The future belongs to e-cars! Robots are destroying jobs! It’s narratives like these that shape our thoughts and actions – and they are often fueled by specific messages in corporate communications. Narratives are contagious, as American economist Robert. J. Shiller says.
Shiller has a piece of advice for his guild, which has fallen into even greater disrepute since the financial crisis of 2008/2009. The most frequent accusation against them is that economists did see the recession forthcoming. This is why they will not foresee the next crisis. Shiller now says that one should study less the numbers and more the narratives that are currently moving people.
Stories create facts
If you got into a cab in the run-up to the first major crisis of the new millennium, it usually didn’t take long before the drivers started talking about the same topic over and over again – which was the real estate boom. And even in bars, restaurants, shopping malls – the same story everywhere: “Real estate prices never fall.”Shiller got a bad feeling about this. An extraordinary event was brewing, he wrote. When the bubble burst in 2007, he saw his premonition confirmed. In his book Narrative Economics, the Yale professor addresses the question of how such narratives arise and how they influence the economy.
Among other things, he cites the success story of Bitcoin and the belief in artificial intelligence as evidence for his reflections. One of the core theses of the book is that it is essentially highly simplified and easily transferable narratives that trigger economic events. In the academic consideration of economics, such narratives need to be taken into account – otherwise even experts are always surprised by economic changes.
The role of public relations
Even for experts in PR, perhaps a moment to pause! More than five years ago, I highlighted in a blog post that we capture the world through stories and often get carried away. That we should ask more often which stories hardly anyone wants to hear, and especially which ones no one wants to tell. Shiller makes this very point again: like an earworm we can’t get out of our heads, stories drive our thoughts and feelings. And thus lead to individual decisions that, in their aggregate, make entire economies rise or fall.
First of all, that‘s good news for us. Because it confirms how powerful stories are. For economics, Shiller is optimistic that in the future, research will combine the increasing amount of data with semantic analyses, for example, to distinguish between what leads to certain narratives on the one hand and what triggers these narratives on the other.
For us in corporate communications, this means thinking even more than before about what actually lies behind our stories and how our stories have an impact – and never rashly picking up on narratives that are already popular.