Stories Change the World

Stories change the world.

Storytelling is what separates humans from other animals. We can talk about things that we’ve never seen, touched or smelled. 

We can imagine a better future. And through sacrifice, it can become reality. The universe of thoughts is connected to the universe of events. They influence each other and operate within a feedback loop. 

Belief influences reality and reason is the slave of passion.

The world is a narrative machine. My favorite example is the stock market. 

Belief moves markets. Stories drive prices. 

Look at what happened during the Financial Crisis: U.S. households were $16 trillion poorer in 2009 than they were in 2007. Now, look at Bitcoin.

Storytelling allows humans to cooperate in service of a greater good and create networks. We’re storytelling monkeys and money is a story. Cryptocurrencies are bootstrap mechanisms for mass-belief. Widespread belief makes it more and more real. 

The price of Bitcoin increases as belief grows.

As Morgan Housel wrote: “Capitalism’s success rests on a belief that, given the right incentives, people can work together to solve problems. It’s the greatest story ever told.”

The world is too complicated to understand, so we look for ways to simplify it.

We will never be able to understand the world perfectly. But we don’t just observe the world — we influence it through our actions and the world responds. Social systems are driven by narratives.

Narratives spurred the winds of American growth: A City Upon a Hill, No Taxation Without Representation, the Red Scare, and so many more.

But now, America is becoming more complacent and less ambitious. America’s investing more in stability and less in growth. Americans are more stagnant and less mobile. The rate of cross-state moves has declined by about 50% since it’s Post World War II peak. Entrepreneurship is declining and Americans are starting businesses at lower rates.  Americans are getting more passive. Look at the drugs we’re prescribing: Opioids, ADHD meds, and Antidepressants – all induce calm. 

America’s less optimistic about the future. We see evidence in American science fiction. Today we live in the age of dystopia, but we used to write about utopias. 

Today, the Chinese are optimistic like America once was. Look at their science fiction. Dynamism is their natural mindset. That’s what happens when your economy is growing at 10% per year, which means it doubles every 7 years. 

In summary:

  • America’s becoming more complacent and less ambitious.
  • America’s investing more in stability and less in growth.
  • America needs more optimism and better storytelling. Our future depends on it.

Narratives are powerful in other ways too. Modern consumers care less about the symbols and slogans that have historically defined a brand, and more about the mission and the people behind it. The best brands have powerful narratives. 

  • Nike makes you more athletic
  • Apple makes you more creative
  • Patagonia makes you outdoorsy

Also true for creatives. The most popular creatives inspire others by telling their story. This inspires other people to support them and evangelize their work.

Casey Neistat is my favorite example. 

  • He was a forgotten child.
  • He got kicked out of school.
  • He escaped home at 15 years old.
  • He got his high school girlfriend pregnant.
  • He moved to NY with his son and became a dishwasher.
  • Now, he’s an inspiration to millions of people. 

Elon Musk is another example. He doesn’t sell cars or clean energy. He sells an optimistic future.  He raises cash through his inspiring vision. And his ambitions distract people from his failures.

Belief is a powerful thing. And Elon Musk is a professional storyteller.

Here’s the good news: these ideas don’t just apply to brands and creatives. They apply to people — to you and me. All of us have the power to tell our story. We can imagine a better future, communicate our vision, gather support, and make it happen.

When people see this, they’ll step in and help you. Then, they’ll open doors you didn’t even know existed. Then, you’ll progress faster and faster. America needs more of this.

There are feedback loops everywhere. This isn’t a new idea. The bible got this right many, many years ago:

“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.

Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

— Matthew 25:29

This is called “The Matthew Effect.”

By telling a better story, countries, brands, creators, and people can inspire others, motivate themselves, and manufacture progress. 

Stories create success. And success improves the story.