… there was a manager who told stories … a salesman who told stories … a consultant who told stories …
Story-telling is universal. Every culture, every people, everywhere, tells and always has told stories. It does not matter whether they are told in the dark round an open fire, or in a bright, comfortable house, or an office – the power of stories is the same. Stories are almost as much a part of being human as breathing.
Stories help us to make sense of the world. Whatever situation we encounter in life, we instinctively look for a story that is similar it. A story that shows we are not on our own. It gives us confidence that we can cope. It shows us possible solutions to our problems. It helps us to cut through the messy complexity of real life to get to what really matters.
Every time I want to communicate something, in the end it comes down to telling a story. Sometimes that just means putting the argument I want to make into story-form – a beginning, a middle and an end, with a logical flow of one thing leading to another – but more often it is finding examples of past experience that seem to have similarities, and using them to illustrate my ideas.
What is interesting is that over the years, and through many re-tellings, some of the stories I use take on a life of their own. When I tell a story, inevitably I’ll change the emphasis. I bring out the most useful bits and skim over the less useful ones. In time, I forget the detailed bits I don’t usually include. Perhaps other bits get simplified to make the point more clearly. What I ‘remember’ evolves, simplifying, clarifying, and becoming ever more useful as an example as it goes.
The strange thing about this process is that others who were present at the original events rarely disagree with the story that is told later. It seems what matters is to hear the story told, not that it should match our own (uncertain) memories exactly. It is this simplified story that becomes the shared memory of the event for the group.
Come to think of it, that refining is what has been happening for thousands of years. Perhaps it explains why the ancient myths and legends are still so powerful!