Monday, October 25, 2010

power of stories and metaphor

Metaphor: understanding one thing in terms of another.

A large part of self-understanding is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of our lives.

Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.

Finding facts wasn’t always so easy. Until recently, much of the world’s data and information was piled on the dusty shelves of physical libraries. And the rest of was housed in proprietary databases that only deep pocketed institutions could afford and well-trained experts could access. But today facts are ubiquitous, nearly free, and available at the speed of light. If you want to find any factoid, you can type a few words into Google, hit RETURN, and look at what appears on the screen a few seconds later. What’s unsurprising today would have seemed preposterous just fifteen years ago: an English-speaking thirteen-year-old in Zaire who’s connected to the Internet can find the current temperature in Brussels or the closing price of IBM stock or the name of Winston Churchill’s second finance minister as quickly and easily as the head librarian at Cambridge University. That’s glorious. But it has enormous consequences for how we work and live, When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable, “What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.

And that is the essence of the aptitude of Story—context enriched by emotion.

Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect. Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else. Story is high touch because stories almost always pack an emotional punch.

In his book Things That Make Us Smart, Don Norman crisply summarizes Story’s high-concept and high-touch essence:

Stories have the felicitous capacity of capturing exactly those elements that formal decision methods leave out. Logic tries to generalize, to strip the decision making from the specific context, to remove it from subjective emotions. Stories capture the context, capture the emotions…Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context, and emotion.

As more people lead lives of abundance, we’ll have a greater opportunity to pursue lives of meaning. And stories—the ones we tell about ourselves, the ones we tell to ourselves—are often the vehicles we use in that pursuit.

- Daniel Pink

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