Talking shop. War stories. Whether they’re about BCP or business deals, your worst boss or the time your best friend saved your skin, we all swap them. The really good ones are told and retold. They become our personal parables. That’s because they entertain and teach. And stories can be your biggest ally in communicating continuity.
Last week I shared a bit of wisdom from Chip and Dan Heath (authors of the fascinating book “Made to Stick”) concerning the “Curse of Knowledge.” This week, I promised bit of advice from the Heath Brothers on how to beat it. And stories are one of their six key concepts of “sticky” ideas. So, let’s hear it from the Heaths:
A group of UCLA students were asked to think about a current problem in their lives, one that was “stressing them out” but was potentially solvable in the future…The students were told that the goal of the experiment was to help them deal with the problem effectively, and they got some brief instructions on problem-solving.
A second group of students, the “event-simulation” group…were asked to mentally simulate how the problem had unfolded: We would like you to visualize how this problem arose. Visualize the beginning of the problem, going over in detail the first incident. Go over the incidents as they occurred step by step. Visualize the actions you took. Remember what you said, what you did. Visualize the environment, who was around, where you were. The event-simulation participants had to retrace, step by step, the events that led to their problem.
A third group, the “outcome-simulation” group, was asked to mentally simulate a positive outcome emerging from the problem: Picture this problem beginning to resolve, you are coming out of the stressful situation. Picture the relief you feel. Visualize the satisfaction you would feel at having dealt with the problem. Picture the confidence you feel in yourself, knowing that you have dealt successfully with the problem. The outcome-simulators kept their focus on the desired future outcome.
Now it’s play-at-home time: Make a quick prediction about which group of students fared best in coping with their problems. (Hint: It’s not the control group.)
Here’s the answer: The event-simulation group-the people who simulated how the events unfolded-did better on almost every dimension. When the groups returned a week later, the event simulators’ were more likely to have taken specific action to solve their problems. They were more likely to have sought advice and support from others. They were more likely to report that they had learned something and grown.
Notice that these visualizations focus on the events themselves-the process, rather than the outcomes. Mental simulation helps with problem-solving. Even in mundane planning situations, mentally simulating an event helps us think of things that we might otherwise have neglected.
The takeaway is simple: Mental simulation is not as good as actually doing something, but it’s the next best thing. And, to circle back to the world of sticky ideas, what we’re suggesting is that the right kind of story is, effectively, a simulation. Stories are like flight simulators for the brain.
If there’s one resource BCP professionals have, it’s stories. How will you use yours? Do tell.
Director of Communications