Jonathan Gottschall writes books at the intersection of science and art. His most recent work, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection), draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology and biology to show how storytelling has evolved as a fundamental human instinct. Jonathan teaches in the English Department at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania and blogs about the mysteries of storytelling at Psychology Today. His work has been featured in outlets like The New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Oprah Magazine, and NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Described by Steven Pinker as “a brilliant young scholar,” Jonathan is the author or editor of six books, including The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence and the World of Homer and Literature, Science, and a New Humanities.
In business, storytelling is all the rage. Without a compelling story--we are told--our product, idea, or personal brand, is dead on arrival. People aren’t moved to action by spreadsheets. People are moved by emotion. And our ability to connect emotionally depends on the quality of our stories. This sounds plausible enough, but is it actually true? In this talk, Jonathan Gottschall leads a guided tour through the literature library and the science lab to show why storytelling really is such a uniquely powerful form of persuasive jujitsu. This talk zooms out to reveal the whole big picture of story’s role in human life, and then zooms in on specific business challenges, and how thinking like a storyteller can help us solve them. How can stories be used to rivet attention, rouse emotion, and influence behavior? What lessons can business storytellers learn from the masters of world fiction? Why are fact-based stories more persuasive than facts alone? In what ways is a story like a virus? And what has science discovered about story’s ability to draw us into altered states of consciousness? People are storytelling animals, and the surest way to change one mind or the whole world always begins with “Once upon a time.”
Humans are the storytelling animal. We thrill to an astonishing multitude of fictions on pages, on stages, and on screens: murder stories, sex stories, war stories, conspiracy stories, true stories and false. We are, as a species, addicted to story. But the addiction runs deeper than we think. We can walk away from our books and our screens, but not from story. We dream, fantasize, and socialize in stories. Story infiltrates every aspect of how we live and think. Did you know that fiction enhances our empathy? That it is better at changing our values and beliefs than non-fiction that is designed to persuade? Did you know that stories have brought on wars, inspired atrocities, and driven massive social change? Did you know that the stories in dreams, literature, and children’s make-believe, all hew to the same universal structure? Did you know that we all boldly fictionalize the stories of our own lives? In this talk, Jonathan Gottschall leads a whirligig tour of a new science of stories—why we shape them, and how they shape us.
When he got in his first fight, Jonathan Gottschall was a 39 year old English professor and a lifelong master of the arts of flight, not fight. In this talk—based on his forthcoming book The Professor in the Cage: How Duels, Fights, and Sports Shaped (and Just Possibly Saved) the Human Race (Penguin)--Jonathan Gottschall draws on his own wild journey into cage fighting in order to tell a bigger story about the history and science of violence. Unrestrained violence is bad, but structured forms of aggression can be a surprisingly good thing. Humans, especially males, are masters of what he calls the monkey dance—a dizzying variety of ritualized, rule-bound contests. These contests occur on a continuum from elaborate and deadly duels, to combat sports like boxing or football, to the play fights of boys, all the way to duels of pure language. These showdowns often seem ridiculous and sometimes end in tragedy. But they serve a vital function: they help us work out conflicts and thrash out hierarchies while minimizing danger and social chaos. Without the restraining codes of the monkey dance, the world would be much darker and more violent place.
A good writer has the power to enter our brains and change how we think and feel. Writers are like wizards: they wave their pens over paper and create magic spells that project us into other times, places, and minds. So why do most students hate to write so much? In this inspirational talk, Gottschall locates the problem not in the students, but in pervasive writing myths and in boredom: students are usually forced to write about the professor’s passion, rather than being pushed to find their own. Gottschall seeks to excite students about learning and writing by describing the hard struggles of great writers, and by leading them through the ups and downs of producing his own book The Professor in the Cage: How Duels, Fights, and Sports Shaped (and Just Possibly Saved) the Human Race (Penguin, forthcoming). Gottschall takes students, from the conception of his idea, through research on the science of violence, to his own cage fight, and his equally fierce battles with writer’s block. And he draws on the experience of fighting writers like Ernest Hemingway, Lord Byron, and Vladimir Nabokov in order to draw surprising parallels between the ecstasy and the agony of fighting and writing.
Jonathan Gottschall speaks at the World Science Festival (with Joyce Carol Oates, Jeff Eugenides, and Paul Bloom)
TAGS: Communications, Branding, Marketing, Psychology, Science