Narrative Intelligence - what is your story?

18 Jun 2012


Billy ConnollyBilly Connolly has been one of Britain’s most popular comedians since turning to comedy in the 1970s. His success was largely down to his engaging style of telling stories about his life growing up in Glasgow. People were able to relate to these stories and shared the humour he found in relatively normal situations. Billy is a great example of someone using the power of story telling to forge an emotional bond with the people that follow him and this has allowed him to enjoy great success in his field. 

In the 1980s Bob Geldof used a similar technique with Live Aid to change the face of raising money for charity. The Live Aid concert was arranged with appearances from many of the leading singers and groups of the day with the aim of raising as much money as possible to help the starving in Africa. To help emphasise the need to raise money, video footage was used to tell the story of how hard life was for people in the affected regions. Every time a video was shown the phone lines were red hot with people calling in to make a donation. People were watching the videos, an emotional connection was formed and people could see how their contribution could have a direct impact on the lives of people that were suffering.

John LewisOne of the most successful adverts in the last 12 months was the John Lewis advert used in the run up to Christmas with a little boy looking forward excitedly to Christmas, with the punch line that he was so excited about Christmas, not because he would be receiving presents, but that he would finally be able to give his Mum and Dad the present he had for them.

The reason that these methods have proved successful is that we think in stories, we dream in stories, we plan in stories and many of our emotions are invested in these stories. As children we are told stories at home and at school to help explain the things we need to learn. 

Historically knowledge has been passed down through the generations in the form of myths and legends and this art of “narrative intelligence” is being adopted by many of today’s successful leaders to help inspire change, explain what they stand for as people, the values that they live by and the vision they have for the organisation. Sharing stories about their experiences, their hopes and fears allows people to identify with the story teller and the message they have. 

As Leaders, managers and coaches it is important for us to build relationships with others and the effective use of stories to illustrate our points and messages is a critical factor in this process. Studies have shown that stories are far more effective at persuading than analytical reasons, with further studies in social psychology showing that information is more accurately remembered when it is presented in story form. 

If you think about the Leaders and Managers who have had the most positive impact on you, how did they use stories to further your understanding of situations? 

What kind of stories did they tell which gave you an insight into what was important to them?

How can you use stories to help people understand you and your message better?

For more reading on this subject: The Secret Language of Leadership: Stephen Denning