Storytelling and The Real World

One of the techniques I use with my clients is storytelling. Often this is seen as a good way to understand a business model or come to terms with a team dynamic. But for me the most powerful use of this exercise aligns with one of my core principles.

Creativity Happens Now

Having a strong relationship with creativity means a lot of things. It means applying a playful curiosity to life, expressing an attitude of generosity and selflessness, rejecting blame and promoting an environment of safety and tolerance; tolerance for change, ambiguity and conflict.

But all of these elements fall apart if we lack the presence of mind to apply the right behaviours at the right times. The right response five minutes too late is an empty victory.

This is where storytelling comes in.

The meaning of life

We live in a complex world. Stories are how we make sense of it. That’s why we write literature and tell tales. Stories are the map we use to navigate reality. As we go through our days, stories help us decide what things mean.

Meaning is the point.

Actions are triggered by stimulus. This is how cause and effect works. But humans don’t just respond to stimulus directly in the way that an unconscious substance reacts to another. Humans take information and turn it into meaning and then we respond to that. That’s why the same stimulus creates a different response under different circumstances. A tender kiss on the cheek from a loved one makes us feel good. A tender kiss on the cheek by a stranger on the bus… Not so much.

Meaning is the difference. And since stories help us decide what things mean it follows that more powerful stories help us to discern meaning more rapidly and more accurately when the moment comes.

Tell a better story

By getting better at storytelling we can equip ourselves with a powerful tool for guiding our own attention. If you consistently tell yourself stories, build rich mental models of the world you are moving through, you are more likely to notice things that are out of the ordinary.

Out of the ordinary things are frequently creative opportunities waiting to happen.

Richer stories also prevent a narrowing of focus or what psychologists call Cognitive Tunnelling; when focus narrows and we are unable to see anything but the most obvious information.

Non-obvious information is often the answer to a creative challenge.

Train your own internal narrator

When I was a kid I loved narrators in films and TV. They always knew what was going on and got to make snarky quips while remaining aloof from it all. Come to think of it, that probably explains a lot of my problems! But on the upside it meant that I would frequently imagine myself narrating my own day, telling stories in my head about what I was doing and what I was going to do.

This habit has stayed with me. I often play through conversations I am about to have or build rich scenarios in my head about potential futures. This richness of mental model helps me to notice the unexpected.

So if you think that storytelling is only for marketers, infant school teachers and the mid term planning meeting then I have news for you: storytelling is a tool that you can use every day and that you should use every day.

At Sabre Tooth Panda I offer storytelling workshops as part of the Hard Not Complicated method. Not only does it help solve immediate problems but, as part of a Daily Practice for creativity, storytelling can help us be present in the real world.