Why We’re Storytelling Animals with Jonathan Gottschall

Learn how the mind yields helplessly to the suction of story from New York Times Best Selling Author Jonathan Gottschall.

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Jonathan Gottschall, a phenomenal author and English Fellow at Washington Jefferson College, has been featured by the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and more. He recently published his eighth book, The Professor In The Cage, and he’s here with us to discuss why humans are innately storytelling animals.

From Daydreams to Nightmares, We Are Wired For Story

Why are humans innate storytellers? What benefit do we reap from constructing our lives in terms of narrative? Jonathan points to a few possibilities:

  • We enjoy stories
  • It’s possible that some stories have no purpose whatsoever
  • Biologists have proposed that stories have evolved as a way to try different courses of action and to experience events vicariously
  • Stories have persuasive power


“Storytelling” says Jonathan, “is kind of an evolutionary mystery.”

Rising Above the Story Cacophony

storytellinganimalSince everyone now has access to publishing and social media, this is a prolific time to produce stories in versatile forms. That being said, one of the biggest challenges that companies and marketers face is that they must be involved in the storytelling rat race, and amidst the cacophony of global stories, “the best story will win.”

So, how can you and your business become more effective storytellers?

The Problem Structure

Jonathan suggests the application of simple practices, which can be found in his creative writing courses.

Stories all have the same structure.

Stories are about people →  who have a problem → they attempt to solve.

The more challenging it is to solve the problem, the more creative the solution must be, and thus, the more interesting the story of solving it becomes.

“Story picks the locks in our brains.”

Therapists call this narrative transportation–that sense of losing oneself, a brain-state that stories can deliver us into once they’ve ‘unlocked’ our minds.

When we reach that mental state, we become much more available to communications and persuasion. This is why it is so effective to deliver data or a message through storytelling.

“Story can act like a Trojan Horse that smuggles a message into the human mind.” —@jonathangottshc

While we may not like the concept of story as a manipulative force, is an undeniable tool. And though it may not always be used for good, it has deep persuasive power.

The downside of this power? “The psych studies show that none of this voodoo power kicks in unless the story is good.”

The Slog to Greatness

Just like the hero in our journey, the role of the storyteller is no piece of cake. Don’t forget that even Shakespeare began with an illegible manuscript.

The simple truth is that you must be willing to slog through the difficult parts of building an effective story. Writers practice for hours a day, for years, through the doubt and fear and vulnerability.

The good news is that one is not preconditioned to be a storyteller. It is a skill that can be acquired, and it may be simpler than you think.

Cut Through Clutter

The structure of story is simple; it doesn’t change. Anyone can turn into the best storyteller in the world, it just takes practice. Here are some of Jonathan’s favorite guides to the art of writing and storytelling:


Jonathan also quotes King to reiterate that if you really want to tell stories well, you must do two things: You must write a lot, and read a lot.

Why not begin today?

By tuning into today’s conversation, you will have access to more excellent resources to tell your business’s story. You can find today’s hot tip by listening to our episode or by going to TheBusinessofStory.com.

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