Storytelling can be a valuable strategic tool in building better products, so what’s holding people in Tech back from using it across the board? In this article, I tried to round up the most common misconceptions about storytelling overheard from my colleagues in the past and also fact-checked them – so you don’t have to.
Myth #0: Tech people don’t give a sh*t about storytelling
But first, I’d like to make a confession. When I and a colleague of mine started talking about storytelling to people at RomSoft, I admit I had my own misconceptions and prejudices. I was convinced that developers prefer machines to people and would never be receptive to storytelling, which is essentially about human connection. I was afraid they would just roll their eyes, let out an exasperated growl, and go back to tapping feverishly on their keyboards.
I was wrong. Many of them were intrigued and open to learn more about storytelling, as long as we wouldn’t waste their time and explain clearly why it’s useful and how they can apply it. So, really, the first myth about storytelling that got debunked was my own fixed idea that IT people are antisocial and would ignore me or tell me to piss off. They didn’t. And somehow along the way, they got comfortable enough to voice their own preconceptions and we worked together to debunk them.
What follows is the result of all these insightful discussions. So, go get your lab suit and put your safety goggles on because we’re just about to start busting some serious storytelling myths.
7 false storytelling myths from people in Tech
Myth #1: Storytelling is about making things up. Like fiction, right?
Reality: Well, no, not necessarily. Sure, when we say storytelling, we’re firstly thinking about fiction: books, films, or the stories that made us daydream as kids. But the truth is that storytelling is all around us – at school, at work and in all our interactions. Catch Me If You Can, Hidden Figures, A Beautiful Mind, Wild are just a few of the many films or books based on true stories.
A good story does not conflict with the truth. And while it’s not okay to lie and fabricate stories to deceive people (e.g. false advertising or propaganda), it’s definitely helpful to use a story, which can be plausible even if not entirely accurate, to describe a problem or explain a benefit . “Se non è vero, è ben trovato” (“even if it is not true, it is well conceived”) – where “well-conceived” is key. This is an Italian expression that I learned from a colleague when we were debating this, and it was ben trovato indeed.
Myth #2: Stories are for children. I’m an adult, give me facts and data, not stories
Reality: Look, no one is saying it’s all about the story and that facts don’t matter, because they do. Without the underlying facts, a story is just that, a good story. But what storytelling does so well is making raw data easy to understand and to remember. It makes information sticky.
The purpose of storytelling is to complement the data, not to replace it. Delivering data as a story worked well for us when we were children, but even as we grow into adults, we still need stories to explain, persuade, and inspire. When we wrap them into a story, that’s when data, facts and information become even more compelling and memorable.
Myth #3: Storytelling is too egocentric, and I don’t like talking about myself
Reality: Oh, it’s anything but that. I admit, it may seem that way because during a story, the attention becomes focused on the storyteller like a spotlight on an actor. But storytelling is not about you. It’s about making a connection with your audience.
It’s a transformative experience that changes both the “story-teller” and the “story-listener”, and it drives shared understanding between the two of them. It’s all based on how our brains work and I could go on and on about mirror neurons and oxytocin, the bonding hormone – but in the end all you have to do to understand this is remember how you felt when listening to a good story. You felt part of something bigger.
Myth #4: Storytelling is unpredictable, unorganized. I’m not a spontaneous person
Reality: That’s fine, no need to change who you are. If there’s something I absolutely love about Tech people, it’s your logical, organized, process-oriented approach to work (and life). On that note, remember you can tackle storytelling just like any other project: make a plan, break it down into steps, and improve with each iteration.
And although it’s a rather creative process, storytelling is still a process after all – it has a clear structure (beginning, middle, end) and some common elements (e.g., characters, conflict, resolution). Think of storytelling as an art but also a science, a collection of techniques that you can learn and apply anytime, in a variety of contexts.
Myth #5: I’ve never had any talent for writing
Reality: Let me guess… growing up, you got caught in the eternal division between science and humanities? I know that many of us were repeatedly told as children that we have to choose: play with cars or with dolls, be good at maths or at arts, and work with computers or with people.
And sadly, some of you have been told that a good text has to be stylish, long, and intricate – and that you just don’t have the talent for it. If that’s what happened to you, I’m sorry for what you had to go through.
Forget all that crap. A good story is not complicated. It follows an age-old formula: the hero has a problem that they need to solve and in doing so they learn a lesson. The simpler, the better. No need to use idioms to beat around the bush (see what I did here?) or stretch it more than necessary.
And as for talent, nobody is born with it, it’s just that some people have more practice than others. As you practice, you will get better, too.
Myth #6: I don’t have any good stories to tell
Reality: Of course you do! Even if it seems like everything has already been written, I assure you that’s not the case. Whenever I hear this myth, I always like to tell my colleagues: “There’s not another YOU on this planet”. Each of us is a unique combination of experiences. We don’t have any clones, not yet at least. And even if we did, there’s no way they could replicate your knowledge and skills as well. Or the adorable awkwardness.
Did you learn something the hard way? Things didn’t go as planned? There’s your story – and it’s a damn good one! Nobody is interested in stories about projects that went along perfectly. We want to hear about learning from mistakes, growing after failures, and perseverance despite hardship. We’re not perfect and that’s okay. But we strive to be better.
Myth #7: I’m not a storyteller
Reality: Yes, you are. We are all storytellers, it’s part of being human. We are hardwired to use stories to understand the world around us, share crucial information and create a sense of belonging. It’s how we built our society and it’s what makes us different from other life forms.
You’re already a storyteller, whether you acknowledge it or not. So, the next time you reach out to someone, and you burst out “oh man, let me tell you what happened…”, just remember you’re doing something that you’re programmed to do. You’re telling a story.
These are just a few of the fascinating conversations we’ve had around storytelling at RomSoft, but I always feel like we’re just scratching the surface and there are still many more things to uncover.
The good news is that in time, more and more colleagues have taken the plunge and started to share some of their stories – on this blog, in our meetings or during their presentations. They have taken the first steps and we can’t help but admire their courage.
I’d like to end with an invitation to let us know what you think about these myths and storytelling in Tech generally. Did any of these myths resonate with you? Do you have any more to add? Let us know in the comments and feel free to browse our blog to read more captivating stories shared by our colleagues.
Illustrations by Iulia Weingold