Creating inspiration with story

Rembrandt, old woman reading

In a time of change people are likely to be feeling confused, uncertain, and even afraid.

So the best way to get them to try something new is by inspiring them.

And the best way to do that is with story.

Human beings are hard-wired for stories. We connect with them, engage with them, and remember them in ways that simply don’t happen when we receive the same information in other forms.

Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson has discovered that,

“Story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.”

More than this, when facts and emotions are combined into a story they create meaning. And as screenwriting guru Robert McKee explains,

“When an idea wraps itself around an emotional charge, it becomes all the more powerful, all the more profound, all the more memorable… In short, a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.”

Story is the best way to deliver a vision that your stakeholders or audience will find so meaningful and inspiring that they adopt it as their own. They will want to make your vision happen because it will become their vision.

Let’s look at an example.

Let’s invent one deliberately dull and boring sentence for each of the seven building blocks of an inspiring vision:

  • Speak with your own authentic voice
  • Make it relevant for your audience
  • Show there is a problem
  • Define the future state you want to create
  • Relate your message to higher principles, values, or ideals
  • Define the needed steps and show that they are achievable
  • Let people make up their own minds but make sure they choose

Let’s make sure each sentence on its own is tediously dull.

Then if we combine them into a story, something amazing happens:

“We are facing a difficult situation, unlike anything we have experienced before. But we come from a long line of people who have faced difficult situations and overcome them. We can’t stay as we are, or go back to where we were: we have to move forward. If we go in the direction I am suggesting then we have the opportunity to build something very special together. Following this path will uphold the very principles we stand for. We already have all the tools and resources we need. The only question is, are you willing to step up and play your part for those who will come after?”

Any of these sentences on its own is dull, flat, and lifeless. But like your mother’s cooking or the recipe for gunpowder, if we take these simple ingredients and combine them in the right amounts and the right order they transform into something greater than the sum of its parts, something inspiring.

Story is the best way to combine fact and emotion so that you and other people will feel inspired to want to make your project happen. And if it works only slightly with the deliberately boring example above, then you can create something better.

What is the story you are currently telling yourself and the people around you about where you are going, why, and how you are going to get there? What would happen if you made that story more inspiring?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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