How Stories Create Value

How Stories Create Value_Sidewalk Blog

The Science of Stories

“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.”

- Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet


As a species, we’ve relied on storytelling as a means to pass along information for survival, to share history and traditions with future generations, and to entertain each other. While we’ve evolved from the early days of recount stories around campfires and cave murals, we are still intrinsically drawn to storytelling.

Brands like Nike and Coke know this, they aren’t in the business of selling sports apparel and sugar water; they are in the business of selling hopes and dreams. And the way they do that is by telling the stories their customers want to be a part of. Everything — faith, science, love — uses anecdotes and stories to help people relate, accept and remember. Narratives help us make sense of our surroundings. They make us reflect on ourselves.

Stories also add value to things; a little context goes a long way. I recently stumbled upon a doughnut shop while wandering around New York. It had great curb appeal: hip furniture, street art decor, a Stormtrooper helmet on the counter, so I decided to check it out. In a quick chat with the owner, I learned about his five years of experimenting in his home kitchen, the thousands of failed doughnuts, the street artists who decorated his shop, the difficulties of scaling from 100 doughnuts to 5,000. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a doughnut; it was art, passion and perseverance deep fried and smothered in sugar glaze.

This is the power of context and storytelling.

In 2009, journalist Rob Walker and writer Joshua Glenn conducted a social experiment that examined the impact, if any, a story has in creating emotional value. Can a narrative turn an ordinary object into something extraordinary? To evaluate this, the researchers spent $128.74 on inexpensive trinkets from various thrift stores and flea markets, asked authors to write fictional-yet-believable descriptions for each item, and posted them for sale on eBay with the corresponding descriptions and photos.

The results clearly demonstrate the power of context and stories: the $128.74 worth of knickknacks sold for $3,612.51 — a 2,700% markup! A geisha bobblehead figurine sold for $56. A Missouri shot glass went for $76. A globe paperweight earned the highest price of the lot: $198.  

Stories add value, whether to objects, places or experiences. And when we travel or come across new things, it’s the memories and lessons that become the most-valuable treasures we bring home.

Sidewalk is built to share narratives and perspectives of the world. People want to hear these stories. Your stories. What’s the perfect walk through your favorite neighborhood? What are the hidden gems? What do you order? Why do you love it? What should be noticed? What do most people not know about it?

Sidewalk is an app that provides guided neighborhood walking tours created by anyone with stories to tell about places they know and love. Download the Sidewalk app (App Store & Google Play) to both learn the stories of the world around you, and to share your perspective with others.  

Jason Donahue, Co-Founder & CEO

Jason Donahue, Co-Founder & CEO

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