Q: How do stories make us human? And what does this mean for the decision-maker?
A: Plotlines can help change the brain when "a person is curious, is predicting what will happen next and is emotionally engaged." What David Eagleman wrote in quotes I've been saying for decades.
You might agree that the way to take anything seriously is to care about it. Likewise, to get the listener to care about your client’s case you must endow the story with importance by treating it as an emotional experience.
Well crafted story. How do you do that? You take the time to produce a well-crafted story that will serve as the premium communication device to focus decision-maker attention and judgment on certain key ideas or behaviors, as well as understand the significance of that behavior.
Virtual journey. Why is this notion critical to success? When decision-makers follow a story, they journey - virtually - with you into a different world, an imagined reality, another mental location where the story actually exists while never having left their physical state. The process of transition from physical world to virtual world is active with the decision-maker energetically conniving and conspiring with the attorney all the time to actually will the virtual world into existence. Why? Because the decision-maker is curious about what is going on, wants to believe the story and that they can do something which matters.
Legal to local. Does this really happen? You have witnessed this yourself in the courtroom. Every day decision-makers are torn away from routines, placed in unfamiliar settings and asked to make profound decisions after being handed complex legal terminology that is supposed to help them address conflicting versions of the same facts. They hear legal judgment - the series of formal justice procedures we call case law, opinions, rules of evidence for resolving disputes in our society.
Sort and organize. How do they decide? By formulating a story that explains the alleged activities in familiar terms using key messages or themes that define the case from their point of view.
Parallel judgment. Your jurors organize and sort out complex legal information, especially conflicting information, into meaningful structures that make sense to create a parallel form of social judgment that anchors legal questions in everyday understanding.
Cooperative enterprise. In the grip of a heartfelt story artfully told, their minds are fully engaged. When fully engaged, your jurors are working with you in a cooperative enterprise, connected and considering options, possibilities and outcomes.
Persuasion. Storytelling persuades when the decision-maker can place herself inside the story with ease, listen deductively, absorb a story that explains the conflict early on, articulate the story in her own terms, and filter the evidence selectively to be consistent with her personal story, world experience and understanding of the world order.
David Eagleman's NYTimes Book Review of Jonathan Gottschall's work, "The Storytelling Animal," reinforces the ways in which story and the telling of stories are not mere entertainment for housebound children on a rainy afternoon. Excerpt.
"Remember, in “Star Wars,” when Luke Skywalker precisely aims his proton torpedoes into the vent shaft of the Death Star? Of course you do. It’s memorable because it’s the climax of a grand story about good triumphing over evil. (You’d be less likely to recall a moment in which a protagonist files her nails while discussing her day.) More important, Luke’s scene provides a good analogy: It’s not easy to infect the brain of another person with an idea; it can be accomplished only by hitting the small exposed hole in the system. For the brain, that hole is story-shaped. As anyone who teaches realizes, most information bounces off with little impression and no recollection. Good professors and statesmen know the indispensable potency of story.
This is not a new observation, but nowadays we have a better understanding of why it’s true. Changing the brain requires the correct neurotransmitters, and those are especially in attendance when a person is curious, is predicting what will happen next and is emotionally engaged. Hence successful religious texts are not written as nonfiction arguments or bulleted lists of claims. They are stories. Stories about burning bushes, whales, sons, lovers, betrayals and rivalries.
Story not only sticks, it mesmerizes. This is why WWE wrestling thrives on fake but exciting plotlines, why there are so many hours poured into prefight boxing hype, and why there are stirring back stories included in all the profiles of Olympic athletes. But not all stories are created equal. Gottschall points out that for a story to work, it has to possess a particular morality. To capture and influence, it can’t be plagued with moral repugnance — involving, say, a sexual love story between a mother and her son, or a good guy who becomes crippled and a bad guy who profits handsomely. If the narrative doesn’t contain the suitable kind of virtue, brains don’t absorb it. The story torpedo misses the exposed brain vent. (There are exceptions, Gottschall allows, but they only prove the rule.)
This leads to the suggestion that story’s role is “intensely moralistic.” Stories serve the biological function of encouraging pro-social behavior. Across cultures, stories instruct a version of the following: If we are honest and play by the social rules, we reap the rewards of the protagonist; if we break the rules, we earn the punishment accorded to the bad guy. The theory is that this urge to produce and consume moralistic stories is hard-wired into us, and this helps bind society together. It’s a group-level adaptation. As such, stories are as important as genes. They’re not time wasters; they’re evolutionary innovations."
TIP: Use stories to help your decision-makers navigate lilfe's complex social problems. "As such, stories are as important as genes. They’re not time wasters; they’re evolutionary innovations."