Hollywood was right – We DO like happy endings

[vimeo 14126162]

Compared to the videos and pictures you typically see about Africa, I found this simply uplifting and inspiring.  Made me want to go make a donation and be part of the force for positive change!*

So I was not surprised to find out that, neurologically speaking, if you want to get a person to make a change or take action, a story with a POSITIVE message is better than a NEGATIVE one.

According to Stephen Denning, one of the authors of Storytelling in Organizations, research shows that a story with an unhappy ending kicks in one of the more ancient systems in the brain (the limbic system) and tells us to fight or flight.  Thus, we are not in a thoughtful, accepting mind frame.  By the time our cortex (more recent system in the brain) overrides this reaction and calms us down, there is no “springboard effect.”  “Learning may take place, but no rapid action ensues. “

Alternatively, a story with a positive tone evokes a different effect in our limbic brain, actually causing an “endogenous opiate reward” for the cortex.  Dopamine is pumped into the cortex, creating a euphoric feeling that is a better mind frame for taking action and making a change.

All this makes me wonder.  So many stories we use to reach entrepreneurs have a negative message, such as “Warning! If you don’t manage cash flow you’ll end up like these guys, losing your business.”  I’m going to make an effort in eClips interviews to ask for stories that are more like:  “Hey – if you manage cash flow right, look what you’ll be able to do!”  Either story, if told in a compelling manner, can stick with the listener.  But the positive ending may just inspire a change in behavior.

*(Full disclosure:  Good Eye Video is my son’s company.)


Brown, John Seeley, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak. 2004. Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21St Century Organizations and Management. Elsevier.

One thought on “Hollywood was right – We DO like happy endings

  1. There was an interesting report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently that investigated messaging strategies that are effective at getting people to take action. What they discovered is that if you simply convey bad news, people tend to disbelieve and/or forget the information being presented. However, if you include potential solutions to the problem at hand, message recipients showed more openness and willingness to engage. So a “this it’s what’s wrong and here are some ideas about fixing it” seems to be the best approach to engaging people.

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