Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Relevance and the Power of Story

I recently finished a project trying to discover what principles comprise effective communication. One of those principles was relevant application. During an interaction with my mom, she said, "A good preacher makes meaningful statements that awe his listeners; an exceptional preacher makes statements meaningful which inspire his listeners. It is a matter of how far the action goes. Does it end at the ear during the service or does it soak into the heart, mind, and soul of the listener? Is it taken out into daily life for reference, decision making, and personal commitment?”

One of the things the Heath brothers talk about in Made to Stick is an idea’s concreteness, which is application to life. “We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. In proverbs, abstract truths are encoded in concrete language. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’”

One tool is storytelling. For example, firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire and by doing so they multiply their experience both for themselves and others. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing listeners to respond in daily life. Stories can almost defeat what the Heath brothers call the curse of knowledge. Knowledge has cursed us. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Stories help transfer our knowledge to others because it is difficult to re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

Stories are not neutral. The stories we hear change the way we see life. Stories teach us what is worth pursuing, what is worth living for, and what is worth sacrificing for. For example, if a person wants a boat and is willing to work overtime to get it, then the moral of the story is we work hard and some day you will get a boat. It is not a bad story, but it is not a good one, either.

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