Pink begins this chapter by asking two questions: Are American wages expected to shift to low-cost countries, and “Who is the John Henry of the Conceptual Age?” He points out if you missed the first question, that is because you have trouble recalling a fact; whereas if you got the second question right, it’s because the answer is part of a story. Pink goes on to explain that people learn better from stories, and notes that this type of learning has taken place since prehistoric times. Pink says that people tend to view stories as less dependable than facts. He says, “Stories amuse; facts illuminate. Stories divert; facts reveal. Stories are for cover; facts are for real.”
Nonetheless, says Pink, “in the Conceptual Age, minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril.” I’m reminded of how in the past it was difficult to obtain facts for a research project, whereas today, because of the internet, anyone around the world can obtain obscure facts just by pushing a few keys. In this chapter, Pink notes that the ease with which facts can be obtained lessens their value. He believes it’s important “to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact” through a story. The John Henry parable and the Garry Kasparov tale are examples of how the use of story can help readers to understand not just the facts alone, but the circumstances that surrounded the facts, and thus better understand these two characters.
Pink uses those examples to show how “story is high touch because stories almost always pack an emotional punch.” He discusses Joseph Campbell, who pointed out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that all stories tell the same story, that of “the hero’s journey.” All contain the same basic ingredients: Departure, Initiation, and Return. In Departure, “the hero hears a call, refuses it at first, and then crosses the threshold into the new world.” During Initiation, “he faces stiff challenges and stares into the abyss,” but then “transforms and becomes at one with his new self. Then comes the Return, where he becomes “the master of two worlds …”
Stories such as the Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, and Star Wars all follow this story structure.
Story writing is big business in today’s economy, states Pink. It can mean about a trillion dollars a year to the U.S. economy in “persuasive” services, such as advertising, counseling, and consulting. Robert McKee is a Hollywood figure unknown to the rest of the world who plays an important role in creating successful movie stories. About forty thousand people have sought out McKee to improve their craft at story seminars for a fee of $600.00 each. (Do the math.) In the business world, storytelling can be seen in “organizational storytelling.” This process helps business people function better by becoming aware of the stories within their companies, and using them to reach organizational goals.
One of the founders of this movement is Steve Denning. He was once a lawyer in Sydney, Australia, until a World Bank shakeup caused him to be demoted to a department known as “knowledge management.” Denning resented this new position at first, but later came to appreciate the new assignment because he was able to learn “more from trading stories in the cafeteria than he did from reading the bank’s official documents and reports,” notes Pink. Denning said, “Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking. It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds …. Abstract analysis is easier to understand when seen through the lens of a well-chosen story.” Companies such as 3M, NASA, and Xerox are also making use of storytelling to improve their performance.
In the United Kingdom, Richard Oliver directs clients from large companies to “read and act Shakespeare’s plays to elicit lessons in leadership and corporate governance,” Pink states, because, according to Oliver, “successful business people must be able to combine the science of accounting and finance with the art of Story.” Story plays another important role in business by helping to distinguish goods and services from all the others competing for attention in a world of abundance. Pink describes a realtor and a winery that set themselves apart from their competition by telling stories about their products’ histories in their advertising material. The history of a product can help endear it to the a potential buyer.
Storytelling even helps in the world of medicine, notes Pink. With the explosion of medical technology, the patient’s story has often taken a back seat to facts and figures. This is now changing, in part due to the work of Cornell University Medical School professor Dr. Rita Charon. As an internist she discovered much of what she did as a doctor revolved around patients’ stories. She found that “illness itself unfolded as a narrative,” writes Pink. Realizing the potential of storytelling, Charon got a PhD in English and began reforming medical education. In 2001, she published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association “that called for a whole-minded approach to medical care,” notes Pink. In the article, Charon states that medical science alone is not enough to help patients; they also need to be allowed to narrate their histories.
Now second-year medical students at Columbia not only take hard-core science classes, but they also enroll in narrative medicine. The students “learn to listen more empathically to the stories their patients tell,” reports Pink. The R-Directed approach to medicine is increasing. “Fifteen years ago,” according to Pink, “about one out of three American medical schools offered humanities courses. Today, three out of four do.” Pink leaves us with the idea that storytelling is not only beneficial for selling a house or helping a patient, but for most of us, it’s a way to bring forth “a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.”
Ways to Improve Storytelling Write a Mini-Saga 50 words long. Visit a Storytelling Festival. Ask Yourself: “Who are these people?” Create a story about a stranger you see. Play Photo Finish. Use pictures to tell a story.