“Stories tell us of what we already knew and forgot, and remind us of what we haven’t yet imagined.”
From Emotive Storytelling
For thousands years telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. The rise of big data however shifted focus on metrics undercutting the power of storytelling and leaving off the agenda those things that can not be measured. Is storytelling a dying art form then?
To answer that question, lets have a deeper look at data-driven decision making. Decision making is lying across a broad spectrum. At one end of that spectrum are operational decisions, which are generally highly structured, routine, short-term oriented and increasingly embodied in sophisticated software applications. At the other end of the spectrum are strategic decisions. These are usually taken by high levels of management as they set the long-term directions and policies of a business, government or other organizations. They tend to be complex, and unstructured because of the uncertainty and risks that generally accompany longer term decisions. In between are many kinds of decisions, including non-routine ones in response to new or unforeseen circumstances beyond the scope of operational processes, and tactical decisions dealing with the necessary adjustments required to implement longer term strategies.
Given their structured nature, data analysis have long been applied to automate routine, day-to-day operational decisions, such as logistics and inventory management, personalized marketing offers and recommendations, and fraud detection in financial transactions. Beyond automated operational decisions, however, there are many situations where data alone might not be enough. As an example, strategic decisions aimed at shaping the future by setting the long term directions and policies of an organization, often cannot be ferreted out from the available data. In complex matters, what begins to matter more than mere data is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. When dealing with complexity, “narrative imagining” or storytelling can become a powerful instrument of thought as well as a key communication tool.
As cognitive scientist Mark Turner points out, “most of our experiences, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories”. Narrative helps us make sense of a world that is rapidly changing as it can be focused on the next generation of change, not just an extrapolation of the present. Stories fuel innovation. They hold the power to transform listeners; to take listeners on a journey that changes how they think, feel or act. Stories can elicit emotional connections that make them a very powerful persuasion tool. Studies also show that we are wired to remember stories much more than mere data, facts, and figures. While mere numbers and graphs often kill a presentation’s soul turning into an insomnia relief for the listeners, stories have the power of transforming presented data into knowledge eagerly absorbed by the audience.
Not surprisingly, legendary vizier‘s daughter Scheherazade has chosen the power of storytelling in an effort to save the lives of thousands of women. After 1,001 nights, having been made a wiser and kinder man by Scheherazade and her 1,000 tales, the king not only spared her life, but made her his queen.