actually there and what we believe. People , it seems, do not like changing the world views; this is the reason why the emperor got away with wearing no clothes! People hate admitting they're wrong.

Godin's book is all about how to tell great mind changing stories. The point he makes is that you are not in charge of people's attention - people will not listen unless it resonates with their and beliefs and biases. Even if they do listen to your story it will be distorted in the process to fit their beliefs.

So getting your story right is the issue - not the facts and figures.

The key is to understand people's 'world views', or 'frames of reference', and to appreciate you can't change a persons 'word view' by insisting on them understating the facts. The best way, Godin's writes, is to build on and amplify what people currently believe. Thankfully, even though we are all individuals, people 'clump together' into common worldviews that the story teller can build on - and to appreciate that each group wants to hear stories that support their own worldview.

The best story tellers are artists who are skilled on building on what people want.

There are messages in this book for a wide range of people from politicians to teachers - and it is important that story telling can be powerfully misused. Success depends on who tells the 'best' stories. Stories fail when the people, who once believed in it, decide it fails.

Godin's advice is to tell the best stories you can to the people at the 'edge' and not to aim to capture everyone - the rest will take care of itself. Once an idea becomes believed it will spread , Godin writes, like an 'ideavirus' in a fertile environment.

Without powerful stories old stories die hard. People don't like changing their minds. Godin's advice is to 'hook' ideas onto an old story.

If stories people believe are everything what is your story?

What is your school's story?

Do they need building on?


Anonymous said...

For too long we have been 'led' by sensible rational people - time for a new story - one to build on the creativity of our past story tellers?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Was interesting to listen to a 'debate' on TV last night between schools that prefer old fashioned UK based pass/fail exams and those ( and the Minister) who supports the range of credits of the NCEA.

It was a clash of 'stories' each side bringing up the facts to support its own case. Competition, rigour and exams versus the fragmented multi success record of the NCEA.

One story believes in extending the so called 'top academic students' ( intelligent conformists?) and 'crums' for the rest - the other pushing a confused but improved system of 'bits' of learning.

Both sides talking past each other and both ignoring the fact that they are both versions of outdated traditional teaching.

What is required is a new system that requires all students to tap into their talents and reach for their own personal level of excellence by completing real integrated tasks. These tasks could incude exams, if necessary, and units from the NCEA - but they must be real and challenging.