My brother-in-law loves to call me a nuclear scientist. And while I'd like to claim that level of intelligence, it's really because the industry I'm in can be daunting to those who don't play with data for a living.
I have a peer (Robert Allison) who is a great storyteller and I use his examples frequently when explaining how data can improve the quality of life. He uses stories to answer life's questions and includes evidence-based data to support those narratives. Robert's work and designs help SAS customers uncover answers to questions they have about their own data. By using a story technique he's removed the complexity of a subject (working with data) and made it easy to understand.
This past Halloween Robert penned something for SAS' Learning Post blog called Superman -vs- Batman ... Halloween smackdown! His comparison was something most of us could relate to which gave him the opportunity to teach us a new way of looking at data. The complexity of data is removed and used merely as the supportive element to show results of his whimsical storyline. While we all know Batman is the rock star of Halloween costumes, he gifted us the evidence and a fun narrative to share with friends. More importantly, his use of superheroes inserted a human factor that data doesn't have on its own.
Data analytics isn't the only field with complex theories that benefit from the use of story. By communicating a message through a narrative you're humanizing the message and therefore creating connection points, enabling teaching moments and removing the complexity that often finds your message lost in translation.
Let's dig a little deeper into these three benefits:
1. Stories create a connection point. Finding common ground isn't always easy. Reality is, you can't get someone to understand you until you understand them. When asked what I do for a living my automatic response is to ask a question (or two) about them. I try and find a link between what I do and how they would use it. I take that link and tell a story in order to help them understand the world of data and stories and why storytelling has such an impact on us.
The benefit? Stories create connections once you find links between your audience and your subject.
2. Stories enable teaching moments. How intimidating can it be to do something you've never done with no instructions? Very! Now imagine someone delivering the instructions in story format that's relatable and easy to follow? Better, right? Robert used his superheroes narrative to show us how to compare data sets. YouTube's popularity speaks to our need for story. We turn to its video narratives when we want to learn something new like: play piano, change a tire, apply false eyelashes, install a garage door or remove popcorn ceilings. These stories inspire us, empower us and motivate us to try it ourselves.
The benefit? There is no end to what we can learn when people share their stories.
3. Stories remove complexity. A popular technique for removing complexity is the use of metaphors. They also eliminate barriers and perceptions while breaking a message down to everyday language. Metaphors put things into context. My boss is well-known for her use of metaphors. Whether delivering a keynote at a conference or writing for sites like CIO.com, she nails it. Ask her to explain data as a corporate asset and she's likely to respond with, "Data is to a company what trucks are to UPS. The fleet is an asset without which UPS can't do business. Data is an asset without which a company can't succeed with analytics."
The benefit? Done right, metaphors will spark instant understanding no matter how complex the subject is.
When do you find a story helps your message from getting lost in translation?