Conversations are influential – more influential than we realize. This influence is invisible to us. It is this hidden and decisive factor that we at Insigniam are forensic about in our work with clients.
This influence is not lost on the esteemed economist and professor Robert Shiller who recently wrote an entire book on the subject alone and how it impacts his field of specialty, behavioral economics. In “Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events” Shiller states that “we need a new form of economics that takes narratives seriously.” He asserts that the power of language, of storytelling, is not studied and respected to the degree it should be.
Professor Shiller asks the reader to consider that recessions, for example, can be more severe than they need to be because this severity is “related to the prevalence and vividness of certain stories, not the purely economic feedback or multipliers that economists love to model.” That is quite an assertion to make.
The power of narrative is certainly respected in the world of law and in the training of law professionals. There may be facts in any case, but how those facts are portrayed and communicated can make the difference in how the ultimate determination goes. Whether it be right or wrong, the very best at this skill of oration find themselves in high demand.
UVA’s Professor Peter Brooks who has written extensively on this says, “You can look at court cases not just for their doctrine, but also for what they’re doing to you, for their rhetoric and narrative structure.” This does not mean that the law professional needs to make fabrications but it does suggest that the writer or speaker makes decisions about how to tell the story of a particular reality or set of known facts. And it is this that is the decisive factor in the result.
What do you think the narratives are at your organization are? How do you influence these conversations and are you aware of the impact they are having? Remembering that there is never an absence of narrative, this is a question worth considering as a leader of a group or enterprise.