Stories

In their novel, Made to Stick, brothers Chip and Dan Heath dedicate the final letter of the SUCCESs acronym to “Stories”. Although stories are typically associated with entertainment (movies, books, bedtime stories, etc.), Chip and Dan make the argument that being in the “audience” isn’t as passive of a role as what one might think.

While a credible idea makes people believe and an emotional idea makes people care, the emphasis of this chapter is the power of stories to make people act. That power comes from simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).

A teaching clinic held by Indiana University demonstrates the effectiveness of mental simulation. Many professors aren’t sure how to handle distracting students in their class. The first example given to the teachers had bulleted points such as “remain calm”, “don’t become defensive”, and other common-sense tips that weren’t very helpful. The second resource detailed a professor’s experience with a disagreeable student. By simulating the process of dealing with the problem student, the other teachers could follow along and work their way through the problem as well. This kind of mental simulation is much more useful and effective at teaching than a list of bullet points, and even has problem-solving benefits to everyday challenges. Imagining a potential argument with one’s boss may lead us to have the right words available when the time comes. Mental practice alone, the act of picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish, was proven to have enhanced performance in physical tasks such as throwing darts and playing the trombone.

Stories also serve as an inspiration to others, motivating them to act. A college student named Jared had a serious weight problem, weighing 425 pounds. By creating his own “Subway diet”, he managed to drop 100 pounds in three months by eating the new line of healthy sandwiches.  Subway ran Jared’s story and quickly became headline news, increasing their quarterly sales and beating out their competition. This is an example of a “Challenge Plot”, which are inspiring by appealing to perseverance over a seemingly daunting challenge. Other types of stories include the “Connection Plot”, such as romance novels and tales about good Samaritans, focus on relationships with other people. These stories inspire us in social ways to help and be more tolerant of others. The last is the “Creativity Plot”, which promotes us to experiment with new approaches and to innovate. It is important to know your audience when deciding which type of story to tell. For example, the challenge plot is best during a kickoff party for a new project, whereas connection plots are better at a company Christmas party.

It is fitting that this is the last letter of the SUCCESs acronym because stories naturally embody most of the SUCCESs framework. Stories have the dual power to inform and to inspire. However, it is not enough to tell a great story, it must reflect the point you are trying to get across. I can see Stories as an effective way to disseminate the gravity of our project’s findings to our surrounding Duke and Durham community. In the words of Chip and Dan, “Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge”. We’ve seen the recurring theme throughout the novel of how raw numbers and statistics fail to incite emotion and action from people. What do you think? Is it more important that we share unbiased, factual information in a presentation? Leave your thoughts below!

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