May 11, 2015
There is plenty of objective data about good stories (they have structure, character, plot) but not much advice on how to develop your talent for finding storytelling gold. You know it when you see (feel, hear, taste, touch, smell) it. But how do you find it? Can we build some kind of divining rod that leads straight to storytelling gold?
Storytelling gold changes how we feel about facts we can’t change. For instance, Paulo Coehlo’s book The Alchemist demonstrates how a simple fable can deliver the inspirational gold that changes a reader’s point of view and emotional perspective. Obstacles suddenly feel like golden opportunities. Coehlo’s allegory leads readers to think of their personal trials, risks, and dreams. Meaningful symbols speak to the imagination in ways that eclipse literal interpretation. Paulo Coehlo has given this story away for free and still The Alchemist has sold over 150 million copies, continuing on the NY Times bestseller list for over 25 years. Literary critics could (and did) criticize the structure and style of The Alchemist, but judging by its impact, it is still pure storytelling gold.
Not all stories deliver a 150,000,000:1 return on investment. It takes more than a plot, character, and narrative arc to deliver storytelling gold. Consider the massively successful storyline used in 2012 Australian public service announcement: “Dumb Ways to Die.” I doubt the Melbourne Metro Train team used criteria like: “stories have a beginning, middle, and end” to find this story. It is far more subjective than that. Which is to say that objective thinking isn’t terribly helpful for finding storytelling gold. Particularly when we assume subjective thinking doesn’t make sense and is too …subjective to describe. It may be variable and inconsistent but there are patterns to the logic of emotion and perception. If you want to improve your subjective thinking talents, you can. In fact, it may be your best investment for improving your ability to find storytelling gold.
Stories play out in the imagination – a magic place that does not follow the rules of objective thinking. We aren’t rewarded for “subjective thinking” in school. On the contrary, we are encouraged to blind ourselves to emotional behavior with rational reasons rather than confessing, “I just did/didn’t feel like it.” For most executives, there is a lot of room to improve how well you understand feelings and contextual reasoning. Try these steps: