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September 25, 2007 / compassioninpolitics

What Ken Burns “The War” says about communication, life, and everything else in between

“We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves….What these efforts reveal is a hunger for what stories can provide–context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and what that matters” I just finished reading A Whole New Mind a fantastic and facinating book by Dan Pink this summer. He suggests there are 6 ways that the culture of modern day life is fundamentally changing. Design, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, as well as Story are all becoming the pillars of thinking and framing the world and how we communicate. Despite all my criticism of Ken Burn’s documentary yesterday, I think he does a superb job of capturing the narrative of World War II.

  • Movement. He has a wonderful ability to keep the story moving. In fact, he’s know for the “Ken Burns” effect of making photos move.
  • Music that mirrors the mood. Splices a moving jazz piece next to music that mimics the sounds of soldiers marching to war.
  • Multi-media. The detail of adding sound tracks help keep the narrative a full experience
  • In the trenches. This screams authenticity. The story is told by folks who lived the reality of the war and have a rich
  • Emotional depth. He captures not just the movement of the war, but the feeling and essence.
  • Juxtaposition. He’s a master. Witness the use American flags contrasted against the faces of suffering Japanese internees.
  • He weaves multiple mini-stories into a cohesive grand narrative. He uses a full cornucopia of pieces and evidence and they all have emotional punch.

Ultimately, Burns Reminds us we all have stories. Stories of passion. Stories of pain. And stories of victory. (I guess he and ABC sports have that in common) Alan Kay, a cofounder of Xerox and a Hewlett Packard executive confirms the role of narratives, “Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”

Narrative Resources Recommended in A Whole New Mind:


Digital Storytelling Festival

New England Storytelling Conference in Cambridge, MA

National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborugh, TN

Actually you can get all the Whole New Mind Weblinks here.

Quick read and a great book! Check out what its about at Dan Pink‘s Whole New Mind blog.

Is society moving toward telling more narrative stories? Is our thought process changing? Are there other storytelling or narrative resources you recommend? What do you think about the trend toward telling stories? What makes a great story? Do you think stories are transformative? How? Any opinion on Ken Burn’s documentary about WWII? Have you read a Whole New Mind or his Free Agent Nation? What did you think?

Thanks to ~Presscott for the Creative Commons picture from Flickr

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