Where do stories come from?

A common question is “Where do you get your stories from”. The simple answer is it’s just stuff that happens. Anything that happens to you can be turned into a useful story, it’s just a question of how you look at it, how you tease out the tacit messages and the metaphors in a series of events to fit a particular context.

So the story I tell in this video is based on a very simple event that lasted for less than half an hour. It involves two characters and is something that could happen to anyone. Yet this is a story that has been incredibly useful in at least three different contexts.

I’ve told the same story: in a therapeutic context, as a metaphor in trance; in social situations as a fun, entertaining, anecdote that demonstrates my values; and as a teaching tale for children.

When you’ve listened to the story have a think about how you would use it in those different contexts. Which parts would you elaborate on? What is the underlying metaphor? What other well-known stories is this story like? What does this story tell you about the kind of person I am? What does it tell you about my values?

Using stories to overcome fear

One of the most useful ways you can use stories in a business or personal context is to overcome peoples fear of change.

In the context of change, we can identify three stages.

1) The current situation

2) The change process

3) The desired end result.

Both the change process and the end result can be a source of fear.

People generally are more often than not, change-averse. We are “homeostasis” machines, that is from the cellular level upwards, we are designed to maintain our current state … as long as that is generally beneficial for our survival.

The trouble is, often, people get “stuck in their ways” and find it difficult to summon up the energy needed to move, even if that new place will be better for them.

One of the ways we can help this is through the use of metaphor and story. This is also relevant for teachers and helps them to bring a story to the class.

The trick here is to find a situation that is “the same as” the process of change your audience will be going through, that is already familiar to them.

Peter Gubber in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Using Stories to Overcome Fear” gives an example from his days as CEO of Sony Pictures. In those days cinemas typically just had one screen. He believed that there was a market for Multiplexes but the additional investment involved in building multiscreen cinemas was a huge disincentive at the time.

He chose to compare the cinema experience with the dining out experience. If I traditional cinema was like a restaurant, then a multiplex would be like a food court (a place where there are lots of restaurants around a central seating area). Because people were already familiar with food courts they could immediately carry over their familiarity with the benefits and opportunities that these provided.

The result, as you will have noticed, is that now, multiplexes are everywhere. Who would have guessed that all of those came about because one guy told a simple story? What a positive learning impact this can have!