Stories, Facts, and Credibility

One of the most powerful assertions I’ve read in recent memory comes from a book by Annette Simmons in the book The Story Factor:

Stories are “more true” than facts…

I love that quote; I find it thought provoking and a nice summary of how I view the world around me.

However, later in the book, Simmons unintentionally provides a reminder that facts do matter, and playing loosely with them can undermine the larger story.

She cites Steve Worth, who himself speaks of the power of spontaneous actions, referring to Rosa Parks as an example, asserting “none of the events leading up to the bus boycotts were planned.” I don’t necessarily dispute his thesis that spontaneous action can be powerful because of its spontaneity, but Rosa Parks was a secretary of the NAACP and had recently attended classes on activism. The NAACP was systematically watching who was getting arrested, waiting for the perfect case to build a movement around.

None of this diminishes Rosa Parks–indeed, good for her and for all of us–but the book’s sloppy propagation of mythology without researching the facts immediately undermined the author of the book for me and marred the larger story she was trying to tell.

I remember having the same reaction years ago while reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, when Jared Diamond early in the book casually refers to Dvorak keyboards as inherently superior despite the dominance of QWERTY. My understanding at the time (though I understand that people still debate this) was that this assertion is not supported by objective research, which immediately made me wonder how well researched the book was, even though it was a only a minor point made in the introduction. (Happily, I ended up really liking the book.)

I’d agree that stories are truer than facts, but only in the same way that submarines are more powerful than depth charges.


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