Evidence, Facts and Story

One of the regular challenges I have to overcome when working with groups on improving their use of story in organisations is the seemingly common belief that – there are stories and there are facts.

I hear it all the time. Stories and facts are two distinct and different things. I have even seen someone draw a continuum, where ‘facts’ are at one end, and ‘story’ is at the other.

There’s just one problem with this belief – it’s wrong.

I think Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, in their book The Elements of Persuasion, sum it up perfectly when they said:

“Stories are facts wrapped up in context and delivered with emotion.”

It’s the quote I use most often to get people to understand that in business storytelling, stories are most powerful when they contain facts, and facts are most effectively communicated when they are told in a story.

I saw a lovely way of describing the interplay between these concepts in the book I was reading this morning Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Sharif.

In the introduction, they explain how the book is set out, and the basic tenants of how they have tried to write it. They said;

“…we have worked hard to make the whole book, even the technical parts, easily accessible to a wide audience. We also use anecdotes and vignettes extensively. Of course, these never serve as substitutes for careful evidence, but they are used to make concepts intuitive, to bring ideas to life”.

Stories (anecdotes and vignettes), are not substitutes for facts (careful evidence) but are used to make concepts intuitive and bring ideas to life. I love that.

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