Small stories pack a big punch

2018-09-11T17:46:23+00:00September 11th, 2018|

One of the joys of having a child studying film and Spanish at university is the degree to which he teaches me things about my work! His passion is more towards movies than language (as is mine) so we find common ground when it comes to telling a good story.

Take the concept of Chekhov’s Gun for example – that every element of a story should contribute to the whole. So, when the camera lingers on a wall-mounted rifle in the first act of a film, you can reasonably expect the weapon to play a significant role towards the end of the story.

That’s a useful principle to apply to business presentations; remove anything that doesn’t need to be there (less is more).

The other thing we talk about is the way big issues are explained through individual stories. Spike Lee’s recent film BlacKkKlansman tells the story of an African-American police officer infiltrating the ranks of the Klu Klux Klan in 1970’s Colorado. It’s a micro story which highlights powerfully the broader civil rights struggle.

Similarly, Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series stirred the public consciousness around the issue of plastic waste in our oceans. We already knew it was a problem, but when you see an individual turtle with a plastic bag in its mouth or a dolphin swimming in a pool of detritus it hits us like a sledgehammer. It’s visceral and it makes us care more.

In the workplace we tend to rely too much on logic and abstract argument. We’ll show graphs displaying numbers, flow charts describing a process, bullet lists of actions and outcomes. It’s informative, but leaves us cold.

It’s standard business language, risk-free and comfortable. It informs but it doesn’t move.

These things play an important role, showing the overall picture and a framework through which to understand the issue, the change strategy and future expectations. This appeals to our cognitive brain.

But it’s the story of Irene who can no longer get to bingo because of budget cuts, of the polar bear and her cubs who are losing their habitat because of rising sea levels, of the boy who is bullied at school but gets a break through an apprenticeship scheme – these are the micro stories which go to our hearts.

It’s the head-heart mix (in varying proportions for different situations) which informs, inspires and persuades.