Tag Archives: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

We Need More Good Stories, with Fewer Simple Chronicles

You might not realize it, but you are a creature of an imaginative realm called Neverland.  Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there. 
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal:  How Stories Make Us Human

If you say, “The queen died, and the king died,” that is a chronicle.
If you say, “The queen died, and the king died, from grief,” that is a story.  (Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen, drawing from E. M. Forster).
Bob Johansen:  Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present

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I heard Krys Boyd on KERA interview Jonathan Gottschall about his book, The Storytelling Animal.  (Krys is a great interviewer).  And I remembered the brief description of the difference between a chronicle and a story from Get There Early.

We care about stories.  We learn from stories.  We place ourselves within stories, because we all know that every story, is, in some way, our own story.  Last night I watched House.  Wilson has cancer.  A very close friend of my wife has cancer.  The fictional story is her story – our story.  You know…

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.  
(John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls)

In the interview, Gottschall observed that stories always include two elements:  some form of dilemma, and some form of resolution.  It is the old “problem-solution” formula for persuasion.  And when a story is told well, it always makes us stop and ask:  “What is my dilemma?  Can I find a way out; a solution; a resolution that works for me, and hopefully for others?”

I read a lot of nonfiction books — but, sadly, too little fiction.  Gottschall observed in the interview that people who expose themselves to more fiction have an easier time interacting with others.  They are more socially connected; better connected.  And, thankfully, he reminded us that stories preceded printed books, so maybe I get almost enough fiction from my favorite television shows.  I guarantee that, in House alone, there is enough dilemma and conflict to last a while.

In my own reading, I have come to realize that the best nonfiction writers are, in fact, superior story tellers.  I think this explains the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell, and why I have so warmed to The Power of Habit and Imagine just recently.  They are both written by superior story tellers  (Charles Duhigg and Jonah Lehrer).  Books that are principle-rich and story-poor just aren’t quite as engaging or gripping.  Or insightful.

And I think it is why I remember some books I read years ago more than others.  David Halberstam is always at the top of my list, because he was such a wonderful story teller.

In the realm of organizational culture, story plays a major role.  To build corporate culture, to build corporate strength, to build a true community, tell the stories of your organization.  Yes, tell the good stories, the stories of success — but tell especially the “struggle” stories.  “This is what we faced.  This is how we overcame it.”  A well-told struggle story can help a current struggle seem not quite so overwhelming.

We love a good story.  And, it turns out, we need a steady dose of good stories.

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Good stories move us. They touch us, they teach us, and they cause us to remember.  They enable the listener to put the behavior in a real context and understand what has to be done in that context to live up to expectations. 
…storytelling is the ultimate leadership tool.   (Elizabeth Weil).
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner:  Encouraging the Heart — A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others