“Narrative imaging – story – is the fundamental instrument of thought,” writes cognitive scientist Mark Turner. Stories are an integral part of the human experience. We explain ourselves and connect to others through stories. However, as Daniel Pink points out in his book A Whole New Mind, our society has minimized the importance and value of story. We are all about facts and data. But facts and data are meaningless without the ability to give a context and an emotional impact. And that is the essence of story – the second high-touch aptitude Pink posits is essential today.
Pink relates several examples of the importance of story in today’s world, including in corporate knowledge management and as a product differentiator, but what caught my attention the most was his insight into story’s importance in health care education. In 2001, Dr. Rita Charon, a Columbia University Medical School professor, published an article stating that “along with scientific ability, physicians need the ability to listen to the narrative of the patient, grasp and honor their meanings, and be moved to act on the patient’s behalf.” Fast forward a few years and a course in “narrative medicine” is being taught at Columbia. In a study of the “narrative medicine” method, students who kept two charts – one with quantitative medical info, and one with narratives and personal reflection – had better relationships with patients, better interviewing skills and better technical skills than students who only kept charts of factual medical information.
Consider how we could apply this to students of other professions. What if accountants also studied “narrative accounting?” Would tax day be less painful, or tax forms easier to fill out?
How can we be sure we are teaching our students how to utilize the element of story? Share your ideas here.