Beginning with Individuals

The very nature of our neurophysiology is designed to work with stories. The way we learn, the way we remember, the way we communicate, the way we create is optimized for the experience of the world through a narrative lens.

The concept of neuroplasticity began to emerge in the late 1960s. At that same time, Gregory Bateson developed a taxonomy of learning and communication (“The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication”, 1968) which forms one of the bases of understanding the role of storytelling in these areas. In it, he identifies that certain knowledge is more likely to “stick” when it is presented in a particular manner – namely, an unexpected shift in context.

Creating the opportunity for learning that endures can be accomplished through techniques developed for use in clinical hypnosis – which happen to mimic certain fundamental structures of narrative communication. These techniques “ready” our systems to be both surprised by and receptive to new experiences which hold the greatest likelihood for learning and retention.

More recently, it became possible to map neurotransmitters to the narrative arc in such a way that one can determine the mood and mode of story elements which will elicit an ideal “cocktail of neurotransmitters” – including both which neurotransmitters and in which sequence – to heighten the potential for neuroplasticity and retained learning.

Moving to Communities – and Teams

In their most natural sense, stories are told from one person to (at least) one other person. We know from research into mirror neurons and neural synchrony that more information is shared when stories are told than either side is consciously aware of. This explains the power of ambiguity in a story well told, in what some call “white space” in the content, or “performative adjustment” in the telling process. The main point, though, is that people will creatively elaborate on meaning when given the opportunity, and in so doing make it their own.

This has particular power in communities, as this shared white space encourages bonding and resilience around shared values that have been collaboratively created. Whether the community is an organization, the collective of clients, or even a specific team, building on these foundations of learning and communication and adding the methods of building shared meaning and creativity produces commitment, resilience, and better communication than could be otherwise achieved.