Watch: The Danger of Simple Stories

In his TedX talk, economist Tyler Cowen delivers some great insights into the dangers of telling simple stories.

While acknowledging that “to think in terms of stories is entirely human”, Cowen also claims, though not without irony, that every time you tell yourself a simple story “you are lowering your IQ”. That’s of course a too simple story in itself, but I agree that in storytelling it is important to look out for the risk of losing complexity.


Show, don’t tell

One of the universal principles of storytelling is to show, rather than tell, your listeners what it is you have to say. It seems counter-intuitive that in storytelling you’re not supposed to “tell”, but rather “show” your listeners. However, one of the main strengths of a good story is its ability to transport your listeners to a new setting, mood, or mindset: to show them what it is really like.

I came across the ad below on last week, and, as they note, it’s a good example of this principle applied in marketing. The ad takes us through a regular day of a regular person: Jeff. Jeff is, however, also a blind person. Rather than telling us that “it is more difficult for a blind person to navigate traffic than it is for person with perfect vision,” this ad shows us what it is like for Jeff to commute to work. The story — because it’s told from Jeff’s perspective – puts us into his shoes and allows us to experience his reality for ourselves.

The key of showing, rather than telling, also lies with the details: the “sound shadows”, the explanations of how to know when to cross the street, how it gets so much harder to hear traffic in rain are the details that make Jeff’s reality real – to us.

This is also why it resonates when Jeff says “I think television is part of society, right? It’s where we get our information from. It’s where we get our entertainment from. And being able to access that medium on par with everybody else in society is fantastic.” We fully sympathize with his endorsement of the products that the ad is promoting: full-text spoken-word versions of articles and voiced descriptions of action happening on TV.

This aspect of storytelling — to allow your listeners to experience for themselves, rather than just to tell them what it’s like – is naturally one of the reasons why storytelling is such a persuasive tool. What you are able to experience for yourself, even when it’s just through a story, is more real and believable than anything you’re told.

Marketing Talk in Vientiane Retold – and a New Book on the Power of Story

How to make your marketing as successful as that of Nike or HP? That was the premise for my talk on storytelling and marketing at the Laos Business Meeting last night.

To illustrate some of the most important storytelling principles, when talking about storytelling in marketing, I showed Nike’s “Write The Future” commercial. This video was created as part of Nike’s campaign for the World Cup last summer.

In the first week after this commercial was released, it was viewed more than 11 million times on Youtube, and the number of Nike Facebook fans rose from just over 1 million to just over 3 million.

The commercial was (and is) so successful in part because it tells a very compelling story. It effectively grabs our attention, takes us on a journey, and leaves a long-lasting impression.

After the talk, we had an interesting discussion about whether or not the storytelling technique can be successfully applied in a Lao context. I think that we are already seeing some examples of applied storytelling here, and likely it is a phenomenon that will quickly catch on. Storytelling is an age-old form that has brought people together since the beginning of time, and I have no doubt that storytelling will remain a powerful technique, also in Laos.

Which brings me to the next piece of news: A new book, by Peter Guber, on the power of story, was released today. “Tell to Win: Connect, Pursuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story” collates everything that Guber, a Hollywood legend and successful film producer, has learned about storytelling.

In Guber’s view, storytelling is an universal tool:

“In any situation that calls for you to persuade, convince or manage someone or a group of people to do something, the ability to tell a purposeful story will be your secret sauce. Telling to win through purposeful stories is situation, industry, gender, demographic, and psychographic-agnostic.  It’s an all-purpose, everyone wins tool.”

I’ll leave you with this bit of insight on “the secret sauce”, which I predict we’ll see applied more and more here in Laos and Southeast Asia. Drop me a note if you see any good (or not so good) examples that I should know about.