Scientists as storytellers

I was half listening to Richard Dawkins http://richarddawkins.net/videos/645647-richard-dawkins-on-beautiful-minds-bbc-four-wed-april-25 some time ago on the BBC, whilst doing 3 other things of course! This set me off to thinking what a remarkable storyteller he is and how so many of the most accessible scientists also share this skill. Whilst I am sure that there are plenty of evolutionary theorists out there, who I will never be able to understand but whose work is of incredible value, it is rarely these people who shape current thinking or who have the power to shape our future. Being able to get your message across is probably Dawkins most valuable skill, even if he does manage to offend a large proportion of conservative Christians in the process! Those who are offended understand very clearly what he is trying to say.

So is it just a matter of presentation skills? Surely we can all learn those if we want to? I believe it is far more than that. “Discovery in science often results from unexpected leap of imagination” (Robinson 2011). This is the kind of thinking that is fundamentally creative and often happens in moments of flow. Anyone who is so passionate about what they are doing that they can think in a way which leaves their intellectual abilities indistinguishable from feelings and intuition enters a that state of flow. It may only be for a moment but that moment is enough for a truly original thought to occur. However, without the ability to articulate the significance of that thought it may remain unshared or published, peer-reviewed and filed but not accessible. There are many geniuses and original thinkers out there but unless their stories get shared their ideas do not get our attention.

I’m no spokesperson for Richard Dawkins, the point is he doesn’t need one. However, he did set me wondering how much more accessible science would be in our everyday lives if we didn’t separate science from creativity, storytelling from reality.

Out of Our Minds, Ken Robinson 2011. Capstone Publishing Ltd.

Comments ( 6 )

  1. ReplyGlenn Smith

    Sone excellent points here - I think the same applies to the other professions as well. My own challenge is to bring storytelling into accountancy!

    • Replyadmin

      Accountancy, that sounds a challenge. Anywhere I could find more about what you are doing?

      • ReplyGlenn Smith

        Most of what I do is governed by client confidentiality, but I did get a piece published by The Guardian Housing Nework recently (http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2012/mar/28/hra-reform-housing-revenue-account) . Some of my presentations are also available online, but these are only the framework for the "story" behind the figures, which I deliver in person - usually to facilitate a decision. There is an example of one of my reports snd presentations here (http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_hrb_agenda_080911.pdf), though it may seem a bit lumpy!

  2. ReplySusanna Meese

    I feel the same about Brian Cox. He paints the pictures so vividly when he talks and is so engaging as an orator about stuff that I struggle to comprehend, and if it wasn't for Prof Cox I wouldn't have the slightest interest in. I thought this post was really interesting. Thanks.

    • Replyadmin

      Brian Cox is a perfect example. Anyone who can engage huge audiences on a subject like astrophysics is seen as someone special. He is special but so many more could be if we took storytelling a bit more seriously.

  3. ReplyLisa Rossetti

    Agree re Brian Cox, the new generation of experts will be communicators. Heard a great story-orientated presentation recently from an accountant (Pursglove and Brown). I was most impressed! I have been giving talks to SMEs on using stories when networking rather than sales pitches. Most sceptical, although I came across a construction company who harvested their lads' stories of great customer care & called them Company Legends. I think you have to appeal to the spirit of Beowulf oop here on t' frozen North!

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