When strategy meets empathy – the power of a good story

Every team needs a good story, not just a good strategy. Here’s why our brains are addicted to telling tales.

The benefits of creative narrative go far beyond bedtime reading, and into neurologically bonded collaboration. Before embarking on a project, we write the story of what we’re trying to achieve.

Start at the beginning

A good story isn’t measured by how accurately it recounts the facts. People say that stories need a beginning, a middle and an end, but they should also be more than just a sequence of events, no matter how exact.

“Our hero is given a ring. He walks a very long way, then throws it into a volcano.”

A good storyteller knows how to add lustre to the facts. They put flesh on the bones and bring the characters to life. This doesn’t alter the events; the facts remain the same. Only now, they draw the listener in.

“…Deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again.”

None of this additional colour is strictly necessary. But when it makes the difference between a captivating tale and a list of ‘things that happened’, it becomes essential for success.

Often we forget to apply the same care and attention when talking about our work.

When communicating complex ideas and strategies, the default behaviour is often to focus solely on the facts. But what if the facts alone somehow miss the point?

The plot thickens

Princeton based neuroscientist Uri Hassan conducted a study of people’s brains while they listened to others. When told a fact, the corresponding part of the human brain lights up – it might be the center for remembering numbers, or interpreting instruction. The activity is very specific.

But when listening to a story, the entirety of their brain lights up as it follows the narrative from start to finish. The whole thing.

What’s more, when the story is told particularly well, the activity in the listener’s brain exactly mirrors the patterns in the storyteller’s brain. For the duration of the tale, the teller and listener have identical brains – neurologically speaking, they are thinking as one.

The power of this empathic unity is precisely why stories have been told for centuries. And I believe there is a valuable learning here for leaders of any team.

And the moral of the story is

At Brilliant Noise, we like to begin every creative project by establishing a creative platform; a story that we can all connect with. We consider the goals of the work, the business objectives of the client and the customer’s needs – distilling all of this into simple, emotive language.

Creative platforms are there to describe the work we do, but only to a certain extent. More importantly, they describe the human impact of our work.

We produced one creative platform for a packaging manufacturer that told the story of a common consumer dilemma; the desire to do the right thing for both family and the environment. Our narrative casts the brand as a way to take care of what’s good in life; with nutritious food to keep your family healthy, in an environmentally responsible package.

Another creative platform we created for a suicide prevention charity reframed the training they provide as real talk – something simple, honest and bold in the face of a very serious issue. Some of the language within this story is now being rolled out as public facing content; literally helping the charity to connect with their audience on a deeper level.

Our creative platforms are how we tell stories to our colleagues, our clients and – (plot twist!) to ourselves. They go beyond the sticky detail of what the work is, and get to the beating heart of what the work might mean… even if we need to spin a yarn to get to the truth of it.

Read more about our work or if you have your own story to share you can drop us a line.