This pandemic is forcing us to rethink the way we work and live. I hope we rethink the way we tell our stories.
Today, social platforms are inundated with Lenin’s words on change – there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Despite knowing that change is the only constant in our lives, we are terrified of it. However, stories of human grit overcoming the challenges past and present give us the confidence and the resolve to not only navigate these changing times but also emerge stronger. “This too shall pass” is not just a phrase, rather a reminder of the human spirit.
Long before we discovered the binary code, stories were motivating individual behaviour, inspiring community action and storing information for posterity. As we progressed so did our stories and their levels of immediacy, impact and integrity. But all progress comes at a price. As the fault lines that were faintly visible start to stare at us, our individual response to this crisis will decide the future of our collective experiences.
What you see is all there is
We need to be vigilant while we sit safely huddled in our homes interacting with the outside world through stories that coming streaming in bits and bytes through the ubiquitous digital platforms. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow explained a cognitive bias – what you see is all there is. He says that we normally make our judgements and impressions according to the information available to us. And today what is available is immediate, gargantuan and polarized – a cognitive nightmare.
The signs of this evolving context have been around for decades but became visible during the financial crisis of 2008. As the Gig Economy flourished and powered ahead so did the digital platforms, thus providing a much-needed impetus to a new breed of storytellers. In a bid to stay relevant, enterprises of all kinds and sizes eager to engage with and influence their audiences flocked to these platforms and the storytellers.
Of course, the engagement often implied that the most available and not the most creative or the most impactful stories prevailed. Earning the trust of the audience was easy given that the narratives were not judged on merits rather evaluated on volumes which was driven by the dollars backing these narratives. Our minds are hardwired for stories and the ones that capture our attention are the ones that are always there in front of us. What you see is all there is.
As the world comes to grips with this pandemic and prepares to open for business, uncertainty prevails. A storyteller knows the power of uncertainty way too well. It is the time when the audience is vulnerable to the creative imagination of the storyteller; a point when the story either leap frogs into hearts or gets entangled in the mesh of our minds.
The digital platforms have not only blurred the lines between various forms of narratives and transformed the characters into a unit of measure but also purged storytelling of its creative process that powered imagination. What remains is propaganda which is delivered with relative ease given the digital context and a narrative that dangerously stokes nationalistic rhetoric and a fear of the unknown.
This pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we work and live by impacting our ability to produce, consume and share resources. I don’t know what lies ahead when it comes to storytelling, but I do know that our minds don’t need the facts laced by misleading data nor do our hearts need to be exposed to the truths of only a certain section of the society. The context of the stories today favours those with power, money and knowledge to influence our behaviour individually and our progress collectively.
As Albert Einstein said – imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. We need to reclaim our imagination to not only ensure economic progress but also a balanced world. We have to rethink our stories if we want to change the context.
Hemant Bohra is a storyteller, entrepreneur and an author turned male ally. He is the Founder of Fortuna PR, a mid-sized public relations firm in India and CXOLife, an initiative that shares work-life balance practices of CXOs. Recently, Hemant moved to Paris to work with companies eager to explore storytelling as a strategic tool.