By Matt Bogoshian, Chief Strategy Officer, REV
Our human experience tells us that stories matter in how we make sense of the world, shape our ambitions, and define our progress. The power of storytelling is especially important during the holiday season as we reflect on our experiences and accomplishments over the past year. We send out holiday cards and family newsletters, and share stories at gatherings and on social media. We come together to read our favorite books, sing and listen to holiday songs, and watch familiar holiday classics like Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, and my favorite, the Grinch.
However stories do much more than just give us a warm fuzzy feeling at bedtime. In fact, a growing body of peer reviewed science conducted by neurological, behavioral, and social scientists demonstrates that telling and listening to stories causes a range of reactions, many of which can lead to positive change.
This science is being applied in many facets of human endeavor in business, government, and social movements. It makes sense then, if we are to build a better and more sustainable future locally and globally, we should do much more to understand and apply the “science of story” to inform our efforts and boost our progress.
The Collective Power of Narrative
As an example in the political context, early in my career I was fortunate to witness how the “science of story” can effect change. It was 1988 and I was fresh out of law school when I was hired by the California statewide Democratic Committee as an organizer for the Dukakis campaign for President.
I had the privilege to be trained in that campaign by veteran activist and organizer Marshall Ganz and others who were and still are dedicated to bottom-up empowerment in part through the “science of story.” Ganz is currently a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. His website features an excellent interview by the Druker Institute highlighting the power of narrative.
While winning the election was the primary goal of our campaign efforts, our larger objective focused, in part, on learning how to harness the power of stories to drive meaningful collective impacts over time.
Specifically, we identified voting precincts in California that had few consistent voters within them. These voters (as many are today) were deemed apathetic and a lost cause by many. However, since many of these “occasional voters” had been engaged enough to have voted at some point in the past, we tested the proposition that many of them could be mobilized by understanding their motivations to lead change that matters to them. Once we identified these triggers, we looked to understand their stories and recruit volunteers within those precincts that shared similar voter profiles.
It was challenging and rewarding work. We provided these occasional voters a methodology to tell their story, listen to their neighbors’ stories, and garner more votes from their precinct — a small but no less meaningful part of the overall electoral puzzle. These “precinct leaders” were asked to take responsibility to reach out to other occasional voters like themselves, not just for this election, but for the foreseeable future in order to build relationships for other elections or community endeavors they might want to collectively pursue.
A Tool to Organize and Inspire
The key here was listening to and understanding the stories of disaffected people in order to empower them with more relevant tools. That political effort, and those that followed over the years, in part helped elect President Obama and many other candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, but the lesson they provide is much broader than politics.
Today, we need to massively accelerate the pace of change toward a low carbon economy by 2050 and do it in a sustainable way. Narrative — “the science of story” — is a powerful tool that can help inspire and organize people around shared values and goals. It can motivate individuals, businesses, and communities to create more meaningful and impactful outcomes.
At REV we use story as a means to connect organizations and build a shared knowledge base to help accelerate sustainability impact. We encourage our customers to share their stories, internally and externally, knowing that narrative is a potent strategy to build awareness, and stimulate engagement and action.
As we strive to create a more sustainable future, we challenge you — what’s your story?