All stories start with change. Mine came in 2015, when I decided to sell my digital agency of twenty years, and start writing thrillers.
1. The Reality check.
Neurologically speaking, the world we inhabit exists only in our heads. Trapped in darkness, our brains convert endless streams of sensory data into a brilliant simulation of the outside world. Brilliant, but limited …
Cognition is hugely expensive, so our lizard brains prioritise the one thing that brings all opportunity or threat: change. We perceive a thin slice of the world through a simple, lifelong question. “What does this change mean for me?”
And the answer is always a story – a line between this moment (the known) and a future we either fear or desire (the unknown). These tales we tell – whether epic or trivial, conscious or otherwise – constantly plot our path to the future.
2. Evolution wired us for story.
Story is not just the reality we perceive, it’s the thing our brains hunger for. Psychologists and neuroscientists have shown how evolution has primed us for narrative.
Stories pull us in whether we wish it or not. Research by Zak, Hassan and others has shown how they ‘transport’ us to the narrative world, trigger cocktails of neurochemicals and synchronise brain activity.
Why does evolution offer us so little defence against this influence? Because stories deliver an unbeatable survival advantage…
In ancient times, our ancestors gathered at night to ‘tell the hunt’. This was not for fun. Just as their bodies hungered for food, their brains yearned to understand (and survive) the complex world around them.
We are no different. Stories are ‘flight simulators’ for the mind. Through them we can learn about the world, experience risk without danger and action without consequence. That’s huge.
Normally, I lose a pen about every seven minutes… but NOT this one. Why?Because on the 28th of September 2020, I wrote my Dad’s last birthday card with it. Four days later, he died.
It’s still the same pen, but I am powerless in the face of the association. (Perhaps you feel the merest shadow, even through this website.)
The simple lesson?
Meaning shapes reality, and stories shape meaning.
For us, our clients, our colleagues and our prospects. Stories mean business.
So what should we want to be?
3. What happens next?
If you study anything deeply enough, you start to see it’s patterns. I’ve been in business for 25 years, and a copywriter longer than that. But by the time I’d published my third thriller, the truth was obvious. The leaders, brands and businesses we love, tell better stories.
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