The power of storytelling

During my working life, I have read thousands of pages about marketing and advertising – most of it fascinating, some of it a little disconcerting. But what is currently emerging in this sector is its awakening to the power of storytelling.

The brainpower of some of the cleverest people on the planet, and astronomical sums of money, have been directed towards the dark arts of marketing and advertising. In recent decades, much of this investment has been ploughed into understanding how the brain works: read Nobel Prize-winning Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ to grasp System 1 and System 2 thinking, for example.

And the latest of these neurological findings is that our brains respond best to storytelling. Now who would have thunk it!

We all love and respond to stories. From infancy, we have been exposed to them – through myths, fables, rhymes, ‘fairy stories’. They teach us moral codes, how to interpret the complex world around us. Ancient religious texts, with their parables, understood – even back then – how our brains relate best to stuff like moral guidance. The Mayans had their creation stories: so too the Egyptians, the Hopi. And today, it’s still through storytelling that we make sense of – and indeed shape – our world. Who isn’t touched by Frodo’s courage? By the power of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. By ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. Perhaps in this crazy, 24/7, always on, fast-paced Brave New World, we need stories more than ever.

But in the end, we never needed science to tell us that our brains respond to stories and that we make sense of it all (even our memories) in story form. We knew that already. That’s why we gathered together in caves and listened. Why we read books. Why we watch movies.

So go tell your stories. Go touch hearts and minds. Go change the world!


Liz Sandbach 16/3/2016


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