Three story plots we humans dearly love

Posted by Shawn Callahan - April 17, 2009
Filed in Book reviews, Business storytelling, Leadership

The authors of Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath, point out that there are three story plots we humans dearly love:

  • the creativity plot where the protagonist solves one or more puzzles through shear ingenuity, persistence and always with a dash of dumb luck. The DaVinci Code is an example.
  • the connection plot where people come together from different walks of life: different race, class, affluence, nationality, power. This week Sheen and I re-watched the movie Notting Hill which is definitely an example of a connection plot: famous celebrity connects with impoverished book store owner.
  • the challenge plot where the protagonist faces a daunting challenge, everyone is sceptical whether is can be done, and especially by our hero, but in the end she triumphs. You might not have heard of Susan Boyle but this video is a classic example of a challenge plot told in 7 minutes.

Now you might be thinking, “how does all this relate to stories in a business context?”

Successful leaders are people who are able to change the minds, feelings and ultimately the actions of people who follow their lead. And stories play a fundamental role in helping people change their minds. Don’t just take my word for it. Howard Gardner, the Harvard psychologist and author of Changing Minds wrote: “The principle vehicle of leadership is the story: The leader affects individual behavior, thought, and feelings through the stories that he and she tells.”

So to succeed as a leader it’s important to build your repertoire of stories but you don’t want to recount just any story. You want to be mindful of the things that happen in your life that others will find interesting, inspiring and meaningful and by knowing these three plot types you can be on the lookout for these experiences. Let me finish with another quote from Gardner: “One of the most powerful weapons in the possession of leader-storytellers is the lives that they lead. To the extent that leaders embody the stories that they tell, the leaders’ examples will increase in power.”

Gardner, H. (1999). “The vehicle and the vehicles of leadership.” American Behavioral Scientist 42(6): 1009-1023.

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