Raz highlights the power of narrative in creating change

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

“The story matters.”
That was the message Guy Raz, host and editorial director of the “TED Radio Hour,” had for local officials at the keynote session of the MMA’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 22.
Most Americans don’t know the extent of the work undertaken by local officials, Raz said, from designing a playground, to restricting a left turn onto a particular street, or enacting a particular “annoying regulation” that ultimately saves lives. And we take for granted services only available in other countries to the wealthiest or through public corruption.
“We celebrate an incredible touchdown pass by Tom Brady, we shower him with adulation, huge contracts,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is that as amazing as Tom Brady is, what you do literally changes the lives of people in this state, right? And for the most part you do it without a whole lot of recognition or money. You do it because you’ve been called to lead and to shape your towns and cities for future generations.
“But the story matters. We need to know that. We need to hear it.”
Raz argued that movements become successful when narrative is combined with a shared purpose and sense of mission, strong leadership, and organization. Stories can move people to take action, collaborate and change the world around them.
In his career as a storyteller and journalist, Raz said he has learned the power of narrative.
He cited studies where high-quality wine was switched with cheap wine and tasters preferred the cheaper wine in the expensive bottle. In another study, researchers presented two different menus at the same restaurant, with one listing simply “red beans and rice” and one calling the same item “Cajun red beans and rice.” The menu that used the term Cajun resulted in a 28 percent increase in orders.
“I know this sounds bonkers, but all of a sudden there was a story connected to that word,” he said.
Another study found that the more that people connected with a story, the more oxytocin – the chemical associated with trust, generosity, honesty and compassion – was released in their brains.
“Now I’m not saying you should all of a sudden adopt some kind of Orwellian approach and rename your budget cuts the ‘Cajun rice and beans budget cut,’” Raz said to chuckles. “Because people are obviously not going to buy that.
“But what I am saying is when you make a great meal or serve great wine, it’s worth letting people know that. When the work you do affects and sustains lives … you might want to figure out how to highlight that story.”
Raz’s “TED Radio Hour,” which airs on National Public Radio, is the fastest growing program in public radio history and one of the top podcasts in the country. The 3-year-old program “takes listeners on a journey through the world of ideas.”