Let Your People
Be People

This book shouldn’t exist. Seriously, it shouldn’t.

We wrote a whole book on the benefits of storytelling, and how to tell good stories, when in fact there is nothing more human than storytelling.

Download your digital copy to get 36 ways to use storytelling to transform your business, uplift your employees, and ultimately let your biggest asset—your people—be more human.

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“The content is excellent…and the overall format and message are important.”

Shannon Clark, GoodReads

“There's so much to learn and so much to love in "Let Your People Be People" by Anna and Nathan at Narrative Science.”

Ethan Beute, BombBomb

“Check out let your people be people from Narrative Science. Anna Schena Walsh and Nathan Nichols wrote this insightful book on using storytelling to transform your business.”

JK Sparks, Flatfile Inc.

Introduction

This book shouldn’t exist.

 

Seriously, it shouldn’t.

 

We wrote a whole book on the benefits of storytelling, and how to tell good stories, when in fact there is nothing more human than storytelling. According to “The Storytelling Animal: How Storytelling Makes Us Human” by Jonathan Gottschall, telling stories is core to our existence. Our brains are hardwired for storytelling and have been for centuries. He outlines that the “storytelling mind,” or the human mind, does not deal well with uncertainty, randomness, or coincidence. Through stories–verbal, written, or even song or poetry–we make sense of our chaotic lives and pass down tradition, processes, and more from generation to generation.

 

Storytelling involves an exchange between teller and listener, and this is something that is ingrained in us when we are very young. Our brains are wired to detect patterns in everything. From seeking out patterns in visual forms, such as faces, to attempting to detect them in sounds, such as songs, we are constantly looking to connect one experience to another to draw a pattern.

 

We are also conditioned to find patterns in information that we learn to help us make sense of the world around us. We attempt to connect facts that we learn to fill in the holes in our understanding. Those connections become our stories.

 

Storytelling can be traced back to when humans regularly began using fire around 400,000 BCE. When humans learned to control fire, it changed everything.

 

Fire provided protection from predators, improved digestibility of food, and allowed our ancestors to start controlling the timing and distribution of resources. It provided warmth, light, and most importantly, several more hours to our ancestors’ day.

 

What did they do with those extra hours? They told stories. In a study conducted by American anthropologist Polly Wiessner, she compared 122 day and 52 nighttime conversations collected among Ju/’hoansi huntergatherers in Southern Africa.

 

She found that the day conversations consisted of gossip, strategy, and jokes, while the night conversations were dominated by storytelling. To put it in perspective, these hunter-gatherers spent 6 percent of their daytime telling stories and a whopping 81 percent of their time around a fire at night telling stories.

 

Storytelling has always been essential for human knowledge transmission. Thousands and thousands of years ago, and still today in some parts of the world, fire pits served as a place for humans to pass on their learnings of how to hunt, gather, and build new tools. Storytelling is universal, but as technology advances, so too does the way we tell stories.

 

Around 1450, the printing press was invented in Europe, and we saw the rise of books and novels. When the motion camera was invented around 1890, it set off an era of feature films in the early 1900s. Radio quickly followed, providing the ability to broadcast stories to much larger audiences in different locations. Television was invented around 1925, and we saw the rise of storytelling through television shows and sitcoms.

 

Then came the internet, and everything changed again. The internet is a conduit for all media—text, audio, and video—and is interactive. Now, people can not only listen to and watch stories, they can participate, too.

 

Because stories are essential to human knowledge transmission, it became essential to use storytelling in business as well. Just like our ancestors discussed hunter gathering techniques, modern businesspeople around the world discovered that they needed stories in order to survive in business.

 

There is no way you can learn everything about your job or company through firsthand experience, so you rely on data and your colleagues’ experiences to inform your decisions.

 

So why did we write this book? Why do we think people could benefit from this information? Why do we need to retrain our brain to get back to doing the very thing that makes us human—telling stories?

 

In the past few decades, we have seen an explosion of tools and products designed to make understanding data easier, but it wasn’t through stories. Spreadsheets reigned supreme, and eventually dashboards started to replace spreadsheets as the best way to understand data. We’ve been trying to retrain our brains to think like computers— in numbers.

 

Modern businesses are starting to see the shortcomings of this practice. In Amazon’s 2018 Annual Letter, CEO Jeff Bezos reiterated his ban on PowerPoint in Amazon company meetings. His replacement? “Six-page memo(s) that are narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.”

 

Bezos isn’t the only one to do this. In businesses around the world, people are realizing that humans don’t learn from numbers. They don’t learn from spreadsheets or dashboards, either. They learn from stories. Whether it is stories about the business or stories from your people themselves, we believe stories are key to a successful company.

 

At Narrative Science, our mission has always been, and will always be, to bring storytelling—and humanity— back into business. We’re building software to help computers tell us the story from data, and we give those stories to every single employee in our company. At the same time, we are building programs to help our people realize their full potential through the power of human storytelling.

 

We want to empower you to do the same. These are a few of our stories about how we’ve brought storytelling back into our business—and how you can, too.

A note from the authors

A few months ago, we got together to have coffee and came up with a crazy idea to write a book. We decided to write it together, and most of these stories reflect our joint views on the world.

 

However, at times, we talk about our own experiences. One of the best parts about working together is how different we are. Nate is an artificial intelligence PhD, a father, and an expert on the future of work. Anna is recently married and loves to cook, paint, and talk about how psychology shapes almost everything in business.

 

Understandably, some of our experiences don’t overlap. When that happens, we will call it out in the book.

 

What we do have in common is our passion for storytelling and the power of storytelling technology to change people’s lives. In fact, when Nate was telling his 4-year-old son Abhimanyu about this passion project of ours, he shared the title of this book: “Let Your People Be People.” After careful thought, Nate’s son, with those big, innocent eyes that only a toddler can have, looked up at him and said, “That’s a good title! ‘Cause we want to be people, not anything else.”

 

Nothing quite captures our passion as well as that quote. Let your people be people, and nothing else. We can’t wait to share our best steps to create a storytelling culture in your company and get back to humanity in business. These are a few things that worked for us, and we hope that they work for you, too.

 

We can’t wait for you to follow along with us, and we can’t wait to hear your stories, too. — Anna & Nate