There’s a reason why the words of Homer still ignite our imagination yet only a select few even know about the crafty work of the diligent accountants of Mesopotamia.
There’s a reason why my two year old son knows all the names of Thomas the Tank Engine and his two dozen or so friends by heart. He could tell you all about their adventures and mishaps, yet he could not tell you or a friendly police officer our home address or our phone number.
Why? It’s not the relative importance of the information. I’m sure the ten commandments are at least as important as the stories of Genesis. The Mesopotians left more than 6.000 proto-cuneiform tablets preserving their data for all eternity whilst Homer didn’t even bother writing his work down. What is the real difference between knowing all of Thomas’ friends and knowing your own home address?
It’s not just the mere difference between fact and fiction: it’s the difference between data and meaning. From times immemorial story telling has been one of humanity’s most basic tools for sharing emotions, experience and understanding. “There have been great civilizations that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” (Ursula K. Le Guin)
Stories Stick. And they are of great value.
Joseph Pine’s the Experience Economy heralded a new age: an age in which value would be created not just by offering a good quality product or great service but by staging an experience. Experiences are not some vague, wishy-washy constructs; they are as real as any good, product or service. Experiences they represent real economic value. Joseph argues that business should be run like Theatres. What’s the core element of any play? A good story-line.
In his excellent book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink calls the coming age ‘the Conceptual Age’, an age in which right brained story tellers, creators and empathizers take the place of engineers, accountants and MBA’s as the worlds most valuable workers. Still not convinced? Perhaps you should compare the following two texts:
“In 1865, in the town of Lucca, in the Tuscan heart of Italy’s olive growing region, Francesco Bertolli opened a small storefront business selling regional foods such as olive oil, wine, cheese and olives. In the late 1800s, the Bertolli business grew from its Italian roots when Italian emigrants to America, unable to find the products to which they were accustomed, wrote to Bertolli asking for crates of olive oil. In reply, Bertolli sent orders to America and thus became the first exporter of olive oil. By the 1890s, Bertolli was sold in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. From there, business gradually expanded west and eventually found export markets beyond the United States.” (Bertolli’s own Website)
“Bertolli is an international brand of Italian and Mediterranean food. The company was founded in 1865, in Lucca, Tuscany by Francesco Bertolli, and was then bought by Unilever. Bertolli is known for its olive oil, in which it is the global market leader, but has now widened its range to include pasta sauces and ready meals. In 2008, Unilever sold the olive oil business to Grupo SOS, Spain’s second-largest food group, for £500m as part of its disposal of non-core businesses. The transaction included the sale of the Italian Maya, Dante, and San Giorgio olive oil and seed oil businesses, as well as the factory at Inveruno, Province of Milan, Lombardy; Unilever will retain the Bertolli brand for all other categories including margarine, pasta sauces, and frozen meals.” (Bertolli’s Wikipedia Entry)
Yes, both texts talk about the same Bertolli, yet both text convey a radically different story. The pictures they paint are worlds apart. Which of the two conjures up images of rolling hills, ancient sun baked Italian villages, long tables full of tasty Italian food and aproned old nona’s telling their children and their children’s children to ‘mangia, mangia!’ whilst ferociously waving their wooden spoons? Which of the two brands sounds tastier?
Would you rather buy a bottle of olive oil from a guy in a suit or from old Francesco?