Facts & Storytelling (#69)

Storytelling is essential because we know that the impression we leave on others is really about how we make them feel.

A boy reading a story to two others in a classroom
Facts & Storytelling, JLP

We know that the impression we have on others is really about how we made them feel, rather than the specifics of what we said. Storytellers, those with the superpower to grab our attention, relay details in a compelling way, creating a lasting memory, eliciting a feeling that lingers within us.

Depicted below is a modified version of the Ladder of Understanding as originally described by Maria Popova, a storyteller extraordinaire and writer of the thought provoking The Marginalian website. The ladder shows the layering required to cultivate understanding.

Ladder of Understanding, by James LaPlaine, based on the original description by Maria Popova

At the bottom of the ladder are unstructured elements, data, stand alone facts that lack meaning. Divulging only a set of facts doesn't make for a compelling story, although they do form the foundation for future storytelling.  It's only when combined with context that facts become useful information. Context allows for categorization and leads to the next rung of the ladder: knowledge. This is a correlation step where a picture forms of how information fits together. There is an outline of a story that begins to take shape. This is when wisdom forms — combining knowledge, experience, and a moral framework of how the world ought to work. Now we have the elements needed for a storyteller. In this top step data, information, knowledge, and wisdom are portrayed in a narrative that elicits emotion.

"A great story, then, is not about providing information, though it can certainly inform — a great story invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence. More than that, it plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do anything but grow a new understanding — of the world, of our place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect of existence." -Maria Popova

In our own work, we are motivated by these five rungs of the ladder of understanding. They combine to provide a powerful pull in the direction of inspiration, discovery, and curiosity. Ideally we contribute to each of these steps, eventually helping the chronicler improve the impact of the storyline, creating an understanding in others that will go on to enhance our continuing story.

Further Exploration

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.