If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. – Rudyard Kipling
Mr. Kipling was spot on when he said that. For thousands of years, the human race has relied on stories to pass on facts, concepts, information and wisdom from one generation to the next. You can see examples of this everywhere — from cave paintings, Aesop’s fables, Jataka Tales to the works of fifth-century Chinese philosophers. They have all made use of parables/stories and their pictorial representations to pass on whatever they had learnt.
Many people retain some of their work-related knowledge as stories. They use stories to understand what is happening around them. Remember this – Stories are not always works of fiction.
Many technicians and mechanics remember ‘stories’ of previous repairs as they diagnose and repair malfunctioning machinery. Doctors recall and discuss case studies and their experience with other patients to get better at diagnosis and treatment.
How does it work?
1. When you listen to a story, both sides of the brain are working. The left brain is processing the words while the right brain is actively filling in the gaps.
2. The information in the story is captured as the brain searches for a deeper meaning.
3. The brain processes the information unconsciously and develops relationships and patterns.
4. The story is then reformulated to have personal relevance. At this stage, it can cause an unconscious change in behavior or even result in an “A-ha, that explains it” reaction.
Researchers working with brain scans suggest that people build vivid mental simulations of narrative situations. You can read more about it here.
Stories are about sharing knowledge, not simply about entertainment. It is their ability to share ideas that make them so critical. They can be one of the most powerful learning tools available, yet we seem to have missed out on that opportunity. Storytelling can help us transform almost every aspect of the business environment, from strategic planning to driving change in the organization.
Every good trainer or teacher knows the value of putting key messages in a context that learners can understand. We need to apply the technique of framing a message in an understandable and concrete context for learners. A familiar context gives meaning to the story and allows conclusions to be drawn for real-life application. With proper questions, learners can imagine how the lessons learned from the stories can be applied on a day-to-day basis.
In my previous job as an Insurance Sales Trainer, the toughest challenge that I faced was to convince my trainees about the importance of the ethical selling of life insurance. Over the course of time I realized that, telling my trainees about real-life stories of people whose lives had been impacted by unethical selling was far more effective than sermonizing or talking about company policies.
Scenario-based courses and Simulation-based learning can help the learners apply knowledge in the context of the story and consequently to real life situations at hand. Stories are an important part of our past and will be an important part of our future. They will help us generate ideas, share them and learn from those ideas.
Perhaps it’s time for us to take stories a little more seriously. After all, it’s easier to recall stories than facts!