Stories are powerful. They're at the underpinnings of our entire society, from concepts like money to countries to laws to trade agreements. Mutually agreed-upon, shared stories allow humans, separated by thousands of miles, to collaborate.
Collaboration is the secret to our species' success. Collaboration is how we turned rocks into iPhones. Collaboration took us from the first human flight to landing on the moon within 60 years. Collaboration laid the building blocks of modern society. Stories mix the mortar keeping it all together.
How stories evolved
Why did we evolve to be this way? The latest scientific research suggests we evolved the narrator part of our brain in order to predict what other people are going to do next. As you might imagine, being able to predict someone's next move and plan a few steps ahead of them is a distinct evolutionary advantage.
The tricky part is, we have no way of absolutely knowing the future. So instead our mind creates predictions. Every waking moment, our mind is making predictions about the future and then turning those predictions into stories.
For example, let's say you see a car driving erratically. Immediately your mind offers up a few stories. Perhaps the driver is drunk, incapacitated, or old? Perhaps they're texting? Or perhaps they're a nurse just off night shift? Without further evidence, we have no way of knowing, but our mind offers up a buffet of options in the meantime.
It is precisely because stories are so powerful that we should be wary of them. We are so sure that our stories are true, even though the source of these stories, our brain's predictor machine, is inherently error prone. And, if we are not careful, these stories can turn into facts in our minds.
The story in my head
Hang around Clearbit's office long enough and you are bound to hear the phrase "the story in my head is ...". What is the reason for that? There are two concepts behind this:
- Our assumptions about the world are often flawed.
- It is better to talk in absolute truths.
Hopefully at this point we have convinced you of the first concept, that the stories in your head are just stories and therefore prone to all the biases and shortcuts baked into the human condition.
Why is it better to talk in absolute truths? To do otherwise would be to hold up your assumptions as truer than the assumptions of others. This is a roadblock to communication and collaboration because you will get hung up arguing. We need to make a clear distinction between facts we know to be true and stories that could (or could not) be true.
Hold your stories loosely
When we say "the story in my head is ..." we are being explicit about two things: that whatever we're talking about is a story, and that the story is not necessarily true.
It is vitally important that we actually mean those two things. If you are sure that you are right about the “story,” then it's no longer a story in your head, it's a “fact” in your head. And when you start believing your stories are your truth, then you shut out all creativity.
Talk about your internal truths
There are only two types of inarguable truths: facts and internal truths. Facts are things that, through a process of first principles, have been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be true. Internal truths are what you think and feel.
When you are talking about things that aren't clearly facts, it is better to talk about what you observed, what you felt, and the story in your head versus stating a potentially disputable assumption as if it were fact.