Why tell stories?

Storytelling is human.

It is deeply rooted in human nature and as old as mankind itself. 

A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence

Every culture has started with an oral tradition that precedes the written account of events and traditions. Even today we can find indigenous people who strongly rely on stories to pass on important aspects of their culture.

For example, if we look at the Australian aboriginals we find songs about rites of passage, fertility and death. The leaders of these rituals have great prestige in his or her community which comes through control of knowledge and the forms in which knowledge is encoded.

Those stories are a kind of commodity for the Aboriginals. They travelled great distances to other communities to learn new stories, for which they almost certainly paid in various trade goods.

Humans are storytelling organisms that both individually and socially, lead storied lives. So to answer the question ‘why tell stories’, it would be very strange and even unnatural to not tell stories.

Stories about what?

Myths, epics and fairytales were passed on by storytelling for generations. A story helps to remember things. It encourages feelings of belonging.

We tells stories about the groups we belong to: our religion, our country, our families, the sport teams or music bands we are fans of. We also have stories about ourselves, about who we are and what we believe in. Narrative helps us to make sense of our selves. One way we understand ourselves is by narrating ourselves, telling ourselves stories in which we figure as prominent characters.

But narrative is not the work of poets, dramatists and novelists reflecting upon events which had no narrative order before one was imposed by an artist; narrative form is neither disguise nor decoration. Stories are lived before they are told.

We also tell stories about the organizations we work for. About ourselves as employees and client service or support staff. About what our organization means for our clients and for society.

Two types of business storytelling

One type of storytelling starts from the brand image that we want to sculpt. Storytelling has been a buzzword in marketing for some time now. This is no coincidence. A story is a very powerful way of getting a message through. The audience can be existing and prospect customers or employees in the case of employer branding.

Another type of storytelling, is data storytelling. Here you start from the information that emerges from the operational systems you use to support your business. For example the sales data and gross margin data that is coming in from your transactional or financial software.

A first step is to extract this data and transform it in a format that allows you to discover trends and attention points. In technical terms this is usually done in a data warehouse. The next step is to visualize this information in a dashboard so that the business discovery becomes more flexible and intuitive.

Dashboarding software allows you to follow your train of thought in the analysis. In-memory analytics tools are quick enough to support this associative interaction with your data. In this type of storytelling, you can back up your claims with the actual numbers, making it an even more powerful way of getting information across.

In a next post we will follow up with our view on the implications of the use of technology for storytelling.

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