The most powerful tool you’ll ever use is storytelling. That’s it. Done. You don’t need to read on.
If you’re still reading, you probably agree and appreciate validation or you disagree and want to find flaws in my reasoning. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of both.
Wikipedia defines storytelling as “the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment.” Although it seems intuitive when pointed out, it’s insightful to observe that storytelling happens across cultures. In fact, “humans [inherently] think in narrative structures and most often remember facts in story form.” Have you ever noticed how often and how naturally we use story-like analogies to explain complex situations? Or how people binge-watch their favorite TV shows?
The problem with Wikipedia’s definition of storytelling is that it only states what it is and misses what it does. Stories are used for a variety of purposes. They entertain. They inform. They create bonds. They can be applied for the purposes of good or evil, but they always have a purpose and are most effective when carefully crafted to achieve that purpose.
Stories are incredibly powerful. Every startup that has ever been funded, has received its funding because of a story. Sometimes it’s the story the entrepreneur tells and sometimes it’s the story the investors tell themselves. Either way, an investor who’s willing to commit a significant amount of money to an extremely risky endeavor believes that a series of events that hasn’t happened yet is going to happen, and result in a happy ending.
Stories even have remarkable effects on the course of world-history. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States based on a powerful story that millions of Americans believed in; the idea that the American dream still exists and that no matter who we are, we can achieve it. This story wasn’t accidental and neither was the success of the campaign.
Any time we interact with others, all the complexities of these interactions emerge. Every day, we repeatedly face the need to influence others. We have to convince people to join our team, we have to convince people to use (and pay for) our products/services, we have to convince people at other companies to partner with us.
And the best way to convince people? By telling great stories, of course!
So, how do great stories come into existence? The short answer is that great stories are intentional and carefully crafted. Think of storytelling as an art that can be enhanced by science. Art, or instinct, places constraints on a world of infinite dimension, making it conceptually manageable. Art “solves” the blank canvas. Then, once we have some idea as to what we want to paint, we can leverage science to optimize the layout and colors for maximum effect.
When we take control of our story and design it to deliver information in a convincing and compelling way, we win the hearts and minds of others. And we take a big step toward achieving our grand vision.
All of this is not to say that telling a great story is easy or that success is guaranteed. It actually takes a lot of effort. However, the most incredible thing about storytelling is that it’s a learned skill. Think of it as a super-power you can gain without being bitten by a radioactive spider.
If you want to accomplish great things, start by learning how to tell a great story.