Data is not fact and fact is often just a hypothesis anyway.We humans design how data is created and we humans are the ones who interpret data and draw conclusions from it.Therefore, data will always be inherently fallible – Gerry McGovernMany of our organisations attempt to illustrate the achievement of their purpose through data and the production of statistics.We sell this many products, or save that many lives or house this many people.Then we wonder why the public doesn’t understand what we do, or why the people who work for us have become disengaged from our purpose.Despite living in a time where entire industries are being disrupted through stories , we still put our faith in statistics.Because it’s better to convey our message with simple facts right?
Beginning with a change or provocation Asking a dramatic or interesting question Crafting an ending that attempts to create some meaningFortunately this isn’t a skill only attainable by a few of us – all of us are good storytellers.Storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a very young age. As human beings, we know that stories are what life is made of, but when we get up in the morning and go to work, we seem to forget this.In modern organisations storytelling should not only reside on the organisational level, it should permeate the whole system. It’s no longer the preserve of comms teams. In fact I’d suggest that if it’s your comms team who is telling the story , you have a problem.If everybody feeds the story then the story feeds the people. Perhaps every employee should be encouraged to write one blog or post one video every month, encouraging us all to share stories?This isn’t time wasted. Stories help us persuade people to take action.We can all become better storytellers , and through that help our organisations become better and achieve our purpose.Show me the data? Actually, don’t.The story is the change.The power is in the story first, the statistic second.Related: How To Avoid Corporate Initiativitis
The problem is, data isn’t simple or neutral or even factual. The best data needs explanatory stories. The human mind is a story processor, and to understand something is to know a good story about it.The astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson was reminded of this lesson last week after tweeting that more people die in everyday circumstances like medical errors than in mass shootings.As he noted in his Facebook apology , his intention to point out that more common, but milder causes of death trigger less response from us than events like mass shootings wasn’t welcome when there was another, more compelling story trending.Telling the story through data alone, factually correct or not, doesn’t always win us fans.I’ve been reading The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr. In it he shows how novelists answer the challenge of “grabbing and keeping the attention of other people’s brains”.I was struck by his point that most successful stories begin with a moment of change. In fact, all stories are change. These changeful moments. or the threat of change, are so important that they always appear in the first few sentences. His examples show that authors as diverse as J.K Rowling, Albert Camus and Karl Marx all use the same technique.It’s because they know that we find change interesting – it forces us to listen, and it forces us to act.