My apologies for the clickbait headline. It is a fictional construction designed to help make a serious and valid point. My hope is that your instincts kick in and you keep reading to see what happens next.
Speechwriters have long known what neuroscientists, psychologists and evolutionary biologists are now proclaiming: humans are hard wired for storytelling and listening. Stories instruct us, inspire us, and bring us together – for good and bad.
Historian Yuval Noah Harari believes that about 70,000 years ago our species – homo sapiens – became the most dominant animal on Earth because of our ability to tell stories about things that don’t exist in the physical world. In his book Sapiens, he calls this the “Cognitive Revolution” and explains how the ability to communicate fictional things – legends, myths, origin stories – enabled us to cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers, which over time led to us ruling the world. He believes that all forms of large-scale human cooperation – nations, religions, economic and legal systems, corporations – are rooted in common narratives that exist in people’s imaginations. A new book by English professor Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, adds the latest scientific research to this argument, explaining how storytelling is a fundamental human instinct that has evolved to ensure our survival. We shape the stories and the stories shape us.
It’s great to see science and academia validating and illuminating this age-old story, but you know an idea’s time has really come when it is embraced by popular culture. In the Game of Thrones series finale more than 15 million viewers watched Tyrion Lannister declare “There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story,” which the noble families of Westeros then used as a criterion to choose a new king. Some fans said the screenwriters should have paid more attention to Tyrion’s message themselves when they wrote the script, but that’s another story.
The point being made here is that stories are vitally important to any organization, including businesses: no story, no deal. Therefore speechwriters – the storytellers – are vitally important. Good leaders provide the vision and direction, but speechwriters refine and define the message. They write the narrative that brings people together to get the job done. Late plot twist: I am a speechwriter myself, so I can’t resist concluding with a call to action. If you are a business leader, please buy your speechwriter lunch, give him or her a raise, or just say thanks. That would give this story a happy ending.