The World Before Traffic Lights

It was a chaotic, frustrating and dangerous world.

Somebody needed to solve the problem.

But do you choose a radically new solution or one we are familiar with?

Railway engineer JP Knight invented the world’s first “stop go” system installed near Buckingham Palace in London in 1868. The fact that Knight was a railway engineer was crucial to the story. He didn’t invent a radical system; he leverage an idea we already understood.

“Stop Go” lights existed on train tracks for decades and many commuters were familiar with them. So, when they needed a system that many would instantly “get”, they chose to build on what people already knew.

When you want traffic to take clear and fast actions based on your signals, you don’t want confusion.

150 years later, we still use this system in over 200 countries in the world.

In my book on Data Storytelling, I also illustrate how important finding the “Lowest Common Denominator” is for the success of your story. Flattening the Curve, for example, is a great case study example of how to use stories to create action across 100s of millions of people. Like the Stop Go lights, you need a simple story that everyone understands, not one that is subject to multiple ambiguities and interpretations.

In Storytelling, Simple works best.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this book it’s that Storytelling isn’t about creating fantastical and complex narratives but leveraging simple stories that already exist.

If you want your idea to spread to millions of people it has to be an idea that already exists in their consciousness.

Too many entrepreneurs fail because they focus too much on the solution and too little on the story. Ultimately it’s the story that the consumer consumes.

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