We are all storytellers – whether we are telling fact or fiction. Since we enjoy stories so much, we tend to see them as mere entertainment – pleasure for the sake of pleasure — rather than the basis upon which we decide what matters to us, and what action to take in our lives. Biologically-speaking, stories are entertaining for the same reason food tastes good. Food tastes good so we’ll eat it and survive; stories are entertaining so we’ll pay attention to them and survive.
Are We Really Wired For Stories?
So, it’s no surprise that there’s never been a society on earth that did not tell stories — it’s a hardwired human universal trait. And if you think about it, we rely on it now more than our Stone Age ancestors did. Back then, the main goal was physical survival – finding the next meal, keeping track of a wild animal on the prowl. Today, in our complex, global society, we have also got to worry about social survival.
Chances are that in the last 24 hours, you wrote an email, texted, worked on a pitch, tried to show someone the value of your business. And today, you probably are doing those things every few minutes. Guess what? Each time, you actually crafted a story and each time, you had the opportunity to tap into your listener’s brain, which is wired for story. The big question, of course, is, did you tell an effective story?
Why Is Storytelling So Important In Business?
Storytelling is not just important, it’s essential, because of the way the brain is wired — we feel first and think second. This is an enormously important point for people in business to understand. We are taught to make decisions based on logic and dispassionate fact, and to do everything to get emotion out of the equation. You know what I mean: design spreadsheets, analyze sales data, scan statistics, come up with theories based on what a “rational” person would do based on a clinical assessment of their “best economic interest” – all without an iota of emotion.
The problem is that facts don’t move us to action; in the abstract the facts don’t mean a thing to us. What’s more, very often we act against what appears to be our self-interest – precisely because we don’t make decisions based on external logical models.
In fact, the notion of “self-interest” is flawed, because it doesn’t take into consideration the yardstick against which we weigh everything: how will this make me feel about myself? In short, we act based on how the facts make us feel.
The take away is that emotion is not the monkey wrench in the system; emotion is the system. Research has shown that if we couldn’t feel emotion, we couldn’t make a rational decision – from the mundane, like whether or not to buy a particular pair of shoes, to the ridiculously complex, like whether or not to invest a few thousand dollars in the company that makes the shoes.
Every business decision is, on some basic level, an emotional decision — and here’s the kicker: emotion is the language of story. Feel first, think second. That’s the order biology chose for us. It doesn’t make us weak, it doesn’t make us irrational. It makes us human. So, you better believe storytelling is important to business.
How can storytelling be applied specifically in the business world?
You have to be able to connect to people on an emotional level at all phases of business development. And business-to-business still comes down to individual people. “Businesses” don’t make decisions, people do. Since every decision is emotion-based, that means that up and down your chain of command, there are people making decisions based on how they feel about you, their peers, your products, your mission, your company headquarters, your billing practices, even the tie you wore that last time you came to a business symposium in Chicago. They can’t help it. Their brain is designed that way.
So, you need to make sure that your company has a story – not just a story about the product, but a story that permeates every aspect of the business, so that everyone who comes in contact with any part of your effort will feel an emotional connection to what you are doing – and why. It’s that feeling that draws them in and keeps them close.
You know what’s another word for that? Loyalty. We need look no further than Apple to see how this works. People don’t just use Apple’s products. They don’t just own them. They love them. They feel an emotional connection to them. The story of your company boils down to something simple, a core belief that triggers an emotional reaction in those who run the businesses you work with. This is what people feel first about your company, and it then becomes the lens through which they filter everything else.
Using Elements Of Storytelling To Help Businesses Accomplish Their Goals
Storytellers — have one overarching goal: to keep their audiences riveted, and emotionally engaged. The only way to do that is by sparking their listener’s curiosity, which in turn triggers a dopamine rush. It’s our brain’s way of rewarding us for finding out how the story resolves, because we just might need that information to navigate the future. And our reward-seeking, dopamine-driven curiosity is what keeps us coming back for more.
We have all been there – remember Harry Potter’s books? We couldn’t wait to pick up the book, because we were dying to find out what happens next. There’s no more delicious sensation than following a great story’s breadcrumb trail, getting swept away as you piece together the clues, and feeling a part of the victory when the hero overcomes the obstacle that’s been keeping him/her from success. It makes you feel as if you have overcome it, too. That’s the takeaway, in a nutshell, for business. You need to spark your customer’s curiosity. You need to make them feel that they’ll be smarter, more savvy, if they checking back in with you, and positively brilliant when they finally decide to buy. That’s their “aha” moment.
How do you continually bring them back?
It’s easy. Always leave them wanting more. End each installment – whether it’s a piece of an ongoing story, or five surprising tips for solving a problem they face – with an impending problem that you’ll crack… next time.
And you know what happens in between? They’ll put those five tips to good use, and feel great about themselves and smart in the eyes of others. Thanks to you. What better way to build their trust than to make them the hero of stories told around the water cooler?
While there is abundant after-the-fact literature on the power of story when it comes to motivating people, there is very little discussion of how and why it works. Most people have no clue as to the biological purpose of story, no idea why it’s the only way to motivate people to act, and thus no real grasp of the nuts-and-bolts of how to create such a story from scratch. This is what we are going to discuss in our Round Table discussion with other experts in the subject on Saturday, March 15th at 8 PM Chicago Time on the Village of Abundance Radio Network (here is how to tune in: http://quantumphysicsofbeliefs.com/20140315-trends-leadership-2014-beyond-part-3-3/ ).
It’s one thing to help a business find its own story; it’s another to teach the people in that business how to construct stories on their own that will motivate their customers. That’s my passion!