Storytelling, more than just telling a story

The other day someone asked me what service design exactly means. I realized I found it hard to explain. I started talking about people, companies, change of mentality, customer satisfaction, creativity, out of the box thinking and so on.
That kept me going for about five minutes. With every minute passing it became more clear to me that I wasn’t getting the message across. At the end I even got a bit embarrassed, by not being able to explain what the company, I spent forty hours of my week at, specializes in. I rambled over the last words of my story, and then quickly asked him what it is that he does for a living.
I realized I wasn’t able to tell the right story about service design. And I started reading about the art of storytelling.

We are stories
One of the first things I came across was the fact that you can find a story in everything. That our lives consist of stories. From the day we are born, pretty much, we create stories in our minds about the things we experience. These stories state our reality.
Let me tell you an example. When I grew up my mom had a Moroccan friend she met at a cooking class. Her daughter and I became good friends. We spent many hours playing in the small apartment she lived in with her mom and brother. She had different toys than I had and her mom cooked in a funny funnel-shaped pan. We always had a blast together. When the school my friend was going to stopped existing, she came to my school and we became classmates. She was the first Moroccan girl in my school and other children thought she was weird and told her she smelled bad. I’m not sure if this was the reason but after a few moths she left, and went to an other school. My classmates couldn’t care less.
The harshness of the way my friend was treated just because she was different made a deep impact on me. And so, even though it happened years ago, this story partly determines the way I see situations today. This, among other stories, provides the context from which I create my reality about stuff like a multi-cultural society. Or, let’s say, weird looking pans.
Like this everyone has a ton of stories that creates their reality. And from this reality you make your judgement and maybe more important you make your decisions.

So how is it possible we rely on these stories so much? Frank Rose, author of the book The art of immersion, says that

“stories are recognizable patterns and that in these patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of the world and trough stories we can share this with other people.”

Fair enough. We need stories to make sense of it all. To understand and remember things. Maybe to learn from previous experiences as well. Not to make the same mistake over and over again.

I think it we also rely on it so much because it is a part of our system. We’ve been telling stories since the time we were living in caves. And maybe even before that.
But what is it that makes stories so suitable for getting a meaning across? When I think back at my effort trying to explain service design, I wonder what is it exactly, I could have done better.

The extra dimension
In the book the Story factor, Annette Simmons talks about how a story has the ability to combine context, space and facts. Maybe this has something to do with it. Many things in life are complex. And multi-layered. So we need a tool that can add an extra dimension. Not just stating flat facts but add emotion and explain complex relations.
When you tell a story, the context, space and facts combined together create synergy. You could say, one plus one makes three.
When I tried to explain service design I was mostly trying to describe different aspects in stead of trying to deliver a complete meaning.

One of the other things I learnt while reading about storytelling is that a story provides the opportunity to explain things in a non-linear way. A quality that not many other communications tools have.

But the thing that intrigues me the most about storytelling is the fact that by telling context and metaphors, using only words, gestures and expressions you can convey a feeling. You can touch people’s harts. You can get them to the point where they open up and are willing to review their own stories.

And maybe start writing a new one.



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