Game of Words

by | Jun 9, 2019

It’s a little bit like buying a new car and then noticing every other car on the road is the same as yours.

So what happens when I go on the road to start selling my storytelling venture as the way of conveying vital, strategic information to the people you want to reach and – low be it spoken – influence? That’s right – you realise everyone’s doing it.

Even Tyrion Lannister – in the final episode of Game of Thrones.

Don’t worry. No spoilers here, just the salient facts. At a key juncture of Episode 6, Season 8, Tyrion poses the following question:

“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?”

Pause.

Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.” He then goes on to name his candidate to rule the Seven Kingdoms on the basis their story is best.

I’m not alone in picking up on this. Carmine Gallo, writing in Forbes.com a couple of days after ‘The Iron Throne’, GoT’s final episode, aired, quotes the same speech and goes on to explain why it should matter to today’s leaders.

“Storytellers,” he says, “have always been considered the best people to lead us into the future.”

He then provides us with a potted history of storytelling and leadership – from the people who first told tales around campfires to Abraham Lincoln and, in the modern world, to brands like Nike, where “the heroics of the past inspire the innovations of the future.”

“While the tools of communication have changed,” Gallo writes, “the human brain has not. We are a storytelling species. We think in story, talk in story, and admire those who keep and spread our stories.”

Well, yes, I’d agree completely, of course, but there’s even more to it than this, as the bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari writes convincingly in his book Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. In short, Harari says:

  • The first revolution in human affairs – the Cognitive Revolution – took place 70,000 to 30,000 years ago (the other two were the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago and the Scientific Revolution 500 years ago). It permitted Homo Sapiens to communicate as never before through language.
  • This evolved to allow Homo Sapiens to discuss abstractions – things you can’t see and touch – to wit, myths, stories and religion; today’s abstractions are constructs such as politics, religion (again) – even money (capitalism).
  • The telling of myths and stories allowed us as a species to collaborate in large numbers – it is this, Harari says, that separates us from other animals and, ultimately, promoted us to the top of the food chain.
  • Unlike all other animals, we don’t need to wait for evolution to change us; we can adapt and change our behaviour by changing our beliefs – and, crucially, we do this through the stories we tell each other and ourselves.

We create and connect, therefore, around ideas – things that do not physically exist – and we do this via story.

Interestingly, Harari says, for 70,000 years, we have lived two realities: a physical reality and an imagined reality.

And this got me to thinking. In the eight years since Sapiens was first published, we have embraced a new revolution – not as world-shattering, perhaps, as the three Harari cites, but a revolution nonetheless – and big: the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by the power of IT, the Internet and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

How will this impact our two realities – the physical world we inhabit and the imagined reality we create for ourselves? And where does story fit into this picture?

Even more critically than it has in the past, I submit.

Because, in a time of division and disruption, we need story more than ever before – to unite us.

And not just any story. Authentic story. To go to work – to do good work – story has to be real.

In the era of fake news, a spun story or a manipulated picture might create headlines, but, as stories, they don’t last. In the end, they are ‘outed’ by the very thing that created them: the power of the Internet.

And by truth.

Anyone can tell a story – but to tell a story well, you have to tell it authentically. Meaning is what propels a good story. Truth is what makes it last. Meaning and truth drive purpose; and, in a sense, they deliver hope, too.

So, after eight seasons of death and destruction, Game of Thrones – an enthrallingly told story – ends with the best storyteller winning. And it ends, too, with hope.

Or as Tyrion puts it: “The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?”

Answer: the keeper of all our stories.

Real leaders please take note.

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