Ep 34: Lisa Cron on The Power of Emotion

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Erica is joined by Lisa Cron to discuss the evolution of stories. They discuss using the story of your organization (through your mission, vision, value, and purpose statements) to connect with your audience. They stress the importance of pinpointing the self narrative of your target audience and why using facts is not as effective as utilizing stories. Lisa also talks about emotion as a survival mechanism and the significance of shifting our perception of stories from something that is entertaining to something that is part of our brain architecture.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s interview with Lisa Cron on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


story, emotion, people, organization, words, facts, marketing, world, feel, meaning, hear, brain, persuade, listeners, thinking, rational

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:04

Marketing can be an incredible force for good, it can inspire and motivate and make our world more just, equitable and inclusive. But too often marketing perpetuates the status quo for a select few, rather than disrupting it for the greater good of all. This show looks to change that. Join me, your host, Eric Mills Barnhart as we usher in a new era of marketing, an era of marketing for good. Hello, listener, thank you for being here with me today. This episode features Lisa Cron, and I have to say, you’ll hear me say it in the episode, but I had a fangirl moment. I’m not gonna lie, I have followed Lisa’s work for a long time and really appreciate her ability to make storytelling really practical and grounded in neuroscience and biology and move it out of the space of you should tell a story once upon a time to like, there’s a reason that stories work based on how we are hardwired. She does a beautiful job of explaining why data doesn’t work, especially if you lead with data, I don’t know. Where my mind went, as I was thinking about my conversation with Lisa after is, we just got sold a story that PowerPoints and charts and numbers and all the rest of it, it is what we’re going to like help people understand it connected on the rest of it. And then I literally got this image of cave people trying to make some sort of strategic decision about where to move on the tundra. I don’t know what kinds of strategic decisions they were making, to be quite honest, but I’m sure that they did. And it wasn’t like they didn’t pause. They weren’t like, hey, well, you know, I whipped up this PowerPoint presentation, check out my bars and graphs. I bet it’s just not how we’re wired in the hardware that we’re working with in our brain. Isn’t that different? It has evolved a bit over the past couple millennia, but not that much. So I don’t know, once you really get comfy with, like the context of our brains, how far and yet how not far at all they have come. I think story takes on different meaning. And it makes sense in a business context in ways that are in particularly important right now, as we emerge from COVID into whatever this new era is going to be. So with this image of cave people busting out PowerPoint presentations, I want to welcome you to my conversation with Lisa Cron. Welcome to this episode of the Marketing for Good podcast. Today I have with me Lisa Cron, who just very graciously told me how to pronounce her name properly. So thank you, Lisa. Lisa is the author of Wired for Story, Story Genius and Story or Die, her latest book. Her TEDx talk Wired for Story opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference. And Lisa now is a story coach, author and speaker. Prior to that, however, she spent a decade in publishing and has been a literary agent, television producer and story analyst for Hollywood Studios. Since 2006, she has been an instructor in the UCLA extension writers program. And she has been on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in visual narrative in New York City. In her work as a private coach, Lisa works with writers, nonprofits, educators, and other organizations helping them master the unparalleled power of story. If you are intrigued, and this will be in the show notes, to learn more about Lisa, you can find her at wiredforstory.com. Thank you, Lisa, so much for joining me today.

Lisa Cron  04:01

It’s my utter pleasure. I’m so happy to be here.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:04

I am having a fangirl moment, I have to say because I have loved, loved, loved your work since I read Wired for Story.

Lisa Cron  04:11

Thank you.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:11

I don’t know how many years ago that was. But it-

Lisa Cron  04:15

It came out in 2012.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:17

Okay, yeah. Well, and by the way, then you’ve been busy. I mean, that’s a lot of words you’ve put out into the world.

Lisa Cron  04:26

I know. I look at it sometimes, I’m sort of stunned. Yeah. So it’s kind of like yeah, that is a lot.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:32

Well, what I fell in love with and has remained true in my mind- Oh, let’s just say so I’m listening to Story or Die. I’m listening, I’m out walking, you know, in the evenings, and I realized that I was walking and being like, Yes, exactly, that’s exactly right. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, Erica, you were like you’re talking out loud. I was talking out loud. Because I was so the seriously agreeing with so many points. So I’m trying to keep that in check, you know a little bit more. But through your book, I was not able to because it’s so spot on. And that’s always what I’ve loved about you is your ability to make story matter, in really concrete ways.

Lisa Cron  05:13

Yeah, thank you.

Erica Mills Barnhart  05:15

I mean, you have, honestly, you have so much wisdom to offer listeners of this podcast. So I was trying to get strategic about how we could like glean the gold in a finite period of time. And where I want to go, is to work through a set of what I’m calling cron-isms, which is a quote from you. But I want to start by asking you to talk about that and just before we came on air, we a little bit started dipping into this, so I’m super intrigued by your response about your views on the connection between story and marketing, and especially, you know, marketing for good, meaning marketing that makes the world a better place. What do you see is the connection, there’s overlap, which is why I’m asking and so I just love to hear you talk about that to open things up?

Lisa Cron  06:04

Okay, well, here’s the thing, story really is the only way to convince anybody of anything. So when you’re marketing, whether you’re marketing for good the only way to actually do that is through story. And I think that, that is one of the things that throws people off, when even just hearing something like that, is our conception of story. In other words, when we hear the word story, we think, tell me a story, or I’m going to watch a movie or I’m going to read a novel, we think of story as entertainment. And that’s not what story is, that’s not what we’re talking about when we talk about story. Story is something that is literally wired into our brains. It’s part of our brain architecture, we think in story. And we think in narrative, and the reason that we are so pulled into stories, talking about, again, whether you’re watching a movie, or reading a novel, or listening to somebody talk about something that happened to them last week, or a pitch or reading a mission statement, is we are all wired to look for the exact same thing, which is how is that going to help me get through the night? How does that relate to me? Because we think in story, think of it this way, there’s nothing that we ever think about whether it’s a big idea or abstract concept, or, or any sort of a generalization. We don’t really think about those things. Because it’s something that we literally, as humans made up, there is no general, there is no abstract, when we get any sort of effect, or any sort of anything that someone’s telling us that’s hoping it will change our behavior. What our brain does is we spin that fact in the narrative. So we can see how that fact will affect us boots on the ground in our lives, given our agenda, we think is it going to help us? Or is it going to hurt us? Is it gonna get us closer to what we want? Or is it going to get us further away? So that in other words, we think in story, and that means that when you’re trying to convince anyone of anything, again, good or bad, you have to really figure out what their story is, or their their target group, what their narrative is, and then come up with a story that speaks story to story. But the point is, is that we think in story, the reason that we love stories, so much. I mean, the irony is is the reason we don’t really understand the power of story. It is because we love them so much. And we tend you know, to think of story as something that’s, that’s exhilary, you come home after a, you know, a hard day of work doing real things in the real world. And, you know, what do you do? You turn on the TV. I mean, of course this is back in the day when we did go out. But now it’s like when we come out of our office and you know, we put on the hat of now I’m home and I’m relaxing you know, you pick up a novel, you start watching a movie because you want to, you know, lose yourself in the world of make believe. So it’s very easy to think of story as something that is wonderful. But again, it’s optional, you know, so if we didn’t have stories, our lives would be far drabber. But we would have survived just fine, and that just couldn’t be further from the truth. Story was more crucial to our evolution than our beloved and much touted opposable thumbs. Because all opposable thumbs do is let us hang on. Its story that tells us what to hang on to and I think the biggest problem that we have is twofold. You know, when we’re trying to embrace story now, and as I’m sure all of you have seen out there, there is a big movement to you know, story and when you’re selling something, do you know the story and do you know people’s story and how to create story? The problem is, again, that we think of story as soft science, we think of story as auxilary. I’m going to give some of the facts, they’re going to understand those facts, and then if they don’t quite get the facts because they’re not being rational and logical, we can, you know, doll it up with a story so that they maybe feel something and, and that’s sort of the secondary thing to do. And the truth is, one of the biggest lies we’ve told, and there are many, is that we make sense of things through facts and logic. We aren’t wired to, we absolutely don’t we make sense of things based on how that rational analysis that logic makes us feel.

Erica Mills Barnhart  10:29

So this is like Jill Bolte Taylor, who said, “although many of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel biologically we are feeling creatures that think”, on which you, I’m just gonna quote you now Lisa, say “we make every decision based on emotion because emotion telegraph’s meaning. If we couldn’t feel emotion, we couldn’t make a single rational decision”. That’s so interesting. That’s not a metaphor, that’s biology. So I’m gonna repeat that last. But if we couldn’t feel emotion, we couldn’t make a single rational decision. Say more about that. That’s so different than I think many of us think about things.

Lisa Cron  11:04

It’s 100% true. Do you mind if I give you an example? Let me give you the example. And this comes from, there’s a really amazing neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio. And he teaches at USC, has written several books. And he frequently writes about a patient he had a man by the name of Elliot and Elliot was one of these really successful guys. He had a great job. He had a great family. He was like one of those people, you’d call the pillar of his community. Unfortunately, he also had a brain tumor. Now it was benign, and surgeons were able to remove all of it. But to do that, they had to take some of his prefrontal cortex. And after that, like he recovered, I mean, he’s physically halen hardy, but he wasn’t himself anymore. And he had lost his job, he lost his family, he lost all his money to con-men, he was he was living at home with his parents, and the government was about to cut off his disability checks because they thought this guy’s a malingerer. And so the family brought him to Damasio, and they said, like, you know, what’s going on here? Like, did the operation just somehow unleashes latent laziness? Or is there something else going on? And Demasio ran a long battery of tests, and what he discovered was Elliot had lost the ability to feel and process emotion. Now, keep in mind that he still tested in the 97th percentile in intelligence. And he could enumerate every possible solution to any problem that you could pitch at him. He just couldn’t pick one, he’d like go into his office and go, should I do that thing my boss seems to really want me to do, or would it be better to re-alphabetize my file folders again, today? If I do that, should I use the blue pen or the black pen? I mean, this really got me, lunch he’d go from restaurant to restaurant looking at menus, but he never went in, because he didn’t know what he felt like eating. I mean, think about that. Like if you’ve never felt anything about anything, this notion that logic and data is what’s going to tell us what to do. I mean, think about your own life, like picture your own beloved. And now imagine that your beloved, has been away for a month, and you’ve really missed them. And now they’re finally back and they’re walking through the door and you look at them, and you don’t feel anything. How would you even know they were your beloved? Would you look at the data? I mean, it really comes back to how we feel. And for my feeling, the takeaway always is emotion isn’t the monkey wrench in the system. Emotion is the system. Emotion is a survival mechanism. Without emotion, we wouldn’t be here, it is telegraphed.

Erica Mills Barnhart  13:44

Because it is through emotion that we create sense.

Lisa Cron  13:48

Well, yeah, exactly. An emotion is literally telegraphed meaning so that once we know something, and it gets relegated to our cognitive unconscious, which is where we make most of the decisions we make. I mean, we make they say, what, 35,000 decisions a day. And of those, we’re only like, consciously aware of 70 of them, right?

Erica Mills Barnhart  14:09

We had Leslie Zane on to talk about the role of subconscious and marketing.

Lisa Cron  14:15

So I like calling it cognitive unconscious. Because just because subconscious has such a ephemoral way of thinking of it. And cognitive unconscious is not ephemeral. It is literally, once we know something, the way that we’re wired. I mean, what I’m fond of saying is, sadly, we’re wired to live in a world we don’t live in anymore. So that we’re wired to live in a world that once we’re born, we are we’re looking for what we have what’s called an affinity for pattern necessity, which is a great example of why you never want to- This is why you should never use like $25 words like it’s called an avidity for patternicity. And what that means in plain English, which is always best, is that we’re constantly looking for patterns. If this than that, from the moment we are born. If I cry real loud, that nice person will come in and give me milk. Got it. Once we found a familiar pattern that we can trust, it gets relegated to our cognitive unconscious. The problem is that the wiring that we have was really set in place about 100,000 years ago, back when our brain had that last big growth spurt and we were told at that time, this is what I’m sure most people were told, certainly what I learned was that that was because that was when we got the ability to, you know, think rationally, think logically, critical thinking. And that’s true, that did happen then. But what evolutionary biologists will tell us now is, is that wasn’t why we had that change. The reason why was because at that point, you know, if we were going to do what, for better or worse, we’ve since done, which is, you know, take over the world, we needed to do that thing that we’ve been told to do since kindergarten, which is we needed to learn to work well with others. And at that point, our need to belong to a group became as biologically hardwired is is our need for food, air and water. In other words, we’re all people who need people when someone goes, I don’t need anybody. I’m a lone wolf. I just want to say, well you are aware that wolves travel in packs aren’t you? And if you look it up, a lone wolf in the wolf community is a wolf that has done something so egregious that they’ve been ostracized and are left to die. But so the point is, is back when we had that big growth spurt, the world was really much simpler. In other words, nothing changed, right, for aeons. So once you learn something, once you saw a pattern, it was gonna be that way forever. And once you learn something about your fellow compatriots, I mean, what’s the number, there’s a number, it’s called Dunbar’s number, which is 150, from Robin Dunbar has an evolutionary biologist at Oxford. And he basically postulates that from back in the day up until now, given the way our brains are wired, that we can really pretty much keep track of about up to 150 people, that’s about it. Beyond that, it gets very fuzzy, we can’t really do it. And that’s because back then, that was it. I mean, our, our groups, the tribes that we lived in, it wasn’t 150 self selecting people the way it would be now, it was 150 people. That’s it. So that once you learn something about the way the group worked, or about someone or about the world, it made sense that your brain wouldn’t code it as if it was permanent, as if that is just the way that things are. And so the problem now is, is that the world that we take in and the world that we see when we’re young, because that is when we’re trying to figure out how the world works. I mean, you may have heard of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, right? Maslow, the American psychologist, and he says, okay, there’s a pyramid of needs. Top is, you know, the pinnacle is like connection and sense of purpose is the bottom

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:09

Self actualization.

Lisa Cron  18:11

Right? The first thing we need, the very bottom, he says, food, water, shelter, and he’s wrong, because that is not the first thing we need. The first thing we need is somebody who cares enough about us to give us those things.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:21

Well, there’s been more evolution of Maslow’s hierarchy, which is to say he, I think it’s around definition, right? Because what he put on the bottom rung was safety. But he defined that as physical safety. The evolution of it is to say, and I think this is what you’re saying, which is, it’s not just physical safety, it’s actually psychological safety as well as physical safety.

Lisa Cron  18:42

Well, yes.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:44

Because we’ve evolved. The world has evolved.

Lisa Cron  18:48

No, not just that. I mean, this goes back to the 100,000 years ago, social safety and psychological safety means I know what to do in order to stay alive, which means that what stories are about more than anything isn’t about physical safety. Stories are about social safety. That’s what we need, we need to figure out how to survive in the social world. That’s what I meant by, we need to have someone who cares enough about us to keep us physically safe. And that means that when we’re young, we’re trying to figure out okay, what do I need, not to make it sound totally transactional, but, we’re trying to figure out what our parents what do I need to do to keep them loving me, so they’ll keep giving me food and shelter? And the thing is, when we’re young, we don’t think what do my parents need, but you know what other parents and other cultures need different things, other cultures need different things, other religions need different things. We just think this is how it is to be human. So we are encoding that and we are encoding that as that is the way the world is as opposed to that is the way my world is, right? I want to pause you there, because this is a really important thing.  I could go on and on and on.

Erica Mills Barnhart  20:07

Yes, I know. Then I want to bring it back to, you mentioned, you have to sort of, you didn’t say quite like this, but map story to story. And, you know, they’re just, I guess, say a bit more about that. Because one of the things, one of the ways in which story can be powerful, and also goes astray, in turn in a marketing context is that with marketing, you are trying to, and I want to come back to this idea of maybe persuading, but I think it’s worth discussing whether or not that’s really the point or if it’s about connection, but you are trying to use story strategically, to try to, you know, let’s stick with connection or persuade or something of an oftentimes, like if we don’t do the work around target audience and personas and understanding who’s on the receiving end of the story. So therefore, what they will hear, then you can miss the mark. Is that what you’re talking about when you’re saying story for story?

Lisa Cron  21:06

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Which is you need to know, your target audiences, what is their self narrative? How are they making sense of things? What matters to them? It’s not so much what they do, it’s why they’re doing it. That’s what you’re looking for. Because what you’re looking for, I mean, if you have a call to action, something that you want people to do, whether it’s buy my product, or support my cause, or, and it wouldn’t just be support my cause, it would be the very specific thing you’d want them to do is very specific, you know, boots on the ground, actual actionable call to action. But what you’re looking for is, here’s what I want them to do, why aren’t they doing it now as far as they’re concerned? In their opinion, not in your opinion. I mean, the biggest problem we have is, you know, what, in their brilliant book, Chip and Dan Heath talked about the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, we think everybody else knows it too.

Erica Mills Barnhart  22:06

It’s really hard for us to remind ourselves, I do this, I am terrible about being mindful of having the curse of knowledge. I just like roll on through. I’ve talked to my students about all the time, I am a terrible offender.

Lisa Cron  22:18

We all are. But the thing is, and I think one of the things I always try to diffuse in everything I write is that it’s not our fault. We’re not doing it on purpose. It’s not a weakness. It’s that literally that is how we’re wired. We are not wired to see the world as it is, we’re wired to see the world as we are because what I just said a minute ago, when we take the world in as children, as babies trying to figure out how things work. We think that what we’re responding to, is the world as opposed to our world. So once we learn something, it becomes encoded. And it goes into what we’ve started to talk about before, which is our cognitive unconscious, as a permanent fact. And so that becomes what I like to call the lens through which we view everything and through which we’re reading that meaning into things. And again, the way that meaning is telegraphed to us, is through emotion. I mean, we don’t make decisions based on our rational analysis of the situation, we make decisions based on how the rational analysis makes us feel. That’s the way that it works. There’s so many ways in which our brain thinks it’s helping us and it’s not.

Erica Mills Barnhart  23:33

Not helpful, sometimes. I have to say that out loud to my brain. Thank you, thank you for what you’re trying to do for me. It’s not serving me. So knock it off. But I see what you’re doing there. And I see you are trying to be helpful. And I want to underscore this for listeners, which is in this is another quote from you, you say “facts do not convince us of anything, because it’s not how we’re wired to take in information, not because we’re stubborn, self centered, or egotistical, but because we are wired for story”.

Lisa Cron  24:05


Erica Mills Barnhart  24:05

Yeah. Because you know, if you look at the larger context in which we’re having this conversation, you know, it’s pretty easy to go to, well, that person’s being egotistical or self centered, or we can tell ourselves all these things, and just sort of like creating that space in between that to remind ourselves that, you know, we’re fitting, we’re fitting facts into a frame and that frame was decided many, many moons ago for each of us. But also heartening, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, is that our brains, you know, have something called neuroplasticity. So in fact, we can evolve but that does require some amount of awareness.

Lisa Cron  24:46

And that brings us back to story though, because the two ways that we I mean, the three ways we can involve obviously, if you really know there’s a problem and you put a lot of thought and work and therapy into it, absolutely. But The two ways that are just accessible always to everyone: One is through experience, if experience has taught you one thing and now, another experience can certainly disabuse you of that, that is possible. But if we always needed experience to disabuse us of things that we believe a lot of us wouldn’t have survived. The other way is through story. Because what story does is story really is the world’s first virtual reality. Story really is, I mean, minus that Kiki Visor, and they’ve done you know, fMRI studies that show when you’re lost in a story, the same areas of your brain light up that would light up if you’re doing what a protagonist is doing, you literally are there. I mean, that’s when people talk about about, oh, it’s just mindless entertainment, I always want to say to people, you’re being affected by stories every minute of every day, whether you know it or not. And usually, you don’t, because there’s no such thing as mindless entertainment, we are always affected by every story we hear. I like to redefine mindless entertainment to stories come into our gut, because they make us feel something all life is emotion based. If you couldn’t feel emotion, you can make a single rational decision. In a story, if it is not emotion based, we are not feeling something, we’re not paying attention. And so story comes into our gut, we feel it, it changes our beliefs, and then we see the world differently and we act differently. But often, some of those changes don’t go through our conscious brain. So it pays to maybe stop and think about it a little, especially if the story has you fired up about something that you wouldn’t have thought would have fired you up before, if it goes against something that you really deeply believed before.

Erica Mills Barnhart  26:50

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, because marketing, we think about mainly an organizational context. So to take us there for a minute, this idea of beliefs, and I love this, this reframe that you offered of a cognitive unconscious, you know, beliefs are kind of hard to tap into, I think you have to be kind of elevated, or I don’t know what to get there. And to have the wherewithal to say, like, why is this affecting me so much positive or negative? Like, what is that? And does that connect to a belief I hold? And then and this is why, you know, so I work with organizations, you know, I teach at the University of Washington, but I also, you know, my other hat is, is as a consultant, and, and, you know, work increasingly exclusively on what I refer to as identity statements. So mission, vision, values and purpose. And those values are so important to like, extract, and it’s not, you know, when I say to, when I, when I’m talking to organizations, it’s like, you’re not gonna like, like, you’re not making it up. Values are something that are learned. I mean, it’s for if you’re a new organization, you know, that’s the time to articulate what you want them to be like, what do you want to build into the DNA? But for existing organizations, it’s already there. And I think so much of, you know, story is a way to unearth those sources, you know, it’s a, it’s a way of extracting them. And once you have that nugget, it is so clarifying in terms of what’s the story of this organization? And how are we going to use that to then connect with other people that would also care about what we care about, right? I mean, I work with social impact organizations. So that’s always such a big piece of it is and that’s I want to circle back to and hear you talk more about whether or not again in an organizational context, that the highest use of story is around persuasion, or is it around connection because of my framework, I really am thinking about marketing and storytelling and these as tools to help organizations connect with their believers. So other people who care about it, as opposed to trying to persuade, but I refer to thanks to Guy Kawasaki as atheists. So if you have believers, agnostics, atheists, believers believe what you believe, agnostics might believe, but you know, you have to chat longer to see where you’re gonna land. But atheists don’t believe what you believe. Like they have a different, a different set of beliefs. And oftentimes, we try to convert atheists because like our minds, it creates cognitive dissonance and we can’t believe that somebody else doesn’t believe what we believe. So, you know, you use the word persuasion a lot, and I’m just genuinely curious if, if that’s how you think of story?

Lisa Cron  29:28

Not at all. No.

Erica Mills Barnhart  29:29

Mainly persuasion or connection or something else?

Lisa Cron  29:32

Okay. Okay. No, I mean, when I say persuade, I just mean, I mean it in the most basic sense, meaning, if you’re trying to change someone’s mind about something, if you’re trying to get them to do something they’re not already doing. You’re trying to persuade, that’s how I use the word persuasion. Just how can I get you to do something that I think would benefit either you or the planet, that you’re not already doing.

Erica Mills Barnhart  29:57

So something that maybe doesn’t, I’m in this space of like, social marketing, so something that benefits the greater good as opposed to maybe or not exclusively, but you as an individual. I always go to toothpaste, because it’s such a handy example. Although I just learned from my parents that the tube of toothpaste may be going away as we get away from single use, and there’s like toothpaste pellets or something. Anyway, I digress. Point being though, when you need toothpaste, whether it’s pellets or tube, it’s a must have item. Whereas oftentimes, and you know, I think about this in the context of public policy, we’re asking folks to do things that they kind of know are the better thing to do, but there isn’t much in it for them personally.

Lisa Cron  30:41

Right? And I just literally mean persuade in the simplest, simplest form, meaning, I want you to do something you’re not already doing. That’s it. But to answer your question, the point of story is to find connection. 100%. That’s the point of any mission statement. That’s the point of any, whether it’s advertising or whether it’s a fundraising letter, or whatever it would be whatever form you’re talking about. It is connection. If we can’t connect, that’s what I when I said story to story. That’s what where is the place where they connect? Where is the place where what you’re offering, can give a benefit to the person who you want, whose behavior in one way or another you want to change, give them a benefit, something that they themselves would see as a benefit, not what you’ve decided is a benefit?

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:29

Yes, right. Right. Right.

Lisa Cron  31:31

That’s a big problem that people have, I think this is a benefit. So of course, everybody else does. And it’s like, not really.

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:37

And adding insult to injury, once you have the curse of knowledge, you tend to think more about the features as opposed to the benefits?

Lisa Cron  31:44

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I know, when you’re trying to convince anyone of anything, or in whatever words you want to use market or connect, the last thing you want to do is try to prove something to somebody, this is better. This is why I’m smarter. This is why this is how great my product is, this is how great what I’m doing is. I saw that I remember reading once, it was a pitch that was from a museum. And it was something like, if you donate to us, we’re gonna have the number one Art Museum on the entire East Coast,

Erica Mills Barnhart  32:15

Oh, this is okay, I just have, vission statements that are self reflective, meaning we you know, we are organization awesome. And our vision is to be the most awesome version of organization awesome. There’s nothing wrong with that intention. But that’s not a vision that anybody outside of the organization is going to care about. And then I get very, talk about fired up, I get very fired up because oftentimes these identity statements will be created when an organization is doing, like strategic planning or rebranding or whatever. And so, you know, they’re getting helped by folks who can kind of get them to a good enough point, but they’re optimized for an internal audience. And then they’re like, well, it’s the mission, vision, values, you know, so it’s supposed to work externally. But exactly to your point, like, it needs to be optimized for an external audience, you can’t just plunk them on your website and expect them to resonate, which is I really, and then you end up with two sets. So then you’re managing two identities. That’s very expensive and unadvised. But it’s actually you know, it, I’ve seen it more often. But that that additional work of like, okay, internally, that makes sense to us, how can we translate these in a way that it still fires us up internally and guides us but also will help us telegraph, to use your word, to folks outside of the organization, your clients, donors, volunteers, and other. I means like such a good recruitment tool, I was just talking to a colleague of mine who works for the Canadian government. And she was lamenting that the you know, for as values driven as they’re meant to be, they really don’t put their values out there as a way to attract talent. And then, you know, your talent ends up being this like, overlooked marketing asset. So anyway, that’s why I get so worked up about that mission, vision, values and purpose because they’re so underutilized. And each one of them, they’re a story together, about who you are, and what you stand for, as an organization. And then individually, you know, it’s like little mini stories, each of them. I’m guessing there are listeners who are thinking like that is all well and good for people who are like natural storytellers, or good writers. And I just, I want to quote directly from your homepage, because this was so beautiful. And just hear you say a bit more about it, which is you say “the story is what creates beautiful writing, not the other way around.”

Lisa Cron  34:34

Yes. Yeah. I mean, that’s something that I say to writers all the time, which is it’s not about words, it’s funny, I’m just doing consulting with a company, and, one of the women who, you know, they’re trying to sort of rebrand and she wrote me and she said, you know, full disclosure, you know, I’m not good at word smithing. And it’s like, I wish that she was right. In front of me, I could say, Do you know how much the word wordsmithing makes my teeth hurt? You know, because it’s not about the words, it’s about what you’re trying to convey. And the truth is really almost always the simplest, most conversational, most downhome, most open and honest words are what grabs people. The notion of being a writer is wrong. As I say to writers, I say this, probably six times a day, which is everything you’ve been taught about writing and story is wrong. It’s just wrong. It does not have to do with being a good writer, because we think being a good writer has to do with words. And then somehow we get tangled up in finding the right words. And it’s like, the right words for what? It’s what you’re trying to say, and what you offer. And like I say, the simplest humblest words are always the best. Words by themselves are nothing. I mean, what’s a word? A word is a sound, you know, when you speak it, you know, lines on the page, it’s, you know, your hands moving in sign language, it’s empty, words are empty. They’re an empty vehicle. They are for meaning, what are you trying to say? What matters to you? And the scary part, I think, is that in order to get to that place, you have to be vulnerable.

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:22

That’s funny. That’s where I actually wanted to. Well, our second to last question. I wanted to come back to this. So we had Maria Ross on the show to talk about how empathy can give you an edge in business. Like it’s not just a woowoo thing. But you say empathy is the key to understanding and vulnerability is the key to communicating.

Lisa Cron  36:40

100%. I mean, that’s if I could just say something, and I might go far afield with this. But if we have the time, I really want to hit on that the notion of empathy, and emotion, and story versus being rational and logical and using data. Do we have a few minutes for that?

Erica Mills Barnhart  37:00

Yeah, go for it.

Lisa Cron  37:01

Okay, here’s the thing, we have been sold a bill of goods, the notion, the cornerstone of Western thought, which I think comes from Plato, which is this notion of that what we are supposed to do, the most the highest good, that the best in terms of being human is to be rational, and logical, and look at things objectively. And that is what we need to strive for. And that is what how we should make all of our decisions. And the opposite. The nemesis of being rational and logical, is emotion. And emotions goal is to make a habit to make a bad decision, because it’s, it’s gonna knock the logic apart. And so we need to be very careful of emotion and thinking about emotion, we must keep it at bay in order to make any sort of a decision. And biologically, that is 100% not true.

Erica Mills Barnhart  37:57

So you are just humbly begging to differ with Plato.

Lisa Cron  38:00


Erica Mills Barnhart  38:01

Okay, good. I mean, I just wanted us to be clear about what was happening.

Lisa Cron  38:06

He was as wrong as Aristotle was when Aristotle said plot first character second, talk about that if you want to. But the point is, yeah, he was really wrong, he was wrong. And I think the reason that we so embrace the we’ve got to think of things, factually, we’ve got to think of things rationally and logically and “unemotionally”, meaning there’s no meaning to it. It’s just some, not only an objective fact. But as if all the meaning within the fact is also somehow imbued in the fact is objective as well. And as we were just talking about, that just simply isn’t true. It just isn’t simply how we are wired to make sense of things. And if we could, we could never make a single rational decision. The opposite is true. That notion of facts as being hard science and stories being a soft science is wrong. It’s just literally 100% wrong. It is the notion of these facts, and you know, and objective data to make decisions is a myth. We don’t and we can’t, and we shouldn’t, because it wouldn’t work.

Erica Mills Barnhart  39:06

Yeah. And if folks are interested in this, I would definitely encourage you to go listen to that episode with Leslie Zane because she talks more about, you know, the cognitive unconscious, as you say, Lisa, and she, you know, like, it’s a little startling, I think, because we have been fed this bill of goods, as you say, around like, rational and logical and all of these things. And then you’re like, Oh, my God, I am only aware of even like, 5% of what’s going on.

Lisa Cron  39:34


Erica Mills Barnhart  39:34

So all of this stuff happens under the surface is a little scary. It’s unsettling.

Lisa Cron  39:43

But that’s why I mean, if you want to look at it, I think that’s why we have been sold this bill of goods that it’s about being rational and logical because it makes us feel what we most want to feel which is in control and emotion does the opposite. The goal of emotion is to yank us out of feeling control and to go look over there, that really matters, you better pay attention to that now. And it’s scary. And I think that we’ve been sold, the bill of goods that we’ve been sold, interestingly, you know, really has to do with so much of the, the social construct of what is rational, what is logical? And what emotion is, and I think it’s very gendered, um, to be quite frank with you.

Erica Mills Barnhart  40:30

Yeah, I actually, I’m really glad that you went there. It’s gendered. And also, I was going to, you know, I just always want to point out the ways in which language has been used as a tool of oppression. And you know, that, who are the ones saying, what is logical versus what is, you know, those darn emotions that are getting in the way? It’s really important to call out.

Lisa Cron  40:51

Yeah, I think that I mean, I mean, to say it bluntly, I think that what keeps us trapped, what keeps us so trapped, is fear, which is heightened by those social norms, which are different for each gender. I think it’s fear of emotion if you’re male, and it’s fear of what the patriarchy will do to you if you express emotion, if you’re female. And I think that’s what keeps us trapped in that false belief.

Erica Mills Barnhart  41:15

Thank you for saying that so bluntly, Lisa.

Lisa Cron  41:17

Yeah, I mean, I think that that is 100% what’s true, and it’s, I think it’s why, you know, we think of story as something soft, and something, yes, we read kids stories for bed and if you need some emotion, if you can’t make up your mind, just by the facts, all right, you know, we’ll humor you and give you a story. And it just literally doesn’t work that way. It’s just, it’s not how we’re making any decision ever. I mean, I think it’s funny, I think that the panultimate fear, and I think this is like panhuman, or panultimate fear is of emotion. But the thing we’re most afraid of, is being emotionless, you know, like, you see those movies or tv hopefully never happened to you, or, you know, the person’s walking down the alleyway, and someone’s coming at them. And they go, and their face was expressionless, they had dead eyes, you know, and that’s terrifying. Emotion drives everything. Emotion drives memory, the reasons we have memories. The reason they say that, you know, that anything learned in a story is 22 times more memorable is because all story is emotion based and emotion is what causes us to remember things.

Erica Mills Barnhart  42:34

I want to say this one more time, because I’m hoping that something listeners will really hear and kind of like, inspire I mean, if people are listening, they’re like, okay, stories, we can do this thing, like they’re not, you know, soft, as you say, like, this is based on biology and science and okay, go get them. Like 22 times more effective.

Lisa Cron  42:54


Erica Mills Barnhart  42:55

To tell story. That’s good math.

Lisa Cron  42:58


Erica Mills Barnhart  42:58

Right. Like, just from a sheer like business bottom line perspective that’s good math. Right? Because think about it, if you know what matters to your audience, and you’ve got some facts, and again, this is what story does, it takes, you know, those dry facts, abstract concepts, and spins them into something very, very, very specific boots on the ground, which makes it accessible to that one system by which we make every decision we ever make, which is our emotion, because we come to every story, really up to think about in your own life is like in your own life, you are the protagonist, and everything that you see everything that you do every other person that you know, no matter how much you love them is a supporting player and you take in everything and you think, how is this going to affect me, given my agenda? As I said in the beginning, is it going to help me? Or is it going to hurt me?  And again, not because you’re a jerk. This is just how we’re hardwired. That is what makes you human.

Lisa Cron  43:57

But it doesn’t. Because when I say is it gonna help me or hurt me? I don’t mean like, is this going to give me the most money? Is this gonna make me the most popular? It’s is this going to make me feel like, to use a very hackneyed phrase at the momen, my most authentic self, and a person’s most authentic self can often be I’ve, you know, I joined the Peace Corps. You know, I mean, I don’t like the term altruism, because it sounds like we would do things for absolutely no return. And we never do that. I like the term, which I made up, and I have no idea and I don’t like it because this other word carries baggage, but selfish altruism, because what it means is, is when we’re out there, you know, giving everything up to be for the Peace Corps, we feel good about ourselves, because we’re doing something that in our world, in our worldview, matters. And we’re always looking for that. Is this going to make me feel good about myself? Is this going to make the people in my group in my community feel good about me?

Erica Mills Barnhart  44:51

And will I look good to the people in my group?

Lisa Cron  44:53


Erica Mills Barnhart  44:54

Yeah. I’m telling myself right now is that you’re amazing. I feel privileged that you have played us have been a supporting character in this thing called my life. Like I told listeners at the beginning, like, I mean, it’s just the gift you have given the world through, not wordsmithing, but literally through your words and your ability to help us understand how, like, you know, story is just absolutely everywhere. But also like the real, practical reasons to embrace story, and to come to feel like less of a jerk about the facts and figures and whether they do or don’t work. I just so appreciate it. Oh, and listeners, though, I mean, another thing that you that, like I really want to underscore, as Lisa has been mentioning again, and again is like in an organizational context, right? So if you’re using story, to drive sales, or get more donors or whatever, you do have to do that to get that story to story connection. So if you’re curious about a bit more about that, go back and listen to Episode Five about who are your true believers. Okay. So Lisa, I asked every guest, this question, just so we can get a sense of them and you is about what motivates you and what inspires you. So inspiration, that animologically is to take breath in, and motivation is about action, what motivates and inspires you to keep telling and talking about stories?

Lisa Cron  46:20

Um, well, I, to be 150% honest, I want to take the patriarchy down. And I think this is the only way to do it. And I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods, I think that when you look at the history of the world, I read a statement recently or a statistic saying that, you know, growing up and going through, you know, the K through 12, that’s something like only 17% of, of the people who we learned from, you know, in textbooks, etc, are female. I think that, that we’ve really been sold a bill of goods in terms of this notion of what’s rational and logical and what we should do, and what emotion is, and I really want to flip that because at the end of the day, I think that so much has been vilified. That is what’s human and that is actually what’s good about us. And I would just really love to flip that script. Because I feel like to be really honest, you’re asking me a really personal question, and I’m being vulnerable right now, which I think is the key thing is if I look at my own life, and I think about how different things would have been, had I not been pushed into a very gendered, you know, the gendered role meaning not just meaning, this is the definition of what it means to be female, which I think is 100% qrong, I think that what they tell you, it means to be male, and what it means to be female is 100% wrong, I don’t think any of that behavior, the words, masculine and feminine, make my skin crawl. Because I think that they are societal constructs. I think that we are all the same, and we are all human. And I want to see that I personally don’t identify with either gender, I never will know what to say when people have like, what are your pronouns? I feel like for me, it’s like it’s complicated, which is, I don’t identify with either one because I think they’re social constructs. I don’t think either one are true to tell you the truth.

Erica Mills Barnhart  48:13

So do you prefer they them pronouns?

Lisa Cron  48:15

No, I don’t, no. Not at all. No, because I don’t think that’s accurate, either. I don’t, because first of all, it’s grammatically confusing. And second of all, for me, they them sounds like you’re going to take masculine and feminine, and put them together. And I don’t think either one are true. So I think we’re just wrong. I think we’re wrong about what we think of when we’ve come up with this is what male is, and this is what female is, I just think it’s wrong. And I think that because I probably shouldn’t say, I think because men are so terrified of women, that you know, that women end up are allowed to feel and to be much more human than men are allowed to be. And I think that’s sad. I think it’s sad for men. You can cut all this out.

Erica Mills Barnhart  49:02

No, I’m not gonna cut it out. No, no, gosh no. That would go against my values. You know, you, are entitled to your opinions, and you should not be edited that should not be edited out at all. That is your truth.

Lisa Cron  49:18

It is my truth.

Erica Mills Barnhart  49:19

Not for me to say either way.

Lisa Cron  49:22

I think we’re all human. And I think that empathy is the key. And I don’t think its woowoo, I think empathy is the key. And I think that we’re terrified of it. And I think that empathy is the only way to ever connect with anybody else.

Erica Mills Barnhart  49:42

Yeah, Lisa, thank you for being that vulnerable. I really do appreciate it. And I know listeners will, whether or not they agree or disagree is beside the point. You have modeled what it can look like to create connection when you’re vulnerable. And I really, really appreciate that in addition to the vast array of golden nuggets that you have offered, I just thank you so much and I truly hope listeners will check out all your books, Story or Die is Lisa’s latest and greatest and you can find that on wiredforstory.com. Yeah, keep telling your story. All the stories of you Lisa. Keep telling your stories but also listeners, do good, be well and listeners I will see you next time. Thanks for listening to the marketing for good podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast please rate subscribe, review and share on Apple, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. If you’d like more information about Claxon University, how to make more impact in and for your organization or hiring me to speak or coach, go to claxon-communication.com or reach out at info@claxon-communication.com. Again, thanks for listening, and thanks for making our world a better place.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?