Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Everyone Has a Story

Dan McAdams, Narrative Psychology pioneer, along with others, wrote and taught about the Personal Myth: that is, the meaning of one’s life can be more important than happiness. How we create personal meaning is, according to McAdams, by telling autobiographical stories. People have a Narrative Bias: When given the option, we prefer to give and receive information as a narrative, that is, as a story. Narratives are how we transmit meaning across two people, and then across cultures. How human beings deal with experiences is directly connected to how they construct their own stories and how the interpret the stories of others.

We like narratives that are linear and linearity (beginning, middle, end) it’s how we prefer to explain our world, cause and effect. Our stories often attempt to answer one (or more) of three big questions:

Where do we come from?
What is the purpose for why we are here?
Why am I going through this experience?

Narrative psychology tries to understand how the stories we tell ourselves, impact us. And, this is important because, as far as I know, we are the only species on this planet that asks these questions about our experiences.

The need for StoryJacking exists because how we answer these questions and how we tell our stories is important to how we experience our lives. StoryJacking is not about creating a quick happy ending to a life trauma. Laura King, PhD from the University of Missouri, discovered in her research that when people jump to quickly to the happy ending story, they may be happier in 2 years, but they miss important learning. People, who have survived and experienced major life challenges, can sometimes gloss over conflicts or the challenging bits of the experience. Again, over the period of 2 years, they may be happier, but there is a lost opportunity of ego development. A person’s ability to experience the grief or unhappiness, improves the person’s ability to conversely appreciate the beauty and complexities of life. The ability to sit in the discomfort of the story can gain the individual deeper wisdom. StoryJacking is about creating neural networks for developing meaning, wisdom, and ultimately happiness.

Yet, we all have some flaws in our authorship.

Common Belief Fallacy: If most of the people you know believe something is true, you are also likely to believe it is true. The earth is flat and the center of the universe. Florida has cities of gold and the fountain of youth. Global warming is not a product of human activity. You get the idea.

  • Appeal to Popular Opinion – This type of appeal is when someone claims that an idea or belief is true simply because it is what most people believe.

Representativeness Heuristic: ignoring the odds and instead comparing the similarity of the story to a familiar archetype. “That sounds right!” Buy a lottery ticket, look at all the stories of winners. Never mind that the odds are 176 million to 1 that you will win.

Correlation Implies Causation Fallacy – Otherwise known as Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, this is a fallacy in which the person making the argument connects two events which happen sequentially and assumes that one caused the other.  I heard a dog barking, then my dishwasher broke.  Therefore, barking dogs are bad for appliances.

So our storytelling is fraught with potential plot holes and rarely matches the reality of the situation. So what? We are all susceptible. Here’s the thing, by paying attention to where stories can go wrong, by developing our awareness we can StoryJack the story, we can make our lives more meaningful and again, have a much better shot at happiness.

People create meaning from the stories that they tell themselves about the events in our lives. And, this meaning can actually create a better life, depending on how you go about creating the stories that explain the events. But, businesses have to do the same thing.

Let’s play with an Business example.

Cable has lost over 125 thousand customers in the last year and that is with HBO bundled in the service. There are a myriad of reasons for this, poor customer service, forcing subscribers to take bundles that they maybe don’t want, etc. Interestingly, rather than change the delivery model, they are actually hiking prices.  Which will probably have the affect of losing even more business.  So then take a company like HBO, HBO is losing viewers by remaining tied to cables faltering delivery system. I think it is fair to say that HBO has wanted to shift its delivery system for a long time, but it meant changing a very long held belief about the importance of cable companies. Regardless of value, the faulty delivery system (cable) has been a very long held story and as much as we have disliked it, we have also believed that it might not ever change… collectively we used to believe we might always be held hostage to cable services. But, HBO decided to StoryJack this long held story. HBO comes to Apple TV, as announced by HBO CEO Richard Plepler on Monday March 9th. The story has now shifted and become one of listening to viewer/customers, becoming a story of partnership, creating customer choice, and with a connection to Apple, developed a subplot of coolness.

But, by breaking loose (StoryJacking their own story of content delivery) and offering themselves up “a’la carte” to the growing number of cord cutters, they remain meaningful.

They also show that they may be dragon slayers themselves. And, the beneficiaries of the new story are? Well, HBO customers now get an opportunity to watch Game of Thrones for about $15.00 a month, far less than the $100 a month it would take to a cable package, and they can stop sneaking in to Aunt Louise’s cat infested house to get a Sunday dragon fix.

image from, artist Gustavo Frazao

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