Story Telling is Uniquely Human

By March 16, 2018Uncategorized

This is the second of two posts centered on how Geoff Colvin’s book “Humans are Underrated” is a great blueprint for the future of the sales profession.

Have you ever had the experience where you are telling a story and you know that you’ve made a deep connection because something in your brain starts vibrating and a powerful emotion washes over your body?

In his book “Humans are Underrated”, Geoff Colvin talks about what human skills will remain relevant as computer capability surpasses human skills in many areas.  Along the way, he highlights some things that are uniquely human and key qualities for great sellers – things like defining problems,  collaborating for better answers and empathy.

He also shares some research to explain the science behind human connection and storytelling.

He centers his storytelling chapter on how Stephen Denning, a mid-level bureaucrat, turned the World Bank into a knowledge-sharing organization in the mid-90s.  Denning realized the bank had a massive amount of valuable health data locked in its internal libraries that could accelerate the banks stated mission – to help the world’s poor.

But try as he might – charts, slides, data and presentation after presentation – nothing was working to persuade his colleagues to prioritize his idea of sharing the bank’s information over this great new thing called the internet.

Finally, he started telling the story of a Zambian health worker getting malaria information online and helping her village eliminate malaria.  The place where she found her information was a website that had less information and insight about malaria then the World Bank.   

He finished his story with two thoughts: “The most important part of this picture for us in the World Bank is this: the World Bank isn’t in the picture.  Just imagine if we got organized to share our knowledge in that way; just think of what an organization we could become!”

The story went viral within the World Bank and bank leaders started retelling the story.   Soon the president of the World Bank told the global finance ministers that knowledge sharing was so important to the bank’s mission that they wanted to be known as the ‘Knowledge Bank”.

This simple story of how a Zambian health worker and her dial-up modem moved an unmovable bureaucracy and helped millions of poor people world-wide illustrates the power and viral nature of a good story.


Colvin writes about researchers scanning the brains of people sharing and listening to stories, and finding that both brains are sharing the same experience.  The exact same parts of both brains light up at the same time, including the speech, language and empathy areas.  

When people tell or hear a good story, Colvin cites research demonstrating that their brain is geting a hit of Oxytocin, which has been nicknamed the empathy hormone because it seems to make people “more trustworthy, generous, charitable and compassionate.”

A shared story creates a unique, shared experience and the hormone hit encourages you to tell the story again to recreate the experience.  This explains in part the viral nature of a good story.

Researchers also found this effect was magnified when a storyteller speaks to several listeners at once – a common situation for sales people.  This explains that strong, emotional buzzing feeling that can come when you connect with prospects.

Sales people, like Denning, need to move others to think differently.  Creating an empathy-rich conversation with stories is a great way to do this.   Scaling this idea with a story program like the ones used by SharperAx customers is a great way to institutionalize the stories that move prospects to action.


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