Avoid the Power of Stories

I love stories. So do you. We’re built to love stories because, unlike data, they fit the way our brains worked best in a natural state. People who lived in a state of nature didn’t have a lot of data or Excel to help them analyze it.

But they had stories, and, with a world containing way fewer things to think about than we’ve got today, those stories worked pretty well to explain what was going on and what to do next. You could believe that an evil spirit lived in a lake where people kept drowning, and if that kept you out of a lake with a steep drop and a silty bottom, then that story, while false, still worked. It kept you from drowning.

Today, though, we have the ability to concoct stories about anything, explaining just about anything. When we believe these stories because they’re good stories, that’s called the narrative fallacy. We’re practically born to fall for this.

tupac2I was reading this piece about the closing of Holler if Ya Hear Me on Broadway, and it struck me that when something happens that surprises people in the complex world of marketing live entertainment, we all have a tendency to create stories about why it happened.

Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean that any of the points of view of people in this story are wrong: It could have been that the subject matter (the life and career of Tupac Shakur) “offended” or put off the traditional Broadway crowd, or that the reviewers didn’t give it its proper due, or that the marketing that was necessary to reach a “niche audience” wasn’t quite what it needed to be.

It could be all of those or any number of other things. Most Broadway shows fail, but no one ever asks the question, “Why did this show succeed?” But in truth, that’s the right question to ask. We should assume shows will fail, and marvel when they don’t.

I’m sorry I missed Holler, and the people who are close to the show probably have some pretty good insight about why it didn’t catch on, so this isn’t really about that show. It’s about everything that we as marketers do and our impulse to “explain” what happened. You have to be very careful about feeling that you “know” anything.

You may have just told yourself a really good story. So good that you just couldn’t help but believe it was also true.

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