The Stories that are You

This is part of a thread on building narrative. In the first two posts, I talked about how comedians create narrative opportunities. In this thread, I will contrast two opposing perspectives: proof versus adventure.

I first started thinking about story telling back in the 1980’s when I was a young lawyer. I was sent to a day long seminar on how to create more persuasive argument. The presenter — a guy who was famous among lawyers back then — said that the answer is simple. Lawyers think that argument sells stories. It is the other way around. Stories sell argument. If you can learn how to place your argument in the context of a story, you are 99% there.

For a guy who had spent years learning how to master arcane aspects of legal argument, this sounded too simple. But guess what. It worked. The power of the story helped me find success in my legal writing. The reason was that I stopped trying to prove I was correct. Instead, I started framing a story to create a perspective on what was happening. I started asking what facts frame the adventure.

But stories are not just relevant in law. We find ourselves in situations nearly every day where we need to persuade folks of something or other. Each time, we succeed or fail based on how well we connect to shared stories. Yet, we don’t think much about how well we do this. Odd.

And stories are not just relevant in persuasion. At a deeper level, all of our institutions are nothing more than stories in motion. This is what James Altucher argues in a nice article today.

The absolute best companies are always built around a vision — a story of what the future looks like.

It sounds so simple. How could things reduce to such a simple idea? And yet, story telling is at the core of what makes us human. Unlike any other species, we share stories and we believe in stories to guide our loyalties and passions. We need them in order to live in cooperation with people who we don’t know personally. And we do well to understand how to listen for great stories and to tell them in order to be part of the great 21st century adventure.

So where to start? Back to the drawing board to ask what kinds of stories are you part of?  What kinds of stories do you create?

At the most basic level, I can honestly say that I have met two types of person in my life. One type tells a very boring story. Stripped to the essentials, that story is about proving that his or her knowledge and experience is correct. That they know better than you do. These folks rely on their expertise and are confined by it. This is what I call a “demonstration” type of story.

The other type tells a more interesting story. That story is about how he or she found out something new in a given situation. What they found out is not an ultimate answer, but it opens up questions about how to go forward. They tell what I call an “adventure” type of story.

So which type are you?


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