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Acorders Storytelling for Resilience & Focus

Does this sound superficial or indulgent? Are you curious about the science behind storytelling?

This week, I'm drawing from two conversations in making the case for storytelling. One, the mental health statistics coming through the pandemic recovery are alarming. Two, we are also becoming increasingly aware of the negative impacts social media is having on our well being. Johann Hari writes about this in his latest book, Stolen Focus.

Acorders is not alone in turning to storytelling for a solution. The UNHCR Innovation Service is working with the Non-profit, MeWe International, Psychologist and Neuroscientist. They are using the narrative as a form of therapy for refugee youth suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Brain plasticity is the ability we have to rewire or modify our connections. So the good news here is that we can heal and restore ourselves. And, with neural coupling we can offer the same to others. Neural coupling is when our brains see or hear a story and our neurons fire off in the same pattern and direction as the narrator. We become in-sync and aligned with the efficacy of a good story.

I'll return my own personal experience with this. There is real intelligence and sophistication in the U.S. Military's training doctrines. If something works, the military will replicate it and use the same construct over and over again. The same mental agility instilled in commissioned officers indoctrinated in the military planning process gets disseminated down in troop leading procedures and unit level tactics with the common thread being storytelling.

The rigor and discipline we develop around simple task help condition us for complexity. The Army has a few sayings that convey this overall attitude and approach, "let's make routine task, routine" or "slow is smooth, smooth is fast". The neural coupling effect of this phraseology channels respondence over reaction to stimuli and is often times invoked during planning and training exercises.

Map expansion is a form of neuroplasticity. Britannica defines this phenomena as, the flexibility of local brain regions that are dedicated to performing one type of function or storing a particular form of information. The arrangement of these local regions in the cerebral cortex is referred to as a “map.” When one function is carried out frequently enough through repeated behavior or stimulus, the region of the cortical map dedicated to this function grows and shrinks as an individual “exercises” this function. When the military conditions officers with storytelling, to develop their command intent and vision with iterative long range and short range planning, it results in map expansion.

The approach is mentally casting out a look into an imaginary future state and then walking that back to current state conditions. The outcome produces analysis on gaps and strengths. I found mirroring in this approach when I entertained troop level tactics. For instance, the method in which I was trained to visually scan my fields of fire for threats, entertained a similar approach to casting out my sight in incremental ranges and connected me back to situational awareness from our intelligence briefings (stories).

My first deployment into Iraq was during the 2008 troop surge. I was a 2nd Lieutenant, taking my oath of office and joining a newly modernized force where "every solider was a war fighter, facing an asymmetric battlefield". Modularity was an element to modernization. It entertained deploying smaller units individually into combat zones where they would be attached to more nimble Brigade Combat Teams. My first commander was only a few years older than me. I still recall knowing and sensing the gravity of his task. We performed "rock drills" before every leg of our unit movement into theatre. This was an exercise where our company formation engaged in storytelling while physically walking through every stage we imagined contact with our plan.

I reflected on these experiences many times over during the Acorders problem and solution analysis. The experimentation model put forward by IDEO co-founder, David Kelly in books like, Design Works was the basis for the Acorders social campaign approach. Today, our vision is simple. Restore resiliency in the individual with storytelling, enhance momentum from neural coupling in order to deliver impact. Our mission is to help create innovative teams for facing increasingly complex challenges and demands in a rapidly changing world. Join our community and participate with MVP design experiments.

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