The storytelling that’s trashing your investments

You sit down with your financial adviser. She offers you a slate of options she expects will weather the stormy economy and give you solid returns. You plunk down your hard-earned cash, sign the risk waiver, and wait.

You don’t wait long, of course. You start tracking the bouncing ball that shows your principle is disappearing with the Chinese stock market tumble. Those alternative energy stocks? They are tanking as oil prices fall.

What is happening here? How will you survive retirement now that your savings are slumping?

Storytelling. That’s what’s happening.

In her talk on The Dark Side of Storytelling, Suzanne Duncan of the Center for Applied Research says your financial adviser is so caught up in her own stories she is unable to give you solid, objective advice. And she is totally incapable of accepting the role storytelling is playing in her investment successes and failures.

Suzanne Duncan giving a TED talk

Of course, it is not just your finances that are in jeopardy. So are your children, when your parenting stories go awry. So is their teacher, when his education stories are misguided. So is the planet, when our stories about its future are so short sighted we think we can get away with trashing the environment and heating up the earth.

The good news is that we can change those stories. We have done it many times before.

An example in my lifetime: Doctors used to promote cigarette brands. Tobacco companies kept the smoking as health-neutral story alive for a long time, but now even the secondhand-smoke-is-safe story has been turned on its head.

We can counter the dark side of storytelling by being detectives. Look inside the stories you’re told. Examine the stories you believe. Figure out what they’re based on. Be willing to adopt new, better stories.

The world is counting on our stories. Let’s make them good ones.

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