Friday, October 19, 2007

Stories v. facts

Parked at a venture conference last week, I had a flashback. A good, vivid recall which resonated with the day's events (semi-committed entrepreneurs contemplating commitment in their quest for cash).

One of the conference presenters commenced his pitch with a story. It was not too long, not too short, just about perfect to engage the audience. While the preceding company pitches were littered with facts (noise), the aforementioned entrepreneur got it. He told a story, turning noise into signal. We -- the audience -- related; the frequency registered.

People love stories -- we remember them and they're effective. Unfortunately, the science of fact-telling is prevalent and apathetic, while the art of story-telling is dormant. It's easy to regurgitate lyrics, but tough to harmoniously sing a tune.

Which brings me to my flashback. For six or seven consecutive years we pilgrimaged to the AT&T golf tourney on the Monterey Peninsula. Our wives would troop around Spyglass and Pebble, typically battling inclement weather with a you owe me one roll of their eyes. Saturday night was their reward: Eastwood's joint (Mission Ranch), a mob scene, two-hour dinner wait in the sardine tin of a bar. An Andy Garcia siting or two helped pacify our better halves.

One year we bumped in to Chris O'Donnell, fresh off his pro-am round. My friend Nick's then girlfriend (and now wife), Kari, grew up with Chris. Following a round of cordial introductions and reminiscing, Chris asked Kari (and Nick): How long've been dating? Kari replied -- too long -- as Nick white-nuckled his libation. Reminds me of a movie I just finished called the Bachelor. It's about a guy like you who needs to shit or get off the pot.

Kari laughed. Nicked blushed (and guzzled). Chris moved on.

I cannot recall a single winner of the AT&T, nor a single round/score, six-to-seven years of facts. But I fondly recall the interaction (the story) at Mission Ranch, and the make-a-commitment-or-move-on moral resonates to this day.

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Post-script (18 Feb 08): I just enjoyed part of a presentation by economist Robert Frank speaking at Google. Good stuff. In particular -- and somewhat related to the above post, but also tip-toeing on adolescent creativity -- he digs in to the narrative learning theory, with two most-compelling slides:

The Narrative Theory of Learning
"At its core, the narrative perspective holds that human beings have a universal predisposition to 'story' their experience, that is, to impose a narrative interpretation on information and experience."

[children] ... turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection. If they don't catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn't get remembered very well, and it doesn't seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over.

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