Storytelling as a Key to Your Future
Daniel Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, describes the past centuries as the Agricultural Age (18th century), Industrial Age (19th century), and the Information Age (20th Century). He points out that already, not only the factory jobs, but millions of knowledge jobs such as computer programming and accounting are being done for American companies in places like China, India, the Philippines, and other places where, for highly trained people, salaries are very low. Americans who believe they can reverse this trend are not being realistic.
Pink goes on to describe our time, the 21st century.
The keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind — creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. There people — artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers — will now reap society’s riches rewards and share its greatest joys. p. 1.
The question, at this point, is “What does Pink mean by Storytellers?” I don’t think he pictures Brother Blue telling stories in the parks in Boston. I don’t think he anticipates a bigger market for the romance writers, adventure writers, and mystery writers. He is pointing to a different kind of story. The young man making the presentation in the picture has taken masses of data and created a story about his company’s future. We all need a story to keep going.
When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpoint to rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability to fashion a compelling narrative. pp. 65-66
The first areas that come to mind are teaching and public speaking. As a teacher, I sometimes closed my textbook, sat comfortably on the edge of my desk, and said “Let me tell you a story… ” I sometimes even began with the magic words that make us all anticipate a wonderful story: “Once upon a time…” My stories were often about famous scientists, but since it was a story, my students listened eagerly. They knew that there would be an interesting character who encountered problems and finally did something that made them famous and changed the world.
Facts can be boring. Stories are exciting.
When you think of public speakers as politicians, preachers and others, how can define what makes some dull and others great? A poor speaker may throw in a few jokes, usually unrelated to the topic. Great speakers can change lives. They might tell stories from their own experience or stories of others but, when the stories they tell speak deeply about our own experience, we sense that we are hearing one of the great speakers.
But this has been true about teachers and public speakers for many years, even centuries. What is different about storytelling in our time?
Think about the area of advertising. The old style commercials featured a spokesman who told us we should buy from this or that company. They explained why their hamburger was better than the other company’s hamburger. More and more in recent years, commercials are like super-short movies. There are characters and a brief plot. We might see a happy family. They have something to celebrate and where do they go? To the hamburger place (take your choice here.) They want you to feel that family’s happiness and imagine how happy you will feel when you take your family to the same hamburger place. I call these the” happy family” stories.
There are also mini-romances. Advertising prescription drugs that will make an impotent man suddenly be as virile as a teenager, we see happy couples look into each other’s eyes. The setting changes around them to a more romantic spot. We know what wonderful event is about to take place. Supposedly, we could be just like that happy couple.
Tiny adventure stories show some special car that is able to drive up rocky mountain roads and across streams to some place of great adventure.
For horror stories, there are drivers who suddenly come upon an accident in the road. Thank goodness they can stop in time because of good brakes, good tires, or a car that senses danger ahead. Other stories show families with a certain alarm system in their home. As the dangerous criminal begins to break in, the alarm goes off and the terrified mother and child rush to a safe place. The phone rings and the home protection man asks, “Are you all right?” He promises that someone will be there soon to help.
If you can create stories that encourage people to buy a certain product, you have a future in advertising.
What about other areas? Our newspapers and television don’t simply “report the facts.” They report on interesting stories in the news. Readers want to know who these characters are, both the victims and person who committed this terrible crime. What was the poor victim planning to do in her life? Did she have children? What do the neighbors say about the victim or the criminal? What about his parents? Did they realize he could be so violent.? Was there any way this tragedy could have been prevented?
Consider the television shows. It isn’t enough to show how to plan your landscaping and demonstrate how to create a beautiful garden. Instead they introduce the family who lives in the house that needs landscaping. We see how excited they are about their new garden.
It isn’t enough to explain how to redecorate a room in your home. We need to meet the people who live there and watch as they select colors and as they or their consultant goes from store to store looking for the right sofa or lamp. We communicate practical information with stories.
Pink quotes Alan Kay at Hewlett-Packard.
“Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom… and we’re all hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” p. 114.
Stories about what? These business executives have overwhelming amounts of information. They need someone who can pull it all together and interpret it in a meaningful way. Leaders can tell stories of their past, what they did wrong and what they did right. They can also tell stories about the future.
In fact, this is what Pink has done. He has summarized the work of the past several centuries with memorable images: the farmers, the factory workers, and the knowledge workers. Now, based on what he has observed, he is describing our future. Daniel Pink may not be writing fiction but clearly he is a storyteller. His stories may make a difference to those who listen. His stories may help you select a major and consider a future career that is right for our time.
Human beings are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories. — Roger C. Schank, quoted in Daniel Pink, p. 114