The history behind the importance of storytelling

Much has been written about the significance of storytelling in sales and marketing. In fact, much has been spoken about the importance of storytelling in everything business related. It’s not surprising that this is a favorite topic of professional speakers throughout the country. After all, research tells us that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts, statistics, and you guessed it, sales pitches about product features, application suites, and your latest supply chain management solution benefits. 

But nothing has been written, spoken or even whispered about the history of storytelling; it’s as if this was an invention of the last several decades that began resonating with researchers, neuroscientists and marketers who found it to be a gold rush of invention, innovation and ingenuity. 

To all of those who have leapt onto the storytelling bandwagon, you’re 2,500 years behind the times. 

The three first, and arguably some of the greatest storytellers were Socrates, his prized student, Plato, and Plato’s prized student, Aristotle. If you don’t believe me, feast on these quotes from the world’s original thought leaders:

When the storytelling goes bad in society, the result is decadence,” said Aristotle. And by decadence, he literally meant the moral decline of culture. Ouch!

Those who tell stories rule society,” said Plato. Of course, by today’s standards, that could be pretty far-reaching, but you catch Plato’s drift.

And this from Socrates, the elder of the bunch, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you should come easily by what others have labored hard for.” According to Socrates, who was actually notorious for not documenting in writing much of what his philosophies and instruction were about, it was imperative to read the stories of others for that was the primary way we could learn, save ourselves from the agony of mistakes, and become leaders of behavioral ethics rather than followers of Thrasymachus, a rival philosopher of Socrates, who believed that an enriched life was grounded in power, strength, corruption and thievery. 

The point is this – history provides the context for almost anything and storytelling is no exception. In fact, I contend that storytellers in general, and speakers who talk about storytelling in particular, could strengthen their argument if they just paid a little more attention to history. Or as the wonderful Latin American novelist, Eduardo Galiano said, “History really never says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’”