Sunday, April 17, 2011

Smart people are good at telling good stories

storyteller Being an educator, I meet many very smart people.  I have learned much from them and I find myself seeking audiences of smart people with whom to share my own experiences.  Let me also state that I do not consider myself some sort of “intellectual snob.”  It is not as if my friends and acquaintances must meet some minimum IQ.  I am simply saying that, generally speaking, I get much satisfaction from engaging with smart people.

The topics of my recent reflections are smart people and the things they do.  Thinking about this question, I found myself thinking quite a bit about my past teachers, current colleagues, and a sprinkling of smart historical figures.  One common activity among many of these people is that they tell good stories, especially among the teachers.  Looking back on my experiences, the teachers whose intelligence I respect the most are those who were able to use stories very effectively.  This requires two similar, yet distinct criteria.

  1. The story was, in and of itself, a good story
  2. They told the story well

For teachers, both criteria are important.  A good story told poorly and a bad story (even told well) both confuse and miss their audience.  The points are unclear and the audience leaves thinking something like, “Well, that was time I can never get back!”  Again, for teachers, this would not be the reaction you want your students to have after your lesson.

Smart people are not perfect, though.  For example, I would consider George Lucas a pretty smart guy.  The original Star Wars trilogy is considered, in many circles, a masterpiece of story telling and film making.  These first three films had a great story to tell and were told through excellent writing, acting, directing, etc.  The result being highly respected and critically acclaimed movies.

On the other hand, there are the series of prequels that, in the same circles, do not enjoy nearly the level of critical acclaim as the first three films.  Lucas is no less smart, but his stories (still at their core good tales) were not nearly told with the quality of the first three.  Sure, the technological tools were more advanced, but the writing, acting, directing, etc. were not of high enough quality to do the stories justice.

Recognizing their imperfections, smart people learn from earlier misfires and work to make adjustments.  The end result, when good, is likely the result of various trials and amendments.  Smart people also, though, know when a good story needs to be “put to rest.”  “Dipping into the same well” too often may create a staleness that begins to erode the value of the initial tale (you can pick your own example of rehashing a story that has no reason to be told again).

Stories can be a powerful tool for leading and teaching.  Be smart and use them wisely and effectively.      

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