We all like stories. Why? We can lose ourselves in them for a time. Stories can make us feel as if we are experiencing something new. This also explains why movies and, to an even greater degree immersive video games and virtual worlds, are so compelling – but that’s a topic for another day.

I appreciate the insight about the human brain and storytelling in the December 5, 2012 Lifehacker article, “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains,” by startup co-founder Leo Widrich. With data storytelling one of the product scenarios of “QlikView.next” (see the related post, “Data Storytelling with ‘QlikView.next’”), the article grabbed my attention.

Brain cortext lights up when you see images.png

Widrich pointed out that when we read words on a PowerPoint slide, for example, our brain goes into language processing mode; the brain is trying to decode words into meaning. In contrast, when we are engaged in storytelling (either on the telling or listening side), not only are the language processing parts of the brain activated—but also any other part of the brain that we would use if we were experiencing the events in the story.

Wait, it gets even cooler. Because this brain activity happens in both the storyteller and the person listening to the story, storytellers can synchronize their brains with the recipient of the story. Whatever the storyteller is experiencing, they can induce the listener to experience too.

What does this have to do with Business Discovery? A whole lot. The same principle applies to numbers on a page or screen as to words. If we just see the numbers in black and white our brain goes into processing mode. We try to figure out what the numbers mean.

With numbers, how do you get your (data) point across? How do you convey the emotion behind your discovery or proposed decision? How do you get others on board with you? If someone is telling or listening to a story about the numbers – how the numbers came to be, why they matter, what their implications are, and what should be done about it – more peoples’ brains (and more of their brains) are engaged. Telling stories with data requires a connection to the data being analyzed.

And, to take this idea all the way to its conclusion, isn’t brain synchronization the nirvana of business intelligence? The nirvana of BI is alignment – getting everyone on the same page so the organization can move as one in the right direction, based on facts.

See these related blog posts: